44. Cry Wolf!
In 2005 I met a guy who told me that, whilst living in the Battersea area, he recalled from childhood around twenty-five years ago several nightmarish tales that would send him cowering under the bed sheets. One of these yarns concerned rumour that wolves were inhabiting the local woods! I have always been fully aware of strange creatures roaming the thickets, but wolves – surely not?!
Then I came across an incident from 1961 that may well have sparked off such a legend, even if the reality was not quite as sensational or dramatic as the possibility that howling grey outlaws were spooking sun-bathers on the common.
It began on February 22nd, some thousand years after wolves were prowling the woods of Richmond and Epping. Locals had been whispering of an unusual beast, like a big dog, grey in colour, with pointed ears lurking on Clapham Common. The common itself was 220 acres situated between Clapham, Battersea and Balham. Enough grassland to hide a wolf?
Excited children and curious adults gathered to an area near St. Paul's churchyard which had been closed off by the police. A policeman armed with a loop and wearing strong gloves was leaning into a crevice between the churchyard and the adjacent hostel. Inching ever nearer to the creature that no-one else could see but only imagine, he slipped the noose over the beast. Tragically, the creature was far from being a fearsome, growling monster and was so traumatised by the event that its heart failed on the spot, and it died.
Indeed it had been a wolf, said to have escaped from confinement and one of a pair that had been kept by a local woman in an inadequately fenced closure. Despite the panic, many children cried for the wolf.
Photo courtesy sleekstak66's flickr photostream.