MIDWEEK RETRO: A jungle out there...

The Jungle, Sheffield - Herr Falkendorf with lions
The Jungle, Sheffield - Herr Falkendorf with lions
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IT is today a quiet city centre back street featuring nothing more unusual than pleasant flats and a banking call centre.

But 100 years ago this month Hawley Street was about to become home to something rather more exotic: the Sheffield Jungle.

Hundreds of wild animals – including elephants which danced, kangaroos which boxed and a tiger which put its trainer in hospital – were brought to the city as part of the sprawling zoo, circus and funfair which opened on October 25, 1912.

The attraction, described by owner Frank Bostock as “a show without parallel in history”, remained in the city seven months.

In that time it pulled in an estimated 500,000 visitors and introduced Sheffielders to real life lions, panthers, camels, polar bears, monkeys and snakes.

“We estimate there would have been about 500 animals and 400 staff, and it would have impacted on the whole city,” says Ian Trowell, who has researched the extravaganza as part of his work with Sheffield University’s National Fairground Archive said:

“Apart from the economic boost, people would regularly see the animals being paraded – either because they had arrived at Victoria Station and needed to be transported to The Jungle or because they were being used to publicise it.”

The vast temporary zoo was created after an ice rink, built in Hawley Street a couple of years earlier, was left derelict.

Bostock – one of the world’s most successful travelling showmen – believed the huge building and adjacent brownland would make an ideal site for his most ambitious project. And so, firstly in 1910 and then again in 1912, he set up The Jungle there for seven months.

Along with the animals, mechanical funfair rides were built and human curiosities brought in.

“There was a dwarf who was world famous,” says Ian, who first presented his research online. “And there was a fasting man who was placed in a box and not allowed to eat for a month. How did he do it? He smoked lots.”

It was a different world back then.

The high mortality rates of the animals did little to dampen enthusiasm.

The dead creatures were simply given to Sheffield University researchers.

Today’s health and safety bosses meanwhile might balk at the fact a 15-year-old girl trained the polar bears, and at the act of tiger-tamer Herr Falkendorf. He spent several weeks in the Royal Hospital after a tiger attacked him during a live show.

“There were hiccups,” says Ian, who has now turned the tales of The Jungle into a children’s book with wife Clare.

“But it was a success. I would suggest almost everyone in the city went along at some point. There was some sadness when it left.”

n Tigers On Hawley Street by Clare and Ian Trowell is published by Five Pigeons Press and available from Sheffiled Scene, in Surrey Street. A reading will take place at Weston Park Museum on Monday, October 29, at 2pm.