1. Life Without…Florence Nightingale


A daughter is born to Fanny and William Nightingale on May 12th at 5.37pm. The lamp follows at 5.44pm and the afterbirth at 5.51pm. She is named after the city of her birth, Florence in Italy.


The affluent Nightingales return to England. Florence is raised in two houses, one in Derbyshire and the other in Hampshire. Both have massive cesspits, which makes them the effluent Nightingales too.


Florence is considered ‘a bright pupil’s although this impression is considerably assisted by her lamp.


Young Florence displays a gift for mathematics. This angers her father who bought her the calculating machine on the proviso that she kept it to herself.


In February, Florence gets her first call from God. This has to be considered a miracle because the telephone isn’t invented by Alexander Graham Bell for another four decades.

To read the rest click on the link below:







Preston North End: The Invisibles

Preston North End Team Photo 1888-89

Back Row: Dewhurst, Drummond, A. Goodall, J. Goodall, Mills-Roberts, Trainer, Robertson, J. Graham, Whittle, Edwards.

Front Row: Gordon, Inglis, Howarth, Ross, Sudell (manager), Russell, Holmes, W. Graham, Thompson.

In 1883, Billy Sudell created professional footballers when he imported many Scottish players to the club he owned, Preston North End. Unfortunately, Sudell didn’t sign Tar Macadam because initially things didn’t run smoothly. Antagonism towards professionalism came from the Southern-based amateur clubs, who dominated the FA. In their dictionary amateurism was seen as clean and pure, while professionalism was considered dirty. This was because their dictionary had fallen into a muddy puddle which soaked the second half, from the letter ‘M’ onwards.

In the 4th Round of the 1884 FA Cup, Preston played the London amateur club Upton Park. The match finished 1-1 with North End having two perfectly legit goals disallowed simply because the ref was biased against professionals (he’d been overcharged for a solicitor’s services earlier in the week). Then, before a replay could be arranged, Preston were thrown out of the cup for being professionals and not readmitted for another four seasons.

The appeal of professionalism was growing, however. In an effort to stem the tide, the amateur section of the FA made a grievous error. They sent a letter to Queen Victoria’s new man friend Abdul Karim appealing for him to bring their stark message against payment of players to Her Maj. Their warning was simply this: ‘Fair Play Goes Out the Window’. Unfortunately, Abdul Karim suffered from mild dyslexia and read it as: ‘Fair Play He Goes Out with a Widow’. Once informed, Queen Victoria was outraged. She tore up her Cup Final tickets in a fit of rage. Upon hearing this the powerful amateur arm of the FA quickly did a runner, and thus professional football came in via the back door. Coincidentally, that was also how Abdul Karim gained access to Buckingham Palace.

In their FA Cup exile, Billy Sudell made Preston even more professional. They became the first club to use diagrams as part of pre-match planning and instilled a vigorous fitness regime. But their greatest innovation that transformed them into the most powerful club in the land was the adoption of camouflage in their kit designs. For most of the season the PNE outfield players wore green shirts, knickers and stockings in the pattern of blades of grass with added bare patches of mud. An all white kit was worn whenever it was snowing. These measures rendered the Preston players invisible on the pitch. As they began to sweep all before them, North End simply became known throughout football as The Invisbles.

Other teams tried to counteract this tactic by various means, one club even calling themselves Hyde to make it difficult to find their players too. But Preston dispatched them by the still record score of 26-0 to register their contempt.

It was inevitable that when the first Football League season commenced in 1888-89, that Preston would win it. Being invisible enabled North End players to stand less than ten yards away when defending free-kicks. Indeed, it was rumoured, judging by the amount of PNE players who finished the season with high-pitched voices, that they barely stood ten inches away. It also enabled them to break the offside rule. The only major disadvantage to wearing invisible kit was that it proved a right bugger trying to attract shirt sponsorship.

Such was the widespread fame of these foliage attired players as they took the First Division by storm that it became commonplace for a rhododendron bush in London’s Hyde Park to be asked for its autograph as it bore a marked resemblance to Jack Goodall, the league’s top marksman. On the pitch itself when Jimmy Ross scored against Burnley in April, he cracked such a broad smile that it became the only thing visible of him and so he was promptly sent off by the ref for impersonating the Cheshire Cat out of pantomime season.

