Royal Beasts – explore the history, spectacle and tragedy of the Tower of London Menagerie
Tower of London – Opens 28 May 2011
Family Press View: 25 May 2011, 10.00 – 13.00
(Curator and artist available to interview on the day)
For the first time, Historic Royal Palaces will tell fascinating tales of the wild beasts who found a home in one of the world's most forbidding and infamous fortresses – from a polar bear who fished in the Thames daily for his lunch to the ostrich that ate nails; and many more. The new family exhibition will be an opportunity to discover the captivating history of the former Tower residents who were kept for the entertainment and curiosity of the Royal household and its visitors. Over 600 years, animals representing more than 60 species – ranging from lions, tigers, monkeys and elephants to zebras, alligators, bears and kangaroos – lived inside the mighty Tower walls.
Royal Beasts will explore the long tradition of kings and queens keeping exotic animals as symbols of power, and look at how the animals were often neglected and mistreated or used for cruel sports. The exhibition will include new interactive and multimedia displays, and in its first ever public opening, the Brick Tower will host a special exhibition telling the history of the Menagerie, including the sights, sounds, and even smells of the animals.
In addition, artist Kendra Haste, inspired by this diverse cast of Tower ‘inmates’, has created a specially commissioned series of arresting animal sculptures as part of the new exhibition. Made from galvanised steel wire, life-size lions, baboons, a polar bear and an elephant will tell the story of the wild creatures that were kept at the Tower from around 1210. The sculptures will appear in four locations around the Tower site, including the main entrance – the former site of the imposing Lion Tower. The roars and growls of the lions would have been an intimidating first impression for visitors entering the fortress.
Royal menageries were established in Europe in the early medieval period, when kings exchanged strange beasts as regal gifts. Owning rare and impressive animals was a sign of wealth and international connections. Visiting the Royal Menagerie would have been the first time people had ever encountered many of these mysterious animals and not surprisingly, little was known about how to care for them. The Menagerie became a popular attraction for visitors to London, reaching its height in the 1820s. Just a few years later, however, after several attacks on visitors and staff, the Duke of Wellington, Constable of the Tower, ordered the Menagerie to be closed. The remaining animals were taken to Regent’s Park and became part of the founding collection of London Zoo.
Kendra Haste, the artist, said:
“It has been fascinating to research the long history of the Menagerie before it transferred to form London Zoo. Depicting some of the past wild inmates at the Tower has been a huge privilege and challenge.
“I hope to convey through the sculpture the presence and power of these animals held in the unnatural confines of the Tower. Furthermore, for the present day visitor, to have a sense of what our ancestors witnessed centuries ago and what they would have made of these extraordinary beasts.”
Rebecca Richards of Historic Royal Palaces said:
“The human prisoners of the Tower such as Anne Boleyn and Guy Fawkes are well-known. Yet most people don’t know that for over 600 years wild animals were also held here in the Tower Menagerie. Royal Beasts tells the fascinating story of how these valuable and exotic creatures lived and died, right here in the centre of London.”