Tag Archives: Nottingham Lion

A strange and worrying zoo in France

I have now written quite a few articles about the various Beasts of France, beginning with the most famous, the Beast of Gévaudan, which flourished from 1764-1767:

second-beast

And then it was the Beast of Benais, followed by the Beast of Noth, not forgetting the Beast of the Cévennes, the Beast of Primarette, the Beast of Orléans, the Beast of Lyonnais, the Beast of Sarlat, the Beast of Auxerre, the Beast of Cinglais, the Beast of Gâtinais, the list just goes on and on. Some of them were really quite peculiar creatures, even by the contemporary standards of Beastliness:

beast 1709

Not all French monsters are wolf-types, however. Here are just a few of the inmates of what the original website called “Un Zoo étrange et inquiétant en France”, “a strange and worrying zoo in France”.

The first animal is a snake, which used to live in the Forest of Fontainebleau, just to the south west of Paris:

forest of fontaineblasu

It was seen, and duly killed, by the King (Quite right too!). According to legend, it was 18 feet long, with a weight of some 160 kilos (around 350 pounds):

Giant_snakezzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

This monster was venomous and used to hide in a great pile of rocks which offered him protection as no group of attackers was able to approach the creature simultaneously. Only one adversary at a time could reach him.

One day, King Francis the First or le Roi François Premier, was out hunting in the area. This king was a contemporary of King Henry VIII, at the start of the sixteenth century:

220px-Francis1-1

The King and His Royal Nose decided to put an end to this creature which had sown terror and desolation throughout the land.( Well, it was a very big pile of rocks).

BOA

The king had commissioned a suit of armour covered with razor blades. When the snake tried to coil itself around him, the razor blades, quite literally, cut the monster to pieces.  “Scratch one constrictor!” as they say.

What other animals are in the “strange and worrying zoo”?

Well, back in 1965:

“In the Toulouse area, flocks of sheep belonging to Trappist monks at the Abbey of St. Mary of the Desert, and also those belonging to the Count of Orgeix, suffered extensive depredations from a mysterious animal. Three students from the area of Cadours who were driving around one  night in the car, saw two animals which were larger than a dog or a wolf. They had light beige fur. These strange creatures were like enormous mastiffs, with huge, round, bulging eyes. The four footed killers then disappeared from the area as mysteriously as they had appeared.”

One year later, in May,

“In the region of Pignans (in the département of Var), a tenant farmer, Monsieur Baptistin, asleep in his small house, which was located some two kilometres from the village, was awakened by furious barking from his dog. He got out of bed, switched on the light and saw the silhouette of a huge animal which was disappearing into the darkness:

bigfoot giph

The next morning, he discovered near the water trough animal tracks of a startling size:

jerry-crew-taught-by-bob-titmus zzzzzzzzzzz

The authorities were alerted. The Forestry Services photographed the tracks and made a cast, but nobody was able to ascertain what kind of animal they belonged to.

For several weeks, the locals no longer dared to go out at night. The more daring people who did venture out never failed to take a reliable rifle with them.”

(Actually, it wasn’t Bigfoot, or at least I don’t think it was. It’s just that the details of this story are so vague that it is actually possible to interpret the events as being “Grand-Pied” himself, rather than some, presumably, fairly run-of-the-mill Alien Big Cat.)

In mid-August of 1966, a monster was seen haunting the area around Draguignan near the road to Grasse , a region where many UFOs had been seen, both in flight and on the ground:

“A former member of the armed forces, Monsieur Paul G… , found himself one morning around seven o’clock  face to face with an unknown creature. The animal had its mouth open.  It had a pointed snout, which was rather long, and triangular teeth. Under its neck, it had a goitre which gave it a frightening appearance. The ears were short, like those of a dog, but they were very pointed. The body was very long and covered with grey fur. The animal had a long tail, at least 40 centimetres (16 inches) in length.”