Preston became the first Football League Champions. They negotiated all 22 league matches without defeat (from the observations of their fans they also seemed to negotiate them without dehands, dearms, delegs and deheads too).

Preston then went on to win the FA Cup that season without conceding a goal, thus becoming the first club to do ‘The Double’. The Prime Minister, Lord Salisbury, remarked that it was a good thing that Preston hadn’t been so dominant seventeen years earlier otherwise the explorer David Livingstone would’ve been wearing their replica kit and Stanley would never have found him.

The Invisibles were only brought back to earth, quite literally, with the invention of the penalty kick in 1891. This gave opposing players free reign to dive in the penalty area without being touched and successfully claim that they’d been felled by one of The Invisibles.

The above is an extract from The Humorous History of English Football Vol.1 by Jonty Morgan available on kindle via Amazon.


The Tichborne Claimant


In 1854 a tragedy occurred when Roger Tichborne, heir to the title Lord Tichborne and occasional hare to the greyhounds at Belle Vue, was involved in a shipwreck off the coast of South America. He was presumed to have drowned although his body was never recovered.

Then in 1866 an amazing thing happened. Roger resurfaced in Australia. It was evident, upon his return to England, that he’d taken on a lot of water in the 12 years he’d been drowning because the pre-dip Tichborne was a slender fellow whereas the post-dip version was of mammoth girth. Conservationists were so concerned that they called for 17 icebergs to be melted off Greenland to replenish the sea levels.

The prolonged drowning experience had impacted on Lord Tichborne (he had succeeded to the title mid-splutter) in other detrimental ways such as:
1. Pre-1854 Roger had been fluent in French, his mother tongue, but the 1866 Tichborne didn’t recognise a word of French although, not surprising for someone who spent a dozen years below the sea’s surface, he was familiar with English spoken in a French accent like Jacques Cousteau.

2. The pre-shipwreck Roger was an expert in Latin and Ancient Greek but the post prolonged drowning version didn’t even know that cave canem meant ‘beware of the dog’. However Tich hit back by saying that had it been cave canem piscis ‘beware of the dog fish’ he would then have recognised it.

3. The pre-1854 Roger conversed with a cultured and eloquent tongue. The 1866 model spoke with a rough cockney accent. For over a century this was pronounced to be a side-effect of being submerged under water for so long. Indeed, when the American Dick Van Dyke was called upon to star as a cockney in Mary Poppins he submerged himself in water. However, the critics were scathing in their response and suggested that he should’ve submerged himself in water for a lot longer.

4. The pre-1854 Tichborne had average sized genitals, whereas the post-1866 version was miniscule in that department. This however, strengthened his claim as it was remarked that any man who’d spent a dozen years in cold water would’ve been similarly inconvenienced.

The nation was divided as to whether the resurfaced Roger was an imposter or not. It was in the days before DNA. It was also in the days before PNE and QPR as Rog could’ve made a decent living with his huge girth being stuck between the goalposts. The press labelled him ‘The Tichborne Claimant’. It was even reported that one man had identified the claimant, using an e fit, as being a scoundrel called Ben Castro. This devalued Tichborne even more because it made him a Benefits Claimant.

It did seem that Tichborne had developed a strong affinity with the sea because whenever he walked about seagulls hovered over him (although this was partly because he spent most of his time in Southend eating cod and chips). Also, like fish, he had a morbid fear of nets and did all he could to avoid them…this buggered up his trial as a centre-forward for the Old Carthusians XI.

It was another sort of trial that next descended upon the hapless Roger. He became the star of the most sensational and prolonged court case of the 1800s. Although Tichborne’s mother was firmly convinced the claimant was genuine the rest of the Tichbornes were not. They stood to benefit from Roger being dead and the establishment backed them. The sympathy of the general public was with the claimant who they thought was being hung out to dry (further endorsing the theory he’d been submerged in water for 12 years).

