Wednesday, March 14, 2012

History Corner: The Shooters Hill Cheetah (1963)

I had a pleasant walk in Oxleas Wood a couple of weeks ago, a lovely peaceful spot - but now comes news that during the Olympic militarisation of London there may be missile launchers based next to the cafe there and/or on Blackheath by the Territorial Army building (as discussed at Blackheath Bugle and elsewhere). But it wouldn't be the first time the military had turned out on Shooters Hill on a phantom hunt.

SE London has a whole folklore of supposed big cat sightings - the Beast of Bexley, the Palace Puma, even the Nunhead Panther - with theories to explain them of varying degress of probability. One of the biggest cat panics occurred in 1963 on Shooters Hill, where a supposed Cheetah was reported in the Oxleas Wood area.

"The most famous labour-intensive hunt was for an animal dubbed by the press 'The Shooters Hill Cheetah'. On the 18th July 1963 David Beck, driving through Shooters Hill in south-east London, saw a large animal lying by the side of the road. Assuming it to be an injured dog he approached it, and then realised it was in fact a large cat with a long, upward curling tail. It ran off into Oxleas Wood. The same night police officers were amazed to see a 'large golden animal' jump over the bonnet of their patrol car. A check with zoos and circuses confirmed that no animals had escaped.

It was a magnificent affair. It covered 850 acres and involved 126 policemen with 21 dogs, thirty soldiers, ambulance men and RSPCA officials. No sign of a big cat was found - except for some spoor. These were huge - some seven inches across, the size usually associated with a lion or tiger; yet they showed claw marks, the characteristic not of a lions, but of a cheetah's paw print. The 'cheetah', however, was never caught and the hunters dispersed'.

Source: Mystery Big Cats by Merrily Harpur (Heart of Albion Press, 2005)


creepylesbo said...

Weirdly, the local police got a call from a nurse quite recently (last 2 weeks) who was claiming she'd just seen a lion in the borough of Lewisham. It was gone when police arrived. Although quite what the local police would have done with a lion is anyone's guess. Lure it into the back of a van by tempting it with a Special constable? I don't think Hendon has a training package for escaped animals. Maybe they could borrow that Japanese one where staff at the zoo dress up as rhinos and stage a break out...

Transpontine said...

The 'Lewisham Lion' does have a nice ring to it. Sure it wasn't Zampa, the Millwall mascot:

Anonymous said...

Anybody heard about the ghost Nun of Shooters Hill

Transpontine said...

There's some stuff here about Shooters Hill ghosts:

Also 'the white lady of Shooters Hill':

Haven't heard anything about a nun specifically though

Anonymous said...

I think the policeman with the dog was my grandad with his dog major.