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Strange tales: The barmaid eaten by a tiger

According to her gravestone and local legend, Hannah Twynnoy, a barmaid in Malmesbury, was the first person in Britain to be eaten by a tiger.

Hannah herself was a real person and worked at The White Lion pub in the Wiltshire town of Malmesbury. The pub building exists to this day but it was converted to a house in the 1960s.

In 1703 a travelling menagerie of animals stopped in the town and were displayed in the pub’s rear courtyard.

In a story straight out of one of Hilaire Belloc’s ‘Cautionary Tales for Young Children’*, Hannah, much against everyone’s advice, annoyed and provoked the tiger for some days until finally it broke free of its cage and killed her.

Her gravestone, wittily if a little morbidly, reads:

“In bloom of Life
She’s snatchd from hence,
She had not room
To make defence;
For Tyger fierce
Took Life away.
And here she lies
In a bed of Clay,
Until the Resurrection Day.”

With the cost of a gravestone being expensive at this time and the parish register apparently containing no reference to a Hannah Twynnoy living in Malmesbury in 1700, the truth of the tale is disputed,

Local history persists however and a plaque that used to hang in the parish church at Hullavington just five miles away apparently read:

“To the memory of Hannah Twynnoy. She was a servant of the White Lion Inn where there was an exhibition of wild beasts, and amongst the rest a very fierce tiger which she imprudently took pleasure in teasing, not withstanding the repeated remonstrance of its keeper.

“One day whilst amusing herself with this dangerous diversion the enraged animal by an extraordinary effort drew out the staple, sprang towards the unhappy girl, caught hold of her gown and tore her to pieces.”

The plaque has long since gone but perhaps points to the truth of the unfortunate end of the barmaid of The White Lion?


*’Jim: who ran away from his nurse and was eaten by a Lion’ springs most readily to mind.

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