The site of 37 Albany Street, near Regent’s Park was once home to naturalist William Buckland, Dean of Westminster, a fanatical animal collector and one of London’s strangest characters.
[T]O PROVE THE EFFICACY of bird droppings as fertiliser he once used great quantities of it to write the word ‘guano’ on the lawn at his Oxford College. When the summer came and the grass had grown well the letters could be clearly seen.
Buckland’s house was overrun with animals including two monkeys he let drink and smoke, some he slept with and others were kept till they died and then dissected or just left to rot. But Buckland’s taste for natural history extended further.
He started the Society for the Acclimatisation of Animals which aimed to naturalise exotic animals to widen the nation’s diet. His wide circle of friends were guests at Albany Street and were treated to roasted hedgehog, grilled crocodile streak, slug soup, horse’s tongue, boiled elephant trunk, rhinoceros pie and boiled porpoise head which tasted like ‘broiled lamp-wick’. If you partook of his generous hospitality, the chances are that the dish of the day came from an animal that had roamed Buckland’s house and garden a little earlier as a pet.
The stewed mole was a dish that Buckland announced to be the most revolting thing he’d eaten, though this was before he tried ‘horribly bitter’ earwigs and ‘unspeakable’ bluebottles.
Buckland acquired exotic creatures when there was a death at nearby London Zoo. On one occasion returning from holiday he was furious to discover in his absence, the zoo had buried a dead leopard. Buckland eagerly dug it up for supper.
He showed no qualms in using his taste buds in pursuit of knowledge. Travelling to London on his horse one dark wintry night Buckland got lost, but trusting to his extraordinary sense of taste he simple dismounted, picked up a handful of earth, tasted it, shouted “Uxbridge!” and went on his way – if only London’s cabbies could do the same.
While visiting a cathedral where saints’ blood was said to drip on the floor, Buckland took one lick to determine the ‘blood’ was in fact bat urine.
A king’s heart
Buckland’s friend Edward Harcourt, Archbishop of York, was, like Buckland himself, a great collector of curiosities and had managed to obtain what was believed to be the shrunken, mummified heart of Louis XIV. He kept it in a snuff box in his London house and rashly showed it to Buckland during a dinner party. “I have eaten many things”, Buckland is reported to have said, “but never the heart of a King” and before anyone could stop him he
gobbled it up.
Picture: William Buckland in 1843.
A version of this post was published by CabbieBlog on 12th March 2013