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Distributed for Reaktion Books

Beastly London

A History of Animals in the City

Distributed for Reaktion Books

Beastly London

A History of Animals in the City

Horse-drawn cabs rattling down muddy roads, cattle herded through the streets to the Smithfield meat market for slaughter, roosters crowing at the break of dawn—London was once filled with a cacophony of animal noises (and smells). But over the last thirty years, the city seems to have banished animals from its streets. In Beastly London, Hannah Velten uses a wide range of primary sources to explore the complex and changing relationship between Londoners of all classes and their animal neighbors.
            Velten travels back in history to describe a time when Londoners shared their homes with pets and livestock—along with a variety of other pests, vermin, and bedbugs; Londoners imported beasts from all corners of the globe for display in their homes, zoos, and parks; and ponies flying in hot air balloons and dancing fleas were considered entertainment. As she shows, London transformed from a city with a mainly exploitative relationship with animals to the birthplace of animal welfare societies and animal rights’ campaigns. Packed with over one hundred illustrations, Beastly London is a revealing look at how animals have been central to the city’s success.

272 pages | 40 color plates, 80 halftones | 7 1/2 x 10 | © 2013

History: British and Irish History

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“Well researched, it is written in a popular style. It covers animal life from a variety of angles . . . beautifully produced and packed with a variety of well-chosen images, ranging from lithographs and photographs to paintings and cartoons.”

Times Literary Supplement

“Velten’s sumptuously illustrated, well-researched history of the city is a comprehensive and accessible account of changing and complex animal-human relationships . . . deeply absorbing.” 

History Today

“Velten’s lively account, which draws upon famous chroniclers of London life, including Pepys and Dickens, as well as period prints, paintings, and photographs, explores the hidden life of animals in the city. Like many histories, it’s colourful, but shot through with brutality. Beasts of burden were not always treated well by their owners, and for centuries bloodsports such as bear baiting and cockfights provided vulgar but robust entertainment. Performing animals probably had a happier life. Among her cast of theatrical creatures, Velten introduces Toby the Sapient Pig, who could pick up letters written on cards and rearrange them into words, and a ‘Chien Savant’, who knew the Greek alphabet.”

World of Interiors

“Velten has a lovely way of writing, and her sensitivity to the plight of animals is clear but never obstructs from detail. . . . Velten weaves the words of Pepys, Defoe, Evelyn, Dickens, Hogarth and other witnesses from history into her narrative; all of which is accompanied by a fantastic assemblage of carefully chosen images. In short, Velten does for London’s animal history what Ackroyd did for its human history. From the cattle herded through the streets surrounding Smithfield’s Market and the work-weary cart, dray, and coal horses to the exotic but doomed animals holding residency at the Tower of London and the pests, vermin, and bedbugs in Londoners own homes—for most animals the capital was a living hell. Beastly London goes some way to repaying the great debt we owe them for not only shaping the city but transforming everyday life.” 

History Vault

“From fleas to elephants, this book has it covered . . . an entertaining and deeply absorbing examination of the life of animals in our city. . . . This is simply an outstanding book.” 

London Historians

Table of Contents

Introduction: Revealing the Beasts

1  Livestock: Londoners’ Nuisance Neighbours

2  Working Animals: Straining Every Muscle

3  Sporting Animals: Natural Instincts Exploited

4  Animals as Entertainers: Performance, Peculiarity and Pressure

5  Exotic Animals: The Allure of the Foreign and the Wild

6  Pampered Pets and Sad Strays

7  London Wildlife: The Persecuted and the Celebrated

Final Thoughts: An Apology and a Pardon



Photo Acknowledgements


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