To test the veracity of Lord Tichborne’s claim to have survived prolonged drowning he was put on trial. Roger only agreed to this if special conditions were implemented to make him feel more at home in the imposing environment of the courtroom (although his detractors sniped that he would surely have welcomed feeling all at sea). The conditions were:

1. He should be allowed to wear blue-tinted shades throughout the trial.
2. When asked to place one hand on the Bible he should be allowed the discretion of placing two hands upon the tome and grip onto it if he found it particularly buoyant.
3. He would only consult his barrister in decompression chambers.
4. He should be allowed, at his own discretion, to wear a frogman outfit.

The prosecution agreed to the first three requests but vetoed the fourth as they feared he might come dressed as Napoleon.

The trial at the Old Bailey in 1873-74 became the longest in history (so long that when the case began it was called the New Bailey) and set the precedent of being the first trial in which a defendant was allowed to stand up for himself (mainly because the court usher thought the claimant would do more damage to the furnishings if he sat down). The jury was heavily weighted against Lord Tichborne as it comprised 11 ichthyophobics and only one fishmonger. Eventually, the charge of ‘Attempting to Delude the Publick’ was reduced to the lesser charge, due to Roger’s experience with the sea, of mansaltier, for which he was found guilty.

Tichborne spent the next decade in prison and the rest of his life, upon release, in relative obscurity. He died in 1898 still professing to be Lord Tichborne. His poverty was a contributing factor in his demise, therefore what did for him in the end was his inability to keep his head above water.

Mendoza Introduces Science to Prize-Fighting

It was the Jewish prize-fighter Daniel Mendoza who first introduced science to the rough and tumble of bareknuckle fighting in the 1780s. Mendoza was born in Aldgate, London in 1764. Prior to his involvement pugilists just stood in front of each other and traded punches. How well they did tended to be dependent on the price of whale oil on the international markets.

Mendoza wasn’t strictly the first person to make an association between boxing and science. That honour goes to Sir Isaac Newton who in 1687 during experiments into the laws of gravity discovered that an apple when leaving the branches of a tree ALWAYS fell to earth because of the pull of gravity. But, a prize-fighter was only guaranteed to fall to earth in a contest if he was offered a sizeable bribe as inducement.
Mendoza, who was small of stature for a heavyweight, more of a middleweight, was the first combatant to introduce science to the fight game. This occurred in his first fight against Fred ‘the Wildman of Hornchurch’ Smith at Hackney Marshes in 1780. Mendoza won on an 8th round cuts stoppage inflicted when he smashed some test tubes over Smith’s scalp. This victory, and its manner of accomplishment, gained the novice pugilist notoriety on the fight circuit. Mendoza, therefore, felt an onus incumbent upon him to continue using scientific methods in his contests.

In his very next outing against Sid ‘the Octopus’ Barker at the Brighton Recreation Ground, Mendoza looked to the medicinal sciences to assist his victory, as a consequence he became the first fighter to use leeches in a bout; although his manager, corner men and various hangers on objected to being called this.
Within a few years Mendoza was embracing the latest scientific breakthroughs to assist the progress of his career. The most notable was the ‘Galvanic Battery’ a charge of electricity that when applied to the corpses of executed people miraculously made the limb it touched jerk as if life had been restored. Mendoza realised that he could use this technique to fight a series of stiffs and fool the public into believing that he was facing credible opponents (this tactic was later revived in the early career of Frank Bruno).

Unfortunately, the plan backfired as when Mendoza was preparing to square up to his first dead opponent Geoff ‘the Maggot Hostel’ Veal at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, the corner man forgot to remove the pail from the floor near Veal’s foot, so when the electrical current was applied to his knee he instantly kicked the bucket. The affair stunk the place out, although to be fair this was because Veal hadn’t benefitted from the use of any refrigeration facilities for the previous two weeks. One sports scribe sat at ringside whose head narrowly missed the flying bucket, did speculate that if England ever had problems winning penalty shootouts the strategy could well be worth a punt.

Veal’s purse was withheld – the Galvanic current had to be applied to his wrist so he’d release his grip on it – and a commission was formed to investigate the state of pugilism. The findings of this commission were damning and it forced boxing underground, much to the consternation of all the fighters involved (except Geoff Veal). The main conclusion of the report was that it was fairly common practice for novice fighters to use dead men as opponents to bolster their record and kudos. The evidence for this was provided by a raid on the Manchester home of the leading matchmaker in the fight world, Harry Brough. Three shovels, the timetable of the number 7 sedan chair route (that passed the local cemetery) and a list of recent obits cut from newspapers were discovered and removed from the property to the accompaniment of much booing from the outraged public assembled outside.

