Esoteric London

No. 325: Tyburn Way, W1

Posted in Amusements, Public Art by esotericlondon on May 27, 2011

©Roger Dean_RED6391 - RogerRGB copy

Tyburn Way, London, W1. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

London Labour and the London Poor; Cyclopaedia of the Condition and Earnings of Those that Will Work, Those That Cannot Work, and Those That Will Not Work, Volume 3 – Henry Mayhew, 1861:

“Happy Families,” or assemblages of animals of diverse habits and propensities living amicably, or at least quietly, in one cage, are so well known as to need no further description here. Concerning them I received the following account:- “I have been three years connected with happy families, living by such connexion. These exhibitions were first started at Coventry, sixteen years ago, by a man who was my teacher. He was a stocking-weaver, and a fancier of animals and birds, having a good many in his place – hawks, owls, pigeons, starlings, cats, dogs, rats, mice, guinea-pigs, jackdaws, fowls, ravens, and monkeys. He used to keep them separate and for his own amusement, or would train them for sale, teaching the dogs tricks, and such-like. He found his animals agree so well together, that he had a notion – and a snake-charmer, an old Indian, used to advise him on the subject – that he could show in public animals and birds, supposed to be one another’s enemies and victims, living in quiet together. He did show them in public, beginning with cats, rats, and pigeons in one cage; and then kept adding by degrees all the other creatures I have mentioned. He did very well at Coventry, but I don’t know what he took. His way of training the animals is a secret, which he has taught to me. It’s principally done, however, I may tell you, by continued kindness and petting, and studying the nature of the creatures.

Hundreds have tried their hands at happy families, and have failed. The cat has killed the mice, the hawks have killed the birds, the dogs the rats, and even the cats, the rats, the birds, and even one another; indeed, it was anything but a happy family. By our system we never have a mishap; and have had animals eight or nine years in the cage – until they’ve died of age, indeed. In our present cage we have 54 birds and animals, and of 17 different kinds; 3 cats, 2 dogs (a terrier and a spaniel), 2 monkeys, 2 magpies, 2 jackdaws, 2 jays, 10 starlings (some of them talk), 6 pigeons, 2 hawks, 2 barn fowls, 1 screech owl, 5 common-sewer rats, 5 white rats (a novelty), 8 guinea-pigs, 2 rabbits (1 wild and 1 tame), 1 hedgehog, and 1 tortoise. Of all these, the rat is the most difficult to make a member of a happy family: among birds, the hawk. […]. When the happy family – only one – was first in London, fourteen years ago, the proprietor took £1 a-day on Waterloo–bridge; and only showed in the summer. The second happy family was started eight years ago, and did as well for a short time as the first. Now there are too many happy families.

[The above photograph is of Mauro Perucchetti’s sculpture Jelly Baby Family. R.D.]

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