It was once said that you could buy anything at Harrods from “a pin to an elephant”. Well before 1976 the latter was certainly true.
Harrod’s Pet Kingdom was world famous for nearly 100 years and was once a place where the wealthy could drop in and pick up a pet alligator, baby elephant or lion cub.
Before the introduction of the Endangered Species Act 1976, buyers could get tigers, panthers and even camels.
Opened in 1917, the fourth floor Pet Kingdom (now a womens wear department) covered 11,000 sq ft. It was popular with royals and celebrities. In the 1950s the Canadian actress Beatrice Lillie bought British playwright Noel Coward an alligator as a Christmas gift.
In the 1970s, former US president Ronald Reagan purchased a baby elephant called Gertie for a Republican party rally. The story goes that when he telephoned Pet Kingdom to enquire about an elephant the sales assistant simply replied “African or Indian, sir?”
But perhaps its most well known sale was that of Christian the lion cub in 1969. Sold to a pair of Australians who kept it in a flat off Chelsea’s trendy Kings Road.
As it grew, owners John Rendall and Anthony “Ace” Bourke moved Christian to their furniture store and took it for walks up and down the street and for drives in their Bentley and open top Mercedes. John and Ace bought Christian for 240 guineas – about £3500 in today’s money.
John Rendall explained that they visited the store and saw a gorgeous little lion cub in a small cage and decided something had to be done about it. They bought Christian and took him him to their flat, where they trained him to use a huge litter tray.
A year on, the cub had grow from 35lb to 185lb, leaving its owners with a problem.
The pair had a chance encounter with Born Free star Virginia McKenna when she visited their furniture shop and later introduced them to animal conservationist George Adamson.
He eventually released Christian into the wild in Kenya and became the subject of a book, TV documentaries and a film.