Originally, it was the “Surrey Puma” which had caused all the fuss throughout the 1960s. The first possible sightings had been recorded in 1959, but by the mid-sixties, at Godalming Police Station alone, 362 reports were received over a two-year period. And then, in August 1966, a former police photographer took a pale, blurry grainy snap which he claimed showed the Surrey Puma at Worplesdon, near Guildford. The photo was published in the “News of the World”, and showed an animal almost surprised by the fuss.
It was enough to get the local plods out of the chip shop, though, and out on patrol…
They found little (if anything). Ten years later, in the very early morning of July 29th 1976, the focus was very much on the Queen of the Midlands, the beautiful City of Nottingham…
Not on the stone lions on the Council House, the rendez-vous point of countless lovers since they were placed there by the Third Reich School of Architecture in the late 1920s…
Not even the local ice hockey team…..
But rather on a country lane a few miles from the city centre. It must have been a very countrified area at the time, with lots of now disappeared open fields, and the grassy expanses of the airstrip at Tollerton, the rather grandiosely named “Nottingham Airport”. It was one of the two years of extreme drought in the mid-1970s, and it was….
“…shortly after 6am, 29 July 76, when two milkmen were delivering to a bungalow opposite the entrance to Nottingham airport on Tollerton Lane between Nottingham and Tollerton. Different accounts put it at 15 or 50 yards away from the men; they were in no doubt: “We both saw together what to us us was certainly a lion….its head down and its tail had a bushy end. It was walking slowly away from us.”
It is unclear whether it was a male or a female, but presumably they would have said “lioness” if that was what they had seen.
It must have been difficult to be mistaken though even at fifty yards’ range.
“They watched it walk around the edge of a field, then called the police from the bungalow. By nightfall, the police mounted a huge search, with dogs, guns, loud hailers and a helicopter, in the Tollerton and West Bridgford areas. The police also said they had calls from people telling of the mysterious restlessness of their pets on the night of the 28/29th; and a local farmer at Clipstone, near Cotgrave, reported ‘strange paw prints’ on his land.”
As is often the case…
“The police found nothing. They checked zoos and private lion-owners within 100 miles, but ‘no-one appears to have lost a lion.’ They said they were taking at least 15 sightings seriously. The hunt hit a turning point in its second day when a sighting at Radcliffe-on-Trent turned out to be somebody’s Great Dane. At the same time a sighting came in from Bassingfield. One of the reports was from as far away as Norfolk by a couple who said they saw a lion in a lay-by at Lowdham (a country village near Nottingham) but did not report it they didn’t think they’d be believed. Yet despite these sightings, the police were getting disappointed by the lack of anything positive. As in the ‘Surrey Puma’ cases, the lack of any killed livestock, no pets missing etc as there would be if there were a lion conventionally on the loose. The milkmen were rechecked and both (David Crowther and David Bentley) were unshaken in their belief that they had actually seen a lion.”
How different from the present day. I cannot imagine that there are too many zoos or private lion-owners within a hundred miles of Nottingham nowadays. It is certainly strange, though, that the two milkmen were adamant about what they had seen…
“On the third day of the hunt, reports were still coming into West Bridgford, the nerve-centre of the operations. One caller heard something big crashing through Bunny Woods, and another heard something in a copse near Trent Lane church at East Bridgford. In fact, the police were obliged to maintain the alert.
Martin Lacey, a former Nottingham zoo owner, enters the fray, saying all the noisy activity has driven the lion into hiding, and offers the use of his lion-hunting Rhodesian ridgeback hounds.”
Just as the press were losing interest in the ‘Nottingham Lion’ the story receives a shot in the rump.
“John Chisholm, a doctor of Normanton-on-the-Wolds, near Tollerton, saw a large animal trying to break through some undergrowth to get to a stream on the evening of 1st Aug, while he was walking near his home. When he returned home he and his wife watched it leave the area from their upstairs window. Police said they were following up several other sightings in the same area.”
Curiouser and curiouser….
“2nd Aug police searching the A610 at Temple Lake, near Kimberley, found a large tortoise on the embankment. They were unable to trace any owner so they adopted it.”
The saga continued…
“The dailies for the next day (3rd) run the story of Dr.Chisholm’s sighting. Naturally in everybody’s eyes the fact that he is a deputy coroner makes the sighting more impressive and believable. (The police were) now 98% certain that there was an animal in the area…..
By the 6th Aug the lack of results was telling on the police. They issued a statement saying they no longer believed there was a lion at large despite 65 reported sightings in the last 8 days. They said that they proved to be mistakes, large dogs, and even a large brown paper bag.”
After this negative statement, the police announce three more reports of it in the Plumtree and Normanton areas.
It is rather difficult to sort out this East Midlands X-file. If we accept that the two milkmen were not liars, however, and they had not just misidentified somebody’s Great Dane, it would make a lot more sense of they saw a lioness…
With the benefit of 38 years’ hindsight, I suspect that what they actually saw was
In other words, a common-or-garden “Alien Big Cat”
Nowadays, of course, nobody would think twice about claims of seeing a so-called “Alien Big Cat” in this area south of Nottingham, even though it is probably a lot more built-up than it used to be.