Mendoza had three memorable contests with Richard Humphries, between 1788-90, winning the last two, and generally became accepted as Champion of England in 1792. On his journey to the last fight with Humphries Mendoza got into two, unscheduled, fights. The first was against a street pedlar who sold him a mouldy pie and the second was against a man who had looked at him ‘in a funny way’. This would explain why Marty Feldman was never spotted amongst the celebs at ringside for any of Mendoza’s fights.
To endeavour to make up for the shame he’d helped bring to boxing, Mendoza wrote a book about the science of pugilism which became a bestseller. In it he provided tips for potential fighters which included:

1. Avoiding a Slugfest – put salt in your garden.
2. Skipping Rope – engage the services of a good lawyer who is in the same masonic lodge as the judge.
3. Weight Training – visit your local GP’s surgery (and ask for help with your slight illiteracy while you are there).
4. Shadow Boxing – Do not engage in this when the sun is at its strongest. Wait until it is overcast, your opponent will then be a pale shadow of his former self.
5. The Upper-Cut – Ensure you get a higher percentage of the gate money than your opponent.
6. The Counter-Punch – only use this when you expect to drink a lot of Pimms at a society ball.

Mendoza lost his title to the bigger Gentleman John Jackson in 1795. Jackson nullified his opponent’s evasive, defensive techniques by simply picking him up by his long hair with one hand and pummelling him in the face with the other. Mendoza had been adept at slipping punches and evading damage but avoiding the barber had been his undoing.

The Bristol School of Panters

Francis Danby, Samuel Jackson and William James Muller were the leading local lights of the impressionist movement in the late 18th to early 19th centuries. They were constantly on the move relaying conversations back and forth in the voices of the callers. Due to the fact they usually ran between the two parties conducting the conversation their collective of impressionists became known as The Bristol School of Panters.

To make calls subscribers to the system simply raised a flag to attract the nearest impressionist, usually, when not engaged in a call, positioned with a telescope on one of the hills overlooking Bristol. No calls could be made between 10.08pm and 10.37pm because that was when the buxom Mrs Chorky of Elbroad Street got undressed for bed. This fault in the system wasn’t repaired for eleven months until the Bristol School of Panters bought her a pair of curtains.

Calls were more expensive to make during business hours as the streets were busier and therefore took the sprinting impressionist longer to negotiate. The system of communication took the term ‘phone’ from the classical Greek ‘phone’ meaning ‘voice’ or ‘speech’. A lot of terms employed by subscribers back then would still ring a bell with users of modern communications technology today as these examples illustrate:
Phone Hacking – the sprinting impressionist has received vicious kicks to his legs delivered by an employee of a rival firm while making the call.

The Phone is Bugged – the sprinting impressionist has a flea problem.
Anonymous Call – the sprinting impressionist is wearing a hood.
Hung Up – the sprinting impressionist was unable to complete the call as past crimes suddenly caught up with him along with the public executioner.
Heavy Breather – the sprinting impressionist is out of condition.
Engaged – the sprinting impressionist has been caught short.
Trunk Call – the sprinting impressionist has to swim across the Avon.

Subscribers experienced other things that would strike a familiar cord today, for instance a sex line service was available at a premium rate. However this didn’t last long because the caller realised that compared to the sprinting impressionist he was getting the raw end of the deal. The only gripe for sprinting impressionists was dealing with the Mozart household. Whenever there was a call for him the sprinting impressionist had to wait for ages as he continually played one of his tunes (usually Eine Kliene Nachtmusik) and Mrs Mozart got the impressionist to hold one end of the cord the washing was hanging from as he waited, the other end being tied to a post. Occasionally the music was punctuated by Mrs Mozart’s apologetic voice which said, ‘We’re sorry that nobody is available to take your call at the present. Please continue to hold the line. Your call is so important to us.’

Danby, Jackson and Muller and the Bristol School of Panters were held in high esteem by Bristolians as their form of impressionism was put to great use to make the city a dynamic entity in the world of business and personal communications. Their spirit and endeavour has never been forgotten. During the great storm of 1827, for instance, Danby, Muller and Jackson hired a boat to negotiate the flooded streets to enable calls to still get through. Muller rowed – a street was named after this in Bristol as a mark of respect.

