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Perthshire lion rampage cufflinks go on show

Margaret Laing with the lion cufflinks. Picture: Hemedia

Margaret Laing with the lion cufflinks. Picture: Hemedia

  • by FRANK URQUHART
 

A PAIR of exotic cufflinks made from the the claws of a circus lion that went on the rampage in a quiet Perthshire town have gone on public display for the first time in more than a century.

The gold mounted cufflinks, and two other polished claws taken from the body of the lioness, were presented to the local police chief in the town of Blairgowrie in 1905 after he helped corner the ferocious animal after it escaped from Chipperfield’s Circus and ran amok as hundreds gathered in the streets for the burgh’s annual fair.

The lioness had been on the loose in the town for at least 15 minutes of mayhem before finally being cornered and shot by a member of the local militia.

The cufflinks and the two polished claws, gifted to Perth Museum in the will of Anne Brown, the grand daughter of the police chief, have gone on display for the first time since 1905 in the window of a local jewellers, Victor and Sons, where they have become the shop’s star attraction.

The display was arranged by local historian Margaret Laing.

Mrs Laing, 84, said the escape of the lioness had been one of the most momentous days in Blairgowrie history.

But she revealed: “Apparently there there was no mention of the incident in the local Blairgowrie Advertiser at the time which is really strange. There are all sorts of tales about the incident, but nobody knows for sure what exactly happened.

“Some say the lioness was a bit of flea bag but it certainly created mayhem in the town after it escaped from its cage on 25 July, 1905, when the annual fair, the Fair o’ Blair, was taking place in the town. The lion had come to the town with what is recorded at Chipperfield’s Circus and somehow managed to escape in the early evening when all the people were still going about the town. They all panicked like mad when the lioness was sighted.”

According to contemporary accounts, people leapt from high platforms to escape as the big cat escaped from the circus area and several children were knocked over in the stampede of fleeing spectators.

Local residents and visitors barricaded themselves inside shops as the beast ran amok through the Wellmeadow area of Blairgowrie for around 15 minutes.

Said Mrs Laing: “The lioness was apparently finally cornered in a shop doorway and a member of the local militia, the only person in the town with a firearm, was sent for and he shot it.”

During the attempt to contain the lioness two people were reportedly injured by stray bullets — a circus attendant was shot in the ankle and a Mrs Thorn, of West Mill, was hit after a bullet went through the door of the shop in which she was hiding.

Mrs Laing continued: “The body of the lioness was then taken behind where the local Wetherspoons pub is now and dismembered. The skin was tanned but there was no word of who got that. But the claws were distributed to various people who had taken part in the gory deed.

“Anne Brown’s grandfather, a Mr Mitchell who was the local police chief, was presented with four claws. Two were mounted in gold and made into cufflinks and the two other claws were polished up.”

She explained that Mrs Brown, who owned a toyshop in the town, had died last year and bequeathed the claws to Perth Museum with the proviso that, if Blairgowrie gets a museum of its own, the cufflinks should be returned to Blairgowrie.

George Kusza, who owns Victor and Sons Jewellers, where the cufflinks are on display, said the gruesome mementoes had already become a major taking point in the town. And he revealed that one of his wife’s ancestors had also inherited another of the lioness’ claws.

Mr Kusza said: “There has been a tremendous amount of interest in the claws since they first went on display. I knew about the lion going to the rampage because my wife’s grandfather, who had assisted the lion tamer in cornering the animal, was also gifted one of the claws as well. It has apparently been passed down through the family as a watch fob. But I don’t know where it is. We have tried to look for it and can’t find it.

“There’s bits of the lion dotted about the town. It must have been quite a free-for-all in its day.”

 

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