X is for Cross Road
Cross Road …I know it’s cheating… along with
Street on the north west side of Walworth are long gone.
Now part of Chapter Road
and a location in the Alberta Estate respectively, these streets once
commemorated the famous impresario Edward Cross who transformed that area into
one of the wonders of the nineteenth century.
Edward Cross by Jacques-Laurent Agasse, 1838
A dealer in foreign birds and beasts, Edward Cross was the proprietor of the popular tourist attraction in the
Strand, ‘Mr Cross’s Royal Grand
Menagerie.’ The poet Byron made a visit, and Sir Edward Landseer’s lions at the
foot of Nelson’s column in Trafalgar
Square were based on illustrations he made of the
big cats there. Cross had once saved a zookeeper’s life when he ran into the
elephant cage armed with nothing more than a pitchfork, and stopped the
unfortunate man from being gored by the five ton animal. But he later gained
notoriety when he had the same elephant destroyed in what became a scene of
carnage. It was eventually shot by a firing squad after a number of bungling
attempts to put it down failed miserably.
The heartbreaking episode made Cross a very unpopular man among zoologists and the public alike, and things took a decided turn against him. The premises in the Strand were soon pulled down, and he moved lock, stock and barn owl to a place at
Cross. Again this was demolished to make way for the National
Gallery. He then offered his animal collection to the folks at , with whom he had a fierce rivalry,
but they were not interested. It was then that he turned to Walworth and gained
funding to set up shop in the old Manor House and grounds. The thirteen acre
site was transformed into something that would become so much more than a zoo.
It boasted an ornamental lake with several islands; botanical gardens; an
arboretum; pleasure gardens; promenades; refreshment areas; and spectacular
outdoor shows that drew tens of thousands. Scene painter George Danson was
employed to create some amazing backdrops such as Regents Park Mount
Etna or Vesuvius, and then the pyrotechnicians got to work. At
midnight, several times a week, came a wonderful display of fireworks depicting
the eruption of a volcano. One summer season saw over a half a million people
witness the performance.