imaginative chaingyu

Interestingly, the town of Draguignan has a name and a coat of arms which are both redolent of another species of legendary animal. The town was founded around 400AD after Saint Hermentaire, the Bishop of Antibes, had overcome a dragon in single combat. Exactly how he managed this does not seem to have been recorded, but here is the coat of arms:

draguignan

It was definitely not a friendly dragon:

friendly dragon

In 1967, the presence of a number of monsters was reported throughout the whole of France. In the Creuse region in particular, between Royère and Chavanat:

Département_creuse zzzzzzzzz

…a feline of unknown species was flushed in the hamlet of Cloux Valleret by a farmer named Monsieur Simo:

surrey puma original

A week earlier, farmers in the Vosges area had already stalked an animal of indeterminate species which looked rather like a wolf:

wolf bounding

All that was easily topped though, by a report from Italy:

“In June 1970, in Meldola, about ten kilometres from Forli, a farmer claimed to have encountered some kind of dragon, six to seven metres long, with a body some 15 inches in diameter.

dragon

The Italian police organized a hunt which did not turn up anything. The monster appeared once or twice more and then disappeared forever.”

Back to France, in 1972:

“In the area around Vigan in Hérault, some medical students, out hunting in a snow covered area, discovered the footprints of an unknown animal:

yeti tracks

They followed the tracks for several kilometres. Suddenly they disappeared just in front of a rock which was projecting up out of the ground. The beast seemed to have reared up on his back end and then been recovered by his masters on board a flying machine.”

Don’t think though, that the French are especially weak minded and that this is why they continually report crazy sightings of weird animals. In this area, the British, quite rightly, are streets ahead of their nearest and dearest neighbours. But first of all, let’s just forget our many, many, ferocious Black Dogs such as Shuck and his like:

dog

Forget the werewolves seen more than once at Alconbury USAAF Air Base:

werewolf attack

Forget the sightings of Bigfoot in Cannock Chase and Sherwood Forest (an “eight-foot, hairy man beast with red glowing eyes” seen in late 2002) (allegedly):

red eyeszzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

Just on cats alone we are well in front. The most famous cat of all, of course, is the Beast of Bodmin:

bodmin1

But don’t forget his less famous sidekick, the Beast of Exmoor. And before that Gruesome Twosome, it was the Surrey Puma. And don’t ever forget the heyday of the Nottingham Lion.

But look at this list, put together originally by George M. Eberhart.

Don’t just skip through it. Select your top three:

“The Ashley Leopard, the Ayrshire Puma, the Beast of Ballymena, the Beast of Barnet, the Basingstoke Beast, the Beast of Beacon Hill, the Bennachie Beast, the Beast of Bin, the Blagdon Beast, the Beast of Bont, the Broadoak Beast, the Beast of Broomhill, the Beast of Bucks, the Carsington Beast, the Beast of Chiswick, the Essex Beast, the Inkberrow  Beast, the Beast of Margam, the Beast of Milton, the Beast of Otmoor, the Shropshire Border Beast, the Beast of Tonmawr, the Beast of Tweseldown (sic), the Black Beast of Gloucestershire, the Black Beast of Moray, the Brechfa Beast, the Cadmore Cat, the Chiltern Cougar, the Crondall Cougar, the Durham Puma, the Eccles Cheetah, the Fen Tiger, the Highland Puma, the Lindsey Leopard, the Mendips Monster, the M25 Monster, the Munstead Monster, the Norfolk Grinder, the Pink Panther of Derbyshire, the Penistone Panther, the Penwith Cougar, the Beast of Powis, the Rosshire Lioness, the Terror of Tedburn, the Tilford Lynx and, last but not least, the Wolds Wild Cat.”

For me it’s, in third place, the Norfolk Grinder. Second is the Penistone Panther, but my own winner is…….. the Eccles Cheetah!!

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Filed under Cryptozoology, France, History, Humour, Science, Wildlife and Nature

“The Nottingham Lion Saga”

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.
surrey puma original
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…
nottingham_councilhall_0
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…..
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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.

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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.”

rhodesian
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.”

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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…

black panther

But do be careful over the question of size, however…

diagram

Otherwise your claims to the Nottingham Evening Post may leave you looking more than a little stupid…

tomcat
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!

 

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Filed under Cryptozoology, Film & TV, History, Nottingham, Wildlife and Nature