The lion who lived on a bus

AN adolescent lion, kept as a pet by a Woking taxi firm boss in a double-decker bus, sounds like a tall tale. But it’s true – as is the time the lion took a liking to a woman’s fake leopard-skin coat.

The saga took place in the mid-1970s when Ron Voice, then aged in his twenties, bought the three-week-old lion cub from a pet shop in Birmingham. During the day the lion sat in a van parked outside Ron’s business in Chertsey Road. At night, Shane, the name he gave to the lion, shared its owner’s bed and evidently both slept soundly.

Shane the lion in his distinctly unnatural habitat on a double decker bus

After a year the lion had obviously grown and was now weighing some 14 stones. Parents were said to lift their children to peer through the windows of Mr Voice’s van to see the caged lion.

Others were warning that the lion was becoming more and more dangerous as it grew. The RSPCA was receiving calls from worried people. But it was reported that Mr Voice disagreed, saying: “He does not know any other life. How can it be cruel if he doesn’t know any different?”

Mr Voice bought a double-decker bus for the lion to live in and planned to convert it so he could live in it as well. But he still took the lion out with him when he went to work.

On 2 March 1976, Mr Voice had tethered the lion to the bumper of his parked van. Walking by, on her way to work, was accountant Poppy Hull. The sight of her fake leopard-skin coat was too much for Shane the lion to ignore and it broke free.

The story was hot news in the national press the next day. Under the heading ‘WHY THE WILDCAT OF WOKING WENT POTTY OVER POPPY’, the Daily Mirror reported: “Accountant Poppy Hull’s coat was only imitation leopard skin… But the giant paws around her neck yesterday were the real thing!

“Miss Hull, in her thirties, collapsed with shock under the lion’s weight. She was not hurt. But the lion tried to leap at another woman before it was taken away.”

A report in the Birmingham Post stated the incident happened in Chertsey Road and that Mr Voice pulled the lion off Miss Hull. It added that police took details, but it was understood that action was unlikely to be taken, quoting a spokesman who said there was “no legislation controlling this sort of thing”.

The name of the man closing the door to Shane’s bus is as yet unknown

Mr Voice’s secretary, Miss Carol Butler, was quoted as saying: “He has him as a pet because he is different. He’s never hurt anyone. Shane is very friendly. We all love him.”

She and another woman later launched a petition to save the lion’s freedom. Although it was signed by 700 people, at a hearing on 23 March 1976 High Court judge Justin Templeman banned the lion from being exercised in public, unless caged.

It is unclear what happened to Shane the lion, but it may have lived out its days at a safari park. Also in 1976, the Dangerous Wild Animals Act was passed. Part of it states that no person may keep any dangerous wild animal except under the authority of a licence granted by a local authority.

Thanks to Mark Coxhead for his research into this remarkable story and for the photos he recently acquired.

Unfortunately, the name of the man shutting the door of what may be the double-decker bus is unknown

If  you have some memories or old pictures relating to the Woking area, call me, David Rose, on 01483 838960, or drop a line to the News & Mail.

David Rose is a local historian and writer who specialises in what he calls “the history within living memory” of people, places and events in the west Surrey area covering towns such as Woking and Guildford. He collects old photos and memorabilia relating to the area and the subject, and regularly gives illustrated local history talks to groups and societies. For enquiries and bookings please phone or email him at: davidrosemedia@gmail.com

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