That Time Lord Onslow's Monkey Escaped Onto The Tube

By M@ Last edited 8 months ago

Last Updated 09 October 2023

That Time Lord Onslow's Monkey Escaped Onto The Tube

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A grey monkey perches on the left with tube trains through Barbican in the background
A dodgy photoshop reconstruction of a monkey at Barbican station. Background image by the author, superimposed monkey by Nvickerman, creative commons licence.

"Escaped Monkey Chase In Tube," ran a tantalising headline of the Daily Herald on 18 May 1962. "A Lord leads posse as trains stop," added the standfirst. The only known incident of an escaped monkey on the tube is rich in farce.

The long-tailed monkey in question belonged to Michael Onslow, Lord Cranley who would later become the 7th Earl of Onslow*. In 1962, the 24-year-old proto-peer was working as an underwriter at Lloyds. For some reason, he decided to take his exotic pet, named George, into the office — perhaps it was bring your monkey to work day, or something.

According to the press, Cranley parked up his van outside Moorgate station — presumably to catch the Met line round to Aldgate, the nearest station to Lloyds. It was at Moorgate that the monkey escaped. It apparently squeezed through the bars of the van's air vent and "jumped into the crowds of office workers", before dashing into an old bomb site.

"Flying rugby tackle"

Cranley dialled 999. He was quickly attended by several police officers and Moorgate's station-master Christopher Cook. The posse went in search of the slippery simian, pursuing it for 45 minutes around the City fringes.

Eventually, George hopped onto the underground line somewhere between Moorgate and Aldersgate (now Barbican) stations. Trains were held in place while the pursuit continued.

The monkey ran along the tracks a little way before PC Francis McAfee finally grabbed hold of it near Aldersgate. According to the Morning Herald, McAfee "Brought the monkey down with a flying rugby tackle" — which seems a little unlikely given that the creature was small enough to fit through a van grille. McAfee "handed the monkey over to its panting owner," and the crisis was over.

It's an inconsequential tale, but imagine if it happened today. We'd have wall-to-wall live coverage, viral video clips and a bout of hand-wringing over tube safety and animal welfare. But, this being 1962, the episode warranted only a few paragraphs on page five of the Herald (precursor to The Sun) and a few other newspapers.

The only other account I can find of a monkey on the tube comes from 1940. Eleanora Hardingham (46) was sheltering from the Blitz in Knightsbridge station, with her pet monkey for company. It seems that fellow shelterers took umbrage and a squabble ensued. Hardingham and monkey were ejected, and she later appeared before a magistrate to defend her combative behaviour.

Monkey silhouette on a tube platform
A monkey at South Kensington. Image Matt Brown

Update: since this article was published, a reader has alerted us to a further instance of a monkey riding a train, this time with tragic results. In 1897 a man was killed after clambering out of a train to retrieve an escaped monkey. The case was discovered among the post mortem casebooks of St George's Hospital. Read the full story here.

* A colourful character with whom I once had a brief encounter over a tub of liquid-nitrogen ice cream. Sadly, the monkey was not present.