First identified in this corner of south-east London around 1748, this butterfly has been adopted as the borough’s icon after the library in Wells Way portrayed a giant mural on its wall in 1920, consisting of ceramic tiles from the Doulton factory in Lambeth. It was painted over during the war when Nazi Lord Haw-Haw in his broadcasts boasted that the Luftwaffe used it for navigation.
Cheshire Cheese Parrot
This remarkable bird, long-time resident of Fleet Street’s famous pub could mimic almost anything, and as a result she acquired a very blue vocabulary. Famously garrulous and rude about visitors she didn’t like, Polly celebrated the end of the First World War in 1918 in her own way. She imitated the noise of champagne corks popping an estimated 400 hundred times and then fell off her perch suffering from exhaustion. Upon her death in 1926 the BBC announced solemnly her demise on the wireless, and her obituary appeared in more than 20 newspapers worldwide, it was probably the last time a parrot was so honoured.
Guy the Gorilla
Arriving at London Zoo on 5 November 1947, hence his name, Guy proved to be one of the Zoo’s most popular residents, and as my father worked in the zoo, as a young man I’ve been in the cage with Guy when he, and I, were very young. Sadly dying 30 years later his statute is to be seen at the zoo, with another in Crystal Palace. Alas Guy’s body remains forever stuffed at the National History Museum.
Jumbo the Elephant
London’s first African elephant arrived at Regents Park in 1865, for fifteen years he enjoyed the affection of an adoring public (even as elephants in Africa were being slaughtered wholesale for their ivory tusks). But perhaps boredom set in, for in 1881 he became increasingly grumpy and unpredictable, and the rides were stopped. Against public opposition he was sold to Barnum’s Circus were they shipped him to America and promptly allowed him to be killed by a train.
Kasper the Cat
Nearing completion of a multi-million pound makeover the Savoy in its time would keep a large figure of a cat in the event that 13 people would sit down to dinner. To allay any fears of bad luck that might ensue, the dinner guest list would be made up to a more acceptable number 14. It remains to be seen if the Savoy’s new owners revive this quaint and idiosyncratic custom.
Dick Whittington’s Cat
The 4-times Lord Mayor of London could have had a cat if only to keep down London’s rat population (which has been attributed to the spread of the Plaque). Whittington funded the church of St Michael Paternoster Royal and during a recent restoration the mummified remains of a cat were discovered.
Cocky the Cockatoo
Probably London Zoo’s most long lived bird that died in 1982; this uninspired named bird outlived five Monarchs after arriving in London during reign of Queen Victoria.