Animal Stories

Travelling through time from the Chiswick House Menagerie of the 19th century to the present day, see how our relationship to animals has shaped Hounslow and the communities that live and work here. This intriguing collection of stories is told through the memory of local people and research of historical records and archives.

The project features a series of new stories extensively researched and written by Alistair Cartwright, and colourful images and stop motion animations by illustrator Amber Cooper-Davies, both of whom were selected by members of the Hounslow Exhibitions Group, which includes local people, artists and library staff.


As well as an enclosure for deer, the estate had its own menagerie with llama, elks, emus, kangaroos, ostriches, a Neapolitan pig, an Indian bull, and a coatimundi. The star attraction was a male Indian elephant named Sadi, who was trained to carry people on its back.


No one would guess, from the outside, that each year about 16,000 cats and dogs, 400 horses, 200,000 reptiles, 2,000 birds, and 28 million fish pass through here.


Each icon, or murti, represents a Hindu deity. Among them is Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity revered for his attentiveness and ability to remove obstacles.


He scoops up the bird with two hands, then throws it skywards. There is a brief cacophony of beating feathers as it twists into the air, veering left and up, over the roof of the house, and out of sight.


A little ledge in the mouth of the tunnel provides an ideal perch for the Kingfisher to spot its underwater prey of minnows and sticklebacks. As well as birds, foxes and Muntjac deer use the tunnel as a shortcut when the river runs dry during summer.


In urban peripheries like Hounslow, agriculture responded to the growing demands of the city. Horse-powered mechanical harrows, mowers and rakes allowed farmers to cover ground more quickly. Meanwhile horse drawn coaches from London, or from the great country estates such as Gunnersbury House, raced across Hounslow Heath to reach Bath, Bristol and Portsmouth.


The two-lipped door snail, named after the moving ‘trapdoor’ in its shell that protects it from predators, and the German hairy snail, whose hairs help it cling to slippery surfaces, need air to breathe. But at Isleworth Ait they have found an ideal habitat on the border between land and water.


The sanitary inspector with his surveys and poisons can be seen as the modern version of the rat catcher of previous centuries, with his trusty dogs and wire cages.


The creature gave a few ponderous beats of its wings as it travelled south towards the river. Yet it was too big to be a bird; and instead of feathers it had smooth, dark skin, and in place of a beak, a long muzzle, like a dog.

Alistair Cartwright is a writer and historian. His research focuses on the experience, representation, and regulation of postwar London’s ‘rented rooms’.

‘Working on this project, so often I was aware that it was the people I was speaking to – wildlife watchers and ecologists, community organisers and archivists – that were leading me on a journey of discovery. Hounslow’s layers of natural and human-made history are immensely complex, vital and at times troubling. Thanks to people like Wendy Marks, who showed me the hidden riches of Cranford Park, or Kathryn Rooke, who dug out some of the more obscure documents attached to Gunnersbury House, I was able to piece together what I hope is a story of relevance not only for understanding the past, but also the future.’

Amber Cooper-Davies is an illustrator and animator based in London. Her work is characterised by her love of materials, mixing colour and texture with intricate cutting and composition. Amber works in traditional print media, digital as well as live performance and augmented reality.

“It was really interesting to work with the Group on this project, as each person brought their unique insight about the characters and spirit of Hounslow. Usually working as an illustrator I will only really get feedback from one person, but with the richness of Alistair’s research and the knowledge of the panel, I was able to add much more depth and interest to my images. The members of the community really helped me to understand parts of the project that were outside of my personal experience, and showcase Hounslow’s diversity.”