The Clerk in the Country

Friday 24th November 2023

A ghost, a myth and a menagerie

Of the “ghosts” recently on show in the Museum Gardens, the one that perhaps drew the most attention was the Bear, but passers-by photographing the fearsome beast were probably unaware of the significance of its location close to (and heading away from) the Multangular Tower.

In the early 1830s the Yorkshire Philosophical Society established a menagerie of exotic animals in its Gardens, and some of them seem to have been housed inside the Tower.  One day the bear escaped and chased a couple of leading Society members into the Gardens.  As a consequence it was donated to London Zoo, travelling south by stagecoach, in a cage secured to the outside.

Entering the realm of myth, the story continues that the bear was unhappy in London and begged leave to return.  Having proved itself capable of sending a message, it presumably travelled on an inside seat of the coach back to York, where it was allowed to live in the Yorkshire Museum on condition that during opening hours it stood completely still.  And there it remains, its favourite upright pose echoed by the wire ghost sculpture.  Museum staff will tell you that this bear is a stuffed specimen acquired in the 1980s, but that does not explain why it has occasionally been seen wearing the top hat it bought for the purpose of travelling incognito inside the stagecoach.

Facts about the menagerie are scanty but the evidence for its location in the Multangular Tower can be found in our November Newsletter.  Members should already have received this, or will shortly do so, by email, post or hand delivery.  Non-members are welcome to read it here.