Published: 31/03/2022 By Allan Fuller
The proud recipients of an invitation sent out in 1856 must have felt they were being called to witness a magnificent event that joined history, royalty and a superb setting – British pomp and circumstance at its best.
Signed by one Herbert de Grassen, evidently a "senior warden", sealed with an imposing blob of crimson wax, and with the stern warning "It is requested that no Gratuities will be given to the Wardens on any account", it summoned recipients to witness "The Annual Ceremony of Washing the Lions" at the Tower of London. The invitation survives in the archives of the tower, although the original is too fragile to display.
The tower's imperious black ravens are the last survivors of the menagerie which was kept there from at least the 14th century, stocked with many gifts from other countries, including lions, leopards and a polar bear which had a special licence to fish for its supper in the Thames. Earlier in the 19th century the lions and other animals were moved to the new Regent's Park zoo.