The Sheffield Jungle Project

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The Sheffield Jungle project ran from autumn 2010 to spring 2013, and covered research into the two occasions when Frank Bostock brought his renowned jungle to Sheffield during the winters of 1910-11 and 1912-13.

The aim of this project was to record the activities of the Sheffield Jungle. This was done by re-broadcasting the advertising and reviews of the time found in the local press and the World’s Fair newspaper.

The nature of the Sheffield Jungle was contextualised through the events recorded in the advertisements and press, focussing on the Victorian period, leading up the event and the changing environment of entertainment through the twentieth century.

As the project extended, contributions from other areas of the University of Sheffield were brought in to look at aspects of engineering, cultural traditions, archaeology and architecture.

The project looked at the historical space of the Jungle, at other exhibitions and entertainment cultures within Sheffield and at how Bostock's Jungle and other menagerie shows shaped the growing city through interacting with the industrial, educational and heritage aspects of Sheffield.

Historical background

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In November 1910 Frank C. Bostock's Jungle arrived in Sheffield. By utilising the temporary spaces opened up by the slum clearance around the infamous Crofts, the Jungle provided a fantastic spectacle of entertainment for the local population.

The Jungle was an eclectic collection of animals, exhibitions and circus acts designed to enthral the public. It included the Darwin Villa where different primates where exhibited together, a fasting exhibition by hunger artist Mr Victor Beaute and a novelty on mechanical devices from America, the Joy Wheel (a highly polished, rotating circular platform that caused people to slide off and make a spectacle of themselves).

Jungles, were treated as 'out of the ordinary' events. The performers were assembled and managed as pre-celebrity era 'super-stars', humans capable of the bravest acts by engaging with the ferocious and their supreme achievement. Bostock was always wanting to give the latest and greatest thrill, whether with his animals and their trainers, or with additional attractions around the jungle.

Other attractions seen during the first Jungle were; Anita the Living Doll, an art exhibition, a charity auction for the Hulton Colliery Disaster, a snake charmer, Mary Ellen the elephant and an essay competition for local schools.
Bostock passed away at the start of October 1912. However his Jungle had been booked to appear for a second run in Sheffield and this was upheld by his right-hand man and manager Harry Tudor.

The second Sheffield Jungle opened its doors on Friday 25th October. This time there were fewer animal acts and an emphasis on fun house style attractions such as slides and shadowgraph shows.

A publicity stunt was staged to capture the local news, with Jungle staff involved in the hunt for a runaway stag from the Wentworth estate.

Listed as being present in the Jungle were; Mary Ellen the elephant, a troupe of polar bears, Tom Tallon the young lion tamer, Hans and Greta the chimpanzees and Fritz the boxing kangaroo.

Whilst the Sheffield Jungle was an important cultural and entertainment event at the time, the physical site of the Jungle provides a focal point for understanding local space and architecture. The clearance of the slums, the building of the 'Alexandra Skating Rink', and the legacy left of the building on Hawley Street as it became the Corporation Transport Depot are all landmarks that touch the life and experiences of many local people.

In the 17th century, when Sheffield was dominated by the medieval castle, the population was less than 3,500. The principle industry was cutlery manufacture and by 1672 forty six per cent of Sheffield houses had a forge or smithy attached. The built up area of the city began to encroach beyond the township boundary and on to formerly open fields or ‘crofts’, by the 1730's the population was around 10,000. Sheffield had a more specialised occupational structure than any other town in England. By the end of the eighteenth century the ‘crofts’ had developed into a densely packed suburb and the population of Sheffield was over 30,000. The crofts were a combination of housing and industrial activity with cutlery manufacturing being predominant.

Even though the area was full of highly skilled workers it would seem that this mixture of working, living and meeting places was seen as morally filthy and chaotic. In the 1860's the hygiene and living conditions in the ‘crofts’ were poor and the sanitary system wholly inadequate. The area had the highest death rate in Sheffield, with one in four children dying before the age of one and the area was demolished for redevelopment.

The first phase of development focussed on the partial demolition of the slums based around the traversing Hawley Croft, Sims Croft and School Croft and was carried out through 1898-99. The three crofts were bisected with the southern aspect, adjoining the city centre, redeveloped to create a ring of modern three-storey housing. This process created Hawley Street, with the external boundary of the old slums on Townhead Street.

Demolition of the three Crofts was completed around 1907. The years following this saw the partial development of the northern aspect of Hawley Street junctioning with Campo Lane and Lee Croft and the provision of more new housing. However the large area created by this demolition remained essentially undeveloped, allowing the quick build of the Alexandra Skating Rink in 1909.

Following the First World War the Bostock Jungle was not resurrected, though the tradition of travelling menageries continued through the 1920s with the Bostock and Wombwell organisation.

Frank Bostock's Biography 

History of Menageries

Lizzie the Elephant