Taken from The History of Bristol According to Jonty Morgan available on Kindle through http://www.amazon.co.uk and http://www.amazon.com


Paying on the Nail.


On the night of 5th September, 1594, a mysterious event happened in Bristol. Instead of a crop circle appearing in a cornfield, giant black nails appeared in Corn Street outside the many banks located there. Rumours were rife as to the reason for their sudden appearance but unfortunately the source of these rumours couldn’t be nailed down, unlike the pavement in Corn Street. The most popular suggestions were these:
They were a message delivered by aliens – this was plausible because it was in the days before Royal Mail established a monopoly.

A giant Indian guru was about to visit Bristol and there wasn’t a bed of nails big enough at The Dragonora.
It was the first street art statement by Bristol artist Banksy who’d used the pavement as his canvas instead of adorning vertical walls in the city because back in 1594 he was so young he’d only just mastered crawling.
The speculation ceased a week later when Old Queen Bess announced that they were chopping blocks to relieve those guilty of financial misdemeanours of their heads. The first four men executed on the nails were, along with details of their fiscal crimes:

Norbert Tremblet the landlord of The Old Fox Inn in Redcliffe. To keep his guests entertained he’d had a trampoline erected in the beer garden. Unfortunately, egged on by the landlord, some visitors from Prague tried it out and Tremblet was promptly arrested as the source of all those bouncing Czechs.
Peter McDreggs who ran a dry cleaning business in Hotwells. He accidentally left some change in the pocket of a customer’s submitted trousers which then underwent the cleaning process. He was successfully prosecuted for money laundering.

Horace Pepper of St. Werburghs. He’d engaged in a fencing duel in 1593 with a love rival from Swansea called Dai Jones, during which his extravagant doublet had sustained several irreparable slashes. When Pepper fell upon hard times the following year he was asked by the man who delivered his firewood to settle his debt by giving him the doublet. Pepper refused for sentimental reasons and thus became the first man in history – as he was led to the chopping block – to be penalised for refusing to pay by Dai wrecked doublet.
Aaron Arrowsmith an optician based in Patchway who met his maker as a result of including small print in his charts.

To enhance the deterrent effect the financial institutions kept the heads of those decapitated on the nails and produced them sporadically to warn customers of the likely outcome of any financial deviancy. These collection of heads, with gapping mouths and bulging eyes frozen upon their faces in that moment of shock can still be viewed behind the counters of those same banks today. One just needs to venture within and ask if they have an account that pays more than 0.5% per annum in interest.

Due to the large volume of executions conducted in Corn Street a saying came into common usage called ‘Paying on the Nail’ as financial miscreants paid the ultimate penalty there. As the nails became associated with money, merchants and bankers started to use them as tables outside the banks upon which they conducted business. This was called ‘Nailing A Deal’. If the deal was concluded not long after a beheading the cash was called ‘Blood Money’.

Taken from The History of Bristol According to Jonty Morgan available on Kindle from http://www.amazon.co.uk and http://www.amazon.com


Cabot Discovers America.


In the mid-1490s the greatest laughs in Merrie Olde England were supplied by a comedy duo from Bristol called Cabot & Ostello. John Cabot had newly arrived from Italy where he’d been a florist when he joined the English comedy circuit, Cumbernauld Ostello had been a cesspit cleaner. When the pair of comedians joined forces they decided to rechristen themselves Bud Cabot & Loo Ostello as a reminder of their previous occupations.

Their knockabout comedy act soon had the ‘House Full’ notices posted wherever they performed. This was a complete contrast for Loo Ostello who, in his previous job, was used to houses being empty because the cesspit was full. Their most famous routine revolved involved Ostello asking Cabot the names of players occupying positions on a baseball pitch. This usually went down like a batter hit by a stray pitch with English audiences. Nevertheless, despite this they were still greatly admired as performers and it is a mark of their popularity that they were the only comedy duo of the 1490s in England who never experienced ‘dying’ on stage. Admittedly this was mainly due to the fact that they pulled out of the 1496 King’s Royal Command Comedy Performance at the Plague Hospital in Hackney because Loo Ostello had a sore throat.

