Ilfracombe's famous lion who changed the world for other wild animals

Ilfacombe was once home to a very famous resident, Christian, a young lion. His fame arose from a film taken of him 50 years ago which has gone geniunely viral, clocking up millions of views.


Ilfracombe once had its own zoo, at the top of Worth Road. This was in a building known as Comyn Hill House. 

Photographer: Guido Appenzeller Wiki Commons

Local historian Neil Holloway takes up the story: "In the 1930s the guest house at Comyn Hill House was purchased to relocate the contents of another (failed) zoo. Charles Trevisick became the owner of the zoo in the post-war period. He had a particular interest in big cats and the rows of cages must have been a suitable environment for them as, each year, the books were balanced by selling a couple of cubs to other zoos."


The Comyn Hill House site is now home to the Ilfracombe Holiday Park.



Comyn Hill House zoo in the 1950s. Photograph courtesy of Ilfracombe Museum

Charles had two lions called Butch and Mary who succesfully had cubs. In 1969, he sold these to Harrods, the famous store in Knightsbridge where they were put up for sale.


Of course, these days selling and re-selling cubs in this fashion is strictly illegal.


Two Aussies living in London, John and Anthony, visited Harrods and happened to see one of the cubs for sale. Bowled over by his beauty and a determination that they could give him a better life, on a whim, they bought him. And so Christian lived in London for about a year. Most of the time he shared John's flat with him.


As Christian grew, John and Anthony knew that he deserved a more appropriate life. With the help of the George Adamson of the Born Free Foundation, Christian began a long journey to get back to being a wild animal, living in the wild.


John and Anthony, while doing the right thing by him, missed him dreadfully and decided to go and visit him once he had settled into his new pride in Kenya. They were warned that this was a dangerous move and that Christian may well attack them but very much wanted to see him.


What happened next, has become an incredibly famous piece of footage:



The story of Christian, our Ilfracombe lion, has been an inspiration to many hundreds of thousands of people. He has spread the message to millions that wild animals deserve to be wild. 

The story of Christian is told, using many photographs, in Christian the Lion: The Illustrated Legacy (pictured above) by John Rendall and Derek Cattani