Chester-le-Street Heritage Group
Jimmy Walton and his animals.
Quite a number of our older readers will recall Jimmy Walton and his lion.
James Walton was well known in Chester-le-Street during the 1940’s and 50’s, being a family butcher with a shop at Bridge End at the bottom of Front Street. He lived at Rickleton House near Picktree.
Since childhood he had loved all animals and eventually bought a monkey. His interest grew throughout his life and he progressed with badgers, foxes, otters, lions, tigers and a leopard. The various animals that he obtained came to his home and were housed in purpose built cages at the rear of his property.
Jimmy had access to Lambton Park and would often exercise his lion by letting it run free in the Park area. At times he took a lioness, Sheba, on visits to schools for the education of the pupils. A colleague recollects being a pupil at the Grammar School when Jimmy arrived with the lioness in a box in the back of his Ford van.
The animal was released from its box in the Lecture Theatre and it squeezed between the rows of seated pupils to be tickled and petted. At the end of his talk he crawled into the box on his back and Sheba crawled on top of him and licked his face. My friend recalls Jimmy saying that the tongue felt like sandpaper.
His lion became a common sight around Chester-le-Street, near his shop and travelling around in his car or van. On one occasion he was given firm advice by Inspector Gargate of the local Constabulary, who had seen Jimmy driving down Front Street with his leopard draped around his shoulders.
Jimmy eventually wrote a book about his animals entitled ‘My Wild Friends’.