Tiddly Pom... Some Wiltshire Animal Tales

on Friday, 11 January 2013. Posted in Wiltshire Tales

I’ve been delving in our archives, on the hunt for some notable animals in Wiltshire’s History, and I’ve got a couple vying for that top spot. First, and being a fan of the good old British moggy, I was pleased to have the Marlborough church cat brought to my attention. Yes, it is commemorated in stone, but it seems that it really did exist. Visitors to St Mary’s Church in Marlborough will be able to pick out the outline of a cat on the south porch. This corbel, dating to the fifteenth century, commemorates a church cat that saved her kittens from a fire. Perhaps the cat was originally employed to catch the church mice, but it goes into our top ten as our most heroic animal in Wiltshire’s history.

Also brought to my attention and no less deserving of our respect is the bear that was the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh.  During the Great War, 25,000 Canadian troops were stationed around Salisbury Plain 1915-16.

Among their number were also four American black bears, mascots of the 2nd Infantry Brigade, the Divisional Ammunition Park, the 2nd Brigade and the 8th and 10th Batteries. When the Canadian troops left for France on 7th June 1916, the bears were left behind in the care of the Zoological Society. From there they found their way to London Zoo.  One of the bears, named Winnie after its place of origin, Winnipeg, was brought from Canada by Lieutenant Harry Coleburn. Winnie remained at the Zoo until its death in 1934. There is some suggestion that this former Wiltshire four-legged resident inspired A A Milne to name his fictional bear after Winnie.  Winnie the Pooh was published in 1926.  However, later in their lives, neither Christopher Robin nor his father could remember the origin of the name. Despite this, there is a bronze statue of Winnie the Pooh with Lt. Coleburn, by Bill Epp, erected in 1992 behind the Reptile House of London Zoo. For this and being the most unlikely inspiration for a literary character that has brought pleasure to thousands of people and associated giftware (including an old cushion in my car and my wife’s old school pencil tin) Winnie goes straight to the top of our list …. Unless of course you know a more deserving animal…

And last but not least... allow me to introduce perhaps one of the cleverest animals to have visited Wiltshire. I am indebted to my colleague Mervyn Grist for helping me bring to your attention the amazing Pig of Knowledge.

This wondrous animal (or was it two?) appeared in Salisbury Market in August 1785 and at Devizes Green Fair, October 1790. An advertisement in the Salisbury and Winchester Journal claimed:

 “The scientific pig. The most striking curiosity ever seen or heard of. For we know of no age or county that has, at any period, produced the like, and in all probability of seeing such another. Be wise and see it why you may. This remarkable animal has just arrived at Devizes Green Fair. This astonishing animal performs with cards, money and watches; tells the day of the month and month of the year; tells the value of pieces of money, foreign and English. Tells ladies and gentleman their thoughts in company; any lady of gentleman drawing a card out of a pack though ever so secret, the pig blindfolded at the same time will pick out the card they draw. Distinguishes all sorts of colours. He performs many other curious feats which equally contribute to the pleasure and amazement of spectators.”

Now, who wouldn’t pay to see that?

Terry Bracher
Archives & Local Studies Manager


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