Hannah Twynnoy was born at Malmesbury in Wiltshire in the year 1670 and died on the 23rd October 1703 at the age of thirty-three and was buried in the grounds of Malmesbury Abbey. There her gravestone records the manner of her death;

In the bloom of life
She's snatched from hence,
She had not room
To make defence;
For Tyger fierce
Took Life away,
And here she lies
In a bed of Clay,
Until the Resurrection Day

Local legend states that she was a servant at the White Lion Inn, which at the time stood near the abbey which was hosting a travelling menagerie. Depending on which version of the tale you prefer she either strayed too close to the tiger's cage or was surprised when the tiger escaped and ran into the Inn.

Last year it was reported that the local council were making plans to celebrate the tricentenary of poor Hannah's death. Two retired teachers named John Hughes and Mike Scanlon were planning to write and stage a musical about her life and there was even talk of bringing a circus to town to commemorate the day itself. Although since animal acts are now effectively banned in Britain, the circus could not actually feature a live tiger in its performances; so it was hoped that some way of projecting an image of a tiger on to the circus big top could be found.

There have however been no indications that Malmesbury Town Council ever did more than discuss the idea and it appears that the 23rd October 2004 has since passed without celebration. Neither has the planned musical yet seen the light of day.

The problem is that very little is actually known of the incident as the Mayor of Malmesbury, one John Bowen recognised when he appealed for more information on the subject stating that it was "a great story of murder, mystery and suspense" but that there was "very little information about and I would just love to know a bit more".

This is indeed the problem as there is no surviving contemporary account of Hannah's death and the first written record of her demise appeared in The Beauties of Wiltshire by John Britton and Edward Wedlake Brayley first published in 1801, almost a century after the fact. In fact the only evidence of the story is the gravestone itself and it is therefore by no means certain that the words "She had not room, to make defence, for Tyger fierce" should be taken literally. "Tyger" may well be a generic reference to any kind of big cat, or simply a metaphoric allusion to the violent nature of Hannah's death.

No one knows or is ever likely to know the truth of what happened at Malmesbury on that day in 1703 and it is very probable that the local tales were simply spun to explain the enigmatic nature of Hannah's epitaph.


  • Mystery of 300-year-old death:Wednesday, 6 November, 2002
  • Mayor sinks teeth into mystery of tiger victim:Thursday 07 November 2002
  • Malmesbury History at http://www.sweetnam-bradley.com/malmesbury.htm
  • For a photograph of her gravestone see http://www.malmesbury-memories.co.uk/colinsketch07.html

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