Exeter Exchange menagerie in United Kingdom

Exeter Exchange menagerie
An anonymous cartoon depicting Chunees execution at Exeter Exchange menagerie 1826
An anonymous cartoon depicting Chunees execution at Exeter Exchange menagerie 1826

Local name Royal Grand National Menagerie

Owner 1788-1793: Thomas Clark
1793-1814: Gilbert Pidcock
1810-1814: Stephani Polito
1814-1814: John Polito
1814-1829: Edward Cross
Closed down1855
Address Exeter Exchange
Place London
Country United Kingdom
Website Website


Key People: Mary Cross (assistant director)
-1814: Edward Cross (assistant director)
-: Elizabeth Cross (assistant director)
1808-1838: Harry Richardson (head zookeeper)
1814-1814: Sarah Polito (assistant director)


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Exeter Exchange menagerie, located at Exeter Exchange, in London, United Kingdom , was founded in 1773. Exeter Exchange menagerie closed down in 1855.

Comments / picturesThe Exeter Exchange (popularly known as Exeter Change) was a building on the north side of the Strand in London, with an arcade extending partway across the carriageway. The menagerie was established by Thomas Clark and was purchased in 1793 by Gilbert Pidcock.

It is most famous for the menagerie that occupied its upper floors for over 50 years, from 1773 until it was demolished in 1829. From 1773, the upper rooms were let to a series of impresarios who operated a menagerie in competition with the Royal Menagerie at the Tower of London. The menagerie at the Exeter Exchange included elephants, lions, tigers, monkeys, and other exotic Species, all confined in iron cages in small rooms. The roaring of the big cats could be heard in the street below, occasionally scaring horses that passed by.

Gilbert Pidcock

From 1793, the menagerie was owned by Gilbert Pidcock and at Pidcock‘s Menagerie children were given the opportunity to ride a most stupendous male elephant in an apartment that had been specially built to accommodate elephant rides. This elephant arrived 1797 and would also perform Ticks with buckets, coins and handkerchiefs that involved audience participation.

By 1806 Pidcock had owned at least five Indian elephants, sometimes taking one on tour around the country, an operation which involved the construction of a massive caravan drawn by eight powerful horses.

Stephani Polito

Pidcocks winter quarters in Exeter were taken over by Stephani Polito, also an operator of travelling circuses.

Polito was born in Italy. He owned a menagerie which he toured around England in the late 18th century. He went into partnership with another menagerist named Miles in 1798, and "Miles and Polito\'s Menagerie" exhibited at St Bartholomew\'s Fair in 1799. Polito\'s menagerie also attended Nottingham Goose Fair in 1807.

Polito acquired the permanent menagerie at Exeter Exchange in the Strand in London from the Pidcock family in 1810, and renamed it the Royal Menagerie. He continued to tour in the summer, and exhibited his animals at Exeter Exchange in the winter. The menagerie at Exeter Exchange was very popular during Polito\'s short period of ownership. It was visited by William Wordsworth and Lord Byron, and animals in his collection were painted by Edwin Landseer and Jacques-Laurent Agasse. The menagerie lions, tigers, hyenas, zebras, kangaroos, and many other exotic animals, and the elephant Chunee, which was shot to death in 1826.

Polito died in 1814 and and the menagerie and his collection was acquired by his brother, John, after his death, and then by a former employee, Edward Cross (also John\'s father in law).

Edward Cross

Edward Cross (1774-1854) operated the menagerie at the Exeter Change between 1814 and 1829, and continued to tour with a travelling menagerie under the name "Polito\'s Menagerie". It is represented on pearlware pottery from the 1830s. Cross was later the superintendent of Surrey Zoological Gardens and a descendant called William Cross operated a menagerie as an importer of wild beasts in Liverpool in the 1890s.

Edward Cross renamed the collection the Royal Grand National Menagerie, and employed a doorkeeper who was dressed as a Yeoman of the Guard. The bad-tempered elephant, Chunee, was shot there in March 1826 by soldiers from Somerset House.

When the Exeter Exchange was demolished in 1829, as part of general improvements to the Strand, the animals were dispersed to the new London Zoo in Regents Park and Cross new enterprise at Surrey Zoological Gardens.

Exeter Hall was built on the site, opening in 1831 and surviving until 1907. The site is now occupied by the Strand Palace Hotel.


References for records about Exeter Exchange menagerie

Recommended Citation

Koehl, Dan (2023). Exeter Exchange menagerie, Elephant Encyclopedia. Available online at https://www.elephant.se/location2.php?location_id=537. (archived at the Wayback machine)

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