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London's Urban Jungle

Co-curator and researcher of London's Urban Jungle, Elle, describes our new exhibition.

Curating London’s Urban Jungle together with the Horniman has been a fantastic experience. I hope that visitors take away as much from viewing the exhibit as I have from the process of putting it together.

  •  An example of the items exotic animals were turned into., Pictures from âAnimal Furnitureâ, William G. Fitzgerald in The Strand Magazine (1896) Vol. XII.
    Pictures from âAnimal Furnitureâ, William G. Fitzgerald in The Strand Magazine (1896) Vol. XII.

My research began with asking how zoological and natural history collections grew so rapidly during the nineteenth century and I could not have anticipated what I would uncover once I delved into the world of the exotic animal trade and its weird and fascinating history.

The exhibit focuses on one of the most renowned animal dealers of the Victorian period, Charles Jamrach, and his business on the Ratcliffe Highway in London’s East End.

Jamrach sold animals to a range of customers - as pets, as scientific specimens, as exhibits for zoological gardens and private collections, while those who sadly did not survive, may have become skeletons and taxidermy mounts sold to museums and collectors of a different kind. The taste for zoomorphic furniture springs to mind here - not your normal taxidermy that adorned Victorian homes, but more bizarre items such as monkey candlesticks and chairs made from giraffes and elephants.

There was a huge demand for exotic animals – both dead and alive.

  • London's Urban Jungle, Statue in Tobacco Dock that depicts the day a Tiger escaped from Jamrachâs and attacked a young boy. It is accompanied by a plaque recalling the incident and reminding us of the work of the World Wildlife Fund.
    Statue in Tobacco Dock that depicts the day a Tiger escaped from Jamrachâs and attacked a young boy. It is accompanied by a plaque recalling the incident and reminding us of the work of the World Wildlife Fund.

  •  An example of the items exotic animals were turned into., Pictures from âAnimal Furnitureâ, William G. Fitzgerald in The Strand Magazine (1896) Vol. XII.
    Pictures from âAnimal Furnitureâ, William G. Fitzgerald in The Strand Magazine (1896) Vol. XII.
 

My research has involved examining correspondence sent between Jamrach and his customers as well as periodicals and articles from the time. However the majority of the stories featured in the exhibit are taken from newspaper reports published online by the British Newspaper Archive.

I had great fun scanning through the reports and there are many more that didn’t make the cut – but I think my particular favourite is the one that involves talking parrot Sarah and her theft, which unravels once she’s sold to Jamrach by the thief and later identified by her owner when he goes to buy a replacement!

  • âAt Jamrachâs, the dealer in wild animals, East Londonâ, Illustrated London News (1887).
    Illustrated London News (1887).

London's Urban Jungle is on display in the Natural History Gallery until 21st February 2016.