Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Captain Fred Wombwell

Captain Fred Wombwell with a lion cub. Captain Fred sure looks like a tough old brute.

Captain Fred Wombwell with Mary the lioness at Leicester in 1927

Excerpt from The Fairgrounds Heritage Trust:

For the spectator these shows must have been a great spectacle. Viewing animals in their cages, elephant rides and feeding times were all very well, but most people were there for the excitement of seeing the big cats and the trainers that risked their lives with them. We all have in our mind's eye a vision of the 19th century lion tamer and this first-hand account by Sir Garrard Tyrwhitt-Drake of "Captain Wombwell" (yet another distant relative of the famous George) in his book "English Fairs and Circuses" fits that stereotype perfectly:

"The most popular and best known trainer of my day was Captain Wombwell, who worked the lions for Mr E.H Bostock. He was a heavily built man, about 5ft. 8 in. in height, with fair hair, a long waxed moustache, and the largest hands I ever saw.

"He was attired in a crimson plush jacket with gold braiding and frogs - evidently made before he became so stout, as it would not meet anywhere. It was emblazoned with many medals presented to him to record special deeds of valour - in the menagerie and not on the battlefield.

"Armed only with a twisted willow whip stock and rawhide thong, he would climb slowly up the steps leading to the door of the cage. With his hands on the door-catch and his eye on the position of the animals, he would at the right moment open the door, and with extraordinary agility for such a heavy man, be inside with the door slammed behind him in a split second. Then the fun began.

"The five big lions would start bounding round the 6ft-wide cage, with Wombwell unconcernedly standing in the centre. After the first mad rush round, the usual jumping and posing took place and then, to my mind, the most exciting moment arrived when the trainer had to leave the cage. Again, the exact moment had to be gauged for a hasty exit backwards, which was accompanied by a mad rush at the door by two or three of the lions."

'I am still not convinced that the "fighting act" was an American invention as so many people, rushing to the defense of Clyde Beatty claim?"

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