In October 1684 the diarist John Evelyn went to see what was probably the first rhinoceros to appear in England. She had been brought to London by some East India merchants who sold her at auction. The novelty factor allowed them to obtain the enormous sum of £2,320. Evelyn noted in his diary: ’Twas certainly a very wonderful creature’.
The money promised by the bidder never materialised, and the animal became an exhibit at the Bell Savage, which stood on the north side of Ludgate Hill and was one of the City’s most important coaching inns in the late seventeenth century.
The Bell Savage, which had been rebuilt after the Great Fire, had a large inner courtyard, complete with stabling, and so could easily accommodate its new resident, which was advertised as a ‘Rhynoceros, lately brought from the East indies’. Admission to have a look cost 12d. The rhino probably remained an exhibit for a couple of years.
The Bell Savage was demolished in 1873 to allow for the construction of the Ludgate Hill railway viaduct, which was in turn demolished in 1990.
Ian McDiarmid is a qualified City of London Tour Guide who delivers guided walks and private tours in London. View all of Ian’s walking tours.