I recently saw a TV programme which claimed that there were two identifiable big cat territories centred on Rutland Water, giving a long list of the many different places in the area where animals had been seen. There have been suggestions, too, that these cats, whatever they may be, are making use of disused railway lines to travel around, possibly even penetrating into the suburbs of large cities, rather like foxes have done in the past.
Some ABCs are reported as melanistic…
But do be careful over the question of size, however…
Otherwise your claims to the Nottingham Evening Post may leave you looking more than a little stupid…
But it’s not all over yet… there are still lions out there, back in 1976…
“No sooner had the Nottingham mystery been killed off, it turns up over 70 miles away just south of York. On the night of the 9th Aug, Alan Pestall was on his way to his local walking down the moonlit main street of Thorganby, when a black shadow crossed in front of him, by the church. He thought it was a dog and spoke to it.
Then I realised it had a cat’s face and a long tail. It was about 3 to 4ft long and nearly 3ft high. Before I had a chance to run, it leaps over a fence and was away over the fields.’
He kept walking slowly to the pub, believing if he hurried or turned it would attack him. Police took his story seriously and mounted a search on the 10th, but found no sign of a lion.”
A police spokesman said
“We have no reason to connect this report with the recent sightings of a lion in Nottinghamshire.”
Almost thirty years later, it was the turn of Norfolk’s Boys in Blue to take on the Killer Menace of the Big Cats..
Thankfully, perhaps, Alan Partridge kept out of it.
The picture of the Rhodesian Ridgebacks is used by kind permission of Jackie Ellis whose website is http://www.zejak.co.uk/. Even if you don’t particularly like dogs, there are some lovely cute puppies there…and the bonus is that they’ll protect you from the Nottingham Lion!
13 responses to ““The Nottingham Lion Saga””
Good article John. Back in about 1989/1990 I was at school and heard a story about a man who was attacked by a lion as he left the pub in Grimsby town centre. It had been released from the circus in Cleethorpes and couldn’t resist a night out on the town!
Thanks a lot, Darren. That was a lovely story. Perhaps it was even the same lion!
Thanks very much for your kind words.
You deserve more.
I was 10yrs old and lived in tollerton in 1976! I recall a gang of us village kids walking the fields to Edwalton along the public foot path armed with sticks!! There was a helicopter over head, so much for stay in doors and keep widows closed!!! It was the summer of 76 for goodness sake parents at work and latch key kids! We did panic when saw the rear of a Jersey cow with sandy colour with brown tip to tail, “run it’s the lion!!!”
What a fabulous story! I am so pleased that you chose to write in. Around Hallowe’en, I am hoping to do a feature about “The Gnomes of Wollaton Park”. I do hope one of the original kids who saw them writes in about that. They will be just a little bit younger than you. (Or a gnome would be even better)
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I lived at the farm that the Nottingham lion was spotted in. The two milkmen, Dave Bentley and Dave Crowther came running into the farmyard where my dad was, and clearly were very scared. They called the police from the farm not the bungalow. I had just left school and it was the summer of 76. I remember being annoyed that I was not allowed out of the house until being told it was safe by the police. That was a 3 day curfew if I remember correctly. I took a photo which I still have somewhere of a police panda car and two officers holding rifles in front of the old aerodrome gates. On the news that night there was film of the police in lines and armed walking over our fields and back of our farm yard. I don’t know what the milkman saw that day 40 years ago, but I do know that they believed they had seen a lioness .
Thanks very much Martin for your fascinating reply. Nowadays, the idea seems to be that people who had exotic pets were worried when the Dangerous Wild Animals Act came in, and a lot of them just released their pet puma in their local woods. Given the fact that the act was passed by parliament on July 22nd 1976 those milkmen quite possibly saw a lioness or a mountain lion which would have been very similar. I don’t know if you remember the army being sent out many years ago onto Bodmin Moor to hunt for the Beast of Bodmin, but my daughter spoke to one of those soldiers a few years back and he said that they had actually seen it. He spent the rest of his life in gamekeeper type jobs and he also told her that he had seen big cats in the south west of England on two separate occasions. So why shouldn’t Notts have one? And thanks again for your reply!
I always heard it was thought to be a stray or escaped Great Dane Dog? I also recall being up late with my mum watching Mutiny on the Bounty and then while switching everything off we both heard the noise of what sounded like a chain dragging outside on our road(Stella Avenue)! We were convinced this could have been the chain around the neck of perhaps an escaped circus lion!!! We did the right thing and of course self doubted and went off to kip!! A very memorable time what with Mrs Joynes house also being eaten by Masonary Bees but that is another Midlands Today featured Tollerton tale!
Thanks very much for your lovely contribution. Was Mrs Joynes another victim of the “Tollerton Triangle” ? That has quite a good ring to it. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it before!