Celebrating the lives of long gone Londoners – that’s what we’re about. Here’s someone we cover on our tours around Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park – an extraordinary man and an extraordinary animal.
Imagine, being nine years old, amidst the grubby streets of London, looking into the piercing eyes of a beast more at home in the forests of India rather than the East End of London.
Charles Jamrach was unloading some Leopards in the yard of London’s most unusual shop – an emporium of exotic animals. Starting his career dealing in shells and bird skins, he inherited the business from his brother, who had moved from his native Germany to London a few years previously. Clients included the London Zoological society, to who he provided a Snake and a Hippo, and even celebrities – Dante Gabriel Rossetti purchased a Wombat for his menagerie in Chelsea, which was christened ‘Top’ – whose death a few years later he felt acutely.
An almighty crash alerted him to something being amiss. A Tiger, which was caged nearby, with the full force of its hind legs had smashed its way out of its den and had decided to go exploring. Making its way into the street, it finds the amazed and terrified boy in the street. Unlike Calvin and Hobbes, this was not destined to end in friendship.
Striking him firmly with his paw, the Tiger clearly thinks he’s come across an easy lunch. Clamping down onto the boy, piercing his shoulder with one of his sharp teeth, a man blasts out of 164 Ratcliffe Highway and throws his arms around the Striped bastard’s throat.
The Tiger gasps as this plucky man wrestles it to the ground, tripping it over and trying valiantly to distract the creature from its prey. Colleagues of Jamrach’s pour out from the emporium and seek to placate the Tiger by with a crowbar, of all things – certainly not the kindly treatment given to the escaped Gorilla a few days ago from ZSL – giving it ‘three tremendous blows over the eyes’. A crowd gathers round this spectacle.
‘Nothing to see here’ says the man, awkwardly dusting himself down before checking that the boy is alright. The Tiger is dragged back to the shop and the gathered onlookers gaze at each other in amazement. Charles Jamrach. The man who in the newspaper reports of the time also may have wedged his fist into the beast’s throat and yanked his tongue – although the story did lend itself to sensationalism and embellishment.
Jamrach’s infamous Tiger lives on in a sculpture by Tobacco Dock, that captures the shocking moment where boy and beast first laid eyes on each other. Yet Jamrach, who had to pay £300 compensation to the injured boy’s father, lies beneath a plain headstone in Tower Hamlets Cemetery Park, alone, with no indication on his contribution that he had to the people of London and their love of seeing exotic animals.
So what became of the Tiger and what other animals did Jamrach import? Find out this weekend as we guide you around one of London’s most peaceful cemeteries – the only woodland in Zone 2.