With all the other comedians gone having discovered that it wasn’t just humour that was infectious, Cabot & Ostello had the merry making field to themselves. This made Cabot somewhat disinterested as he was the type who thrived on a challenge. It was during a session with a clairvoyant that he was told that Cabot & Ostello could never consider themselves to be truly great until they had conquered America. This played on Cabot’s mind, but he got no sympathy from Ostello when he broached the subject. He just rebuked him for having a session with a clairvoyant when he was a happily married man. Cabot took no notice. He was a man possessed. What made it even more difficult for comedians to conquer America back in 1497 was that America didn’t even exist. Columbus had discovered the West Indies in 1492, not mainland America. He’d steered well clear of discovering that, partly because he didn’t have any great baseball gags.

To conquer America, Cabot concluded, would mean having to discover Newfoundland first. Ostello mused that could be easily achieved by turning up at Eastville Park with a megaphone and near the boating lake shouting through it that there was a drought on. The lake would be emptied in no time and Newfoundland would be there for everyone to see.

Cabot decided to organise a voyage across the Atlantic to discover America. Ostello thought it might be an idea to meander around and take in a lot of other countries on their comedy tour. But Cabot wanted to go there directly which was no surprise to Ostello because Cabot was the straight man.
Cabot journeyed to London to petition King Henry VII for his support. Henry liked the idea of America being discovered as it would be easier for his son to obtain a divorce in the courts over there. He thus granted Cabot a charter to claim any unchristian land he found on his travels for the King. It was for this reason that upon his return to Bristol that Cabot was barred from the Bangalore Tandori on Gloucester Road.
The major funding for the voyage was supplied by a wealthy Bristol merchant called Joseph Ameryka. He was looking for an investment as a tax dodge and requested that Cabot didn’t broadcast the scheme or Ameryka’s link with it in any way.

Cabot had a ship built and named it after Loo Costello’s mother, a devoted cesspit cleaner who’d never had a wash in her life, it was thus called The Ma Phew. A crew of seventeen was then assembled – it worked out cheaper that way than getting them ready made. In case of sea-sickness or severe indigestion they also took some settlers with them.

The omens were good when the Lord Mayor of Bristol remarked at the ship’s launch in 1497, ‘If you gert nutters find land ital deaf knit lee be a merical.’ A month later Cabot arrived in Newfoundland thereby discovering mainland America. Cabot and his comedy partner were greeted on the beach there by a chap with red skin called Frank who was an ancestor of Albert Einstein who proceeded to warmly shake their hands. The natives made a commemorative carving in Holy wood of this momentous event called ‘Cabot & Ostello Meet Frank Einstein’.

The comedy duo performed a gig and the baseball routine went down a treat. There was much rejoicing amongst the native Americans and a chap slapped Cabot on the back and thanked him for discovering the place and naming locations there after merchants who’d funded the voyage. For now he realised he lived in Pennsylvania, named after Bristolian William Penn, so he could at last find his way back after being lost, for thirty-five years, by simply following the road signs.

Unfortunately, the celebrations got out of hand and when zip codes were allocated the natives became intoxicated and openly engaged in orgies. Cabot was alarmed to learn that whatever happened in America usually occurred in England twenty years later. Disgusted by what he feared he had unleashed, Cabot ordered the ship to be prepared for an immediate return to England. But the crew wondered if this could be postponed for about 19 years and 335 days.

Taken from The History of Bristol According to Jonty Morgan available on Kindle from http://www.amazon.co.uk and http://www.amazon.com


Edward Hodges Baily


Bristol’s greatest sculptor was Edward Hodges Baily. He became renowned for his ladies’ busts as well as for one of the most iconic and famous statues in the world. Hodges Baily was born in Downend in 1788, the son of a celebrated carver of wooden ships’ figureheads. Busty mermaids were his father’s speciality and their home was festooned with examples of these erotic carvings. As a consequence, in adulthood, Baily became a strong advocate of feeding baby milk by bottle to avoid infants getting a mouthful of splinters.

