In week three of our folk tales from the five London Boroughs, Ruairidh Anderson tells the story of Jamrach’s Menagerie, a taste of the exotic on the Ratcliffe Highway.
‘Whether you like animals best up close, behind bars or in between two slices of bread with a touch of brown sauce, the story of Jamrach’s Menagerie has something for everyone.’
Watch the video and enjoy the inspired song ‘A Stone’s Throw’.
The English love their animals. Wild or domesticated, little or large, cats or dogs, it really doesn’t matter. Sting with his Irish wolfhounds, Liz Taylor with her White Maltese, the Queen with Prince Philip. But whether you love them or hate them, want them behind bars or up close, or prefer them best between two slices of white bread and a touch of brown sauce, this next story about Jamrach’s Menagerie has something for everyone.
Mr Jamrach was head of the River Police in Hamburg and during his daily job he would board vessels to inspect them for customs. It was during this time that he discovered the lucrative trade that could be made exporting wild exotic animals. Being a lover of animals himself and of a fast buck, he entered the trade and developed a family business.
His son Charles left Hamburg and set up shop here on the Ratcliffe Highway in Tower Hamlets and amongst his customers were Royalty, HG Wells, Baden Powell and his shop is referenced in books by Mark Twain and Charles Dickens’ Martin Chuzzlewit.
Now thanks to lax animal laws of the day you could buy a Sumatran rhino, tigers lions, zebras, all here in London’s East End. Everything except koalas because they never survived the journey.
Orders flew in from all over the globe; New York, Paris and Tehran. Over time Charles developed a reputation as someone who not only could communicate with, but have power over, the animal kingdom. Although this didn’t stop a customer from having his clothes ripped off by an irate monkey or a python from escaping and making its home in Victoria park, feeding on swans and ducks before being eventually captured.
There is still a statue found to this day at Tobacco Dock which is testament to the most fantastic tale of all. One day during a routine delivery on the docks, and male Bengal tiger escaped from its cage and wandered down Commercial Street. A young boy having seen such a sight before, wandered over to the great cat to give it a pat on the head. He received a pat back and was knocked unconscious and carried off in the jaws of this great beast.
Charles Jamrach witnessed this and gave chase, jumping onto the back of this tiger and wrestling with it until the boy was released. And what of the boys grateful parents? Why they turned around and sued Jamrach for £300.