This remarkable and (to modern eyes) deplorable image shows a tightly packed group of polar bears at the London Hippodrome in 1909.
Incredibly, 70 bears were brought in to the Leicester Square attraction for a Christmas show, called The Arctic. Here's another image of their close quarters.
The bears were shipped in to Tilbury from the Hagenbeck Menagerie in Hamburg aboard a specially commissioned vessel. They arrived in seven enormous steel cages, and were kept on a diet of biscuits, fish and meat.
During the twice-a-day performance, up to 50 of the bears would 'plunge from realistic icebergs into a lake while the remaining animals... clamber about a deserted ship wedged between walls of ice'.
Amazed audiences would watch in awe as the bears chased a villain figure around the stage, later to capture and 'devour' him. The whole show was illuminated with a recreation of the Northern Lights.
Polar bears had appeared many times before at the Hippodrome. In 1905, a mere 17 of the beasts performed in another Arctic-set spectacle, as shown below:
The 1909 show, however, was by far the most audacious bear performance ever attempted on the London stage. It appears to have been a success, with many glowing newspaper reviews.
The show ran until February 1910 when the bears returned home to Hamburg. Their handler, Carl Hagenbeck, was killed by a snake bite four years later.
The Arctic at the Hippodrome would not be the last London show to feature large mammals, but nothing quite like it was ever attempted again.