In 1795, Baily was sent away to boarding school where he immediately felt home-sick. This was an improvement on being at home where he was usually sea-sick. At school Eddie showed a keen aptitude for figures, though not of the mathematical variety. He made very convincing wax busts of famous women that were usually displayed after ‘lights out’ in his dormitory. This soon became the most sought after billet on the public school circuit. Indeed, it has been suggested that Baily’s efforts were responsible for the English aristocratic male’s appreciation for the busts of women that persists to this current day.

After leaving education, Baily was able to concentrate on the female bust full-time and even opened a Bristol studio on the strength of his success in that field. However, much to the consternation of local youths, he wouldn’t let slip where that field was located. As his fame grew Eddie expanded his operation and advertised his wares in the national press. This caused a furore when he displayed the authoress Mary Shelley’s bust on page three of The Times. Readers were divided as to whether this was art or titillation. Mary Shelley herself was even divided, but that was considered her own fault for volunteering to be cut in half by a magician on stage at the Old Vic.

In 1831 Hodges Baily was commissioned by the Royal Family to produce a series of sculptures to adorn the halls of Buckingham Palace. However, no payment was forthcoming. As a consequence Baily’s business went under. Questions were even raised in Parliament regarding the issue as it was considered very confusing for a sculptor of busts to go bust. Therefore it was agreed by a unanimous vote in the Commons that to avoid complicating matters Baily should be banned from ever saying that he’d gone bust….he’d have to explain that his business had gone ‘tits up’ instead.

Due to his talent Baily swiftly extricated himself from his financial embarrassment. He was so much in demand that he wondered if there was enough base material on the planet to fulfil all his commissions. With that in mind he made the outlandish purchase of Mount Everest which immediately placed him in debt again. Mount Everest fell into the hands of the Official Receiver who promptly sunk without trace.

It was then, in 1840, that Baily was commissioned to knock out the piece he is most famous for: the 18 foot sandstone statue of Horatio Nelson that adorns the top of its 161 foot column in Trafalgar Square. It was Baily’s idea to place it so far off the ground as he was experimenting with the concept of high-rise statues at the time. After finishing Nelson’s Column he wrote a treatise on high-rise sculpture that is still used as a yardstick by artists today (mainly because it was exactly 36 inches in length). The salient points of this seminal work were:

1. If the subject of your statue was known in life to walk about with one arm behind their back, provide them with a column of 80 feet and 6 inches…as this would be a half-Nelson.
2. If the reputation of the subject of the statue is likely to diminish over time, place the column on land prone to subsistence.
3. If a statue of Icarus is to top a column, ensure that all pedestrians milling below it are issued with hard-hats.
4. It’s advisable in these early Victorian times never to place a statue of Boudicca on a column. As the menfolk will not appreciate being looked down upon by a single mother with two kids.
5. If the sculptor maligned the reputation of the subject of the statue in any way by producing an inaccurate image, the sculptor must then produce an accurate statue of the same subject and afford it the exact same column inches as the original.
6. Statues of Joan of Arc must never be placed on a column that exceeds 60 feet; as that is the length of the longest ladder any fire brigade currently possesses in the UK.
7. Statues of Jesus should be placed on a column on a beach, so that when the tide is in it will appear as though he walks on water.

Baily was elected to the FRS (Fellow of the Royal Society) in 1842 and remained a prominent member until his death in 1867. Thus it could be said that despite his earlier notoriety, his masterpiece, Nelson’s Column, enabled him to be finally accepted in high society.

The Mad Barber of Bedminster


The greatest daredevil Bristol ever produced was Charlie Stephens aka The Mad Barber of Bedminster. Here are some of the daring feats he became renowned for:

  1. Shaving himself with a cut-throat razor in a cage full of lions.
  2. Fathering ten children.
  3. Having sugar cubes knocked off his scalp from a distance of 250 yards by a crack-shot with a rifle….although this was because he was fed up with waiting to have them removed on the NHS.
  4. Holding the longevity record for having a ferret stuffed down his trousers: 21 days, 14 hours and 53 minutes set in 1919.
  5. Holding the record for the longest continuous high pitched scream: 21 days, 14 hours and 53 minutes set in 1919.
  6. Being fired by a canon in Redcliffe….although Stephens swore he was innocent and hadn’t dipped into the collection plate as he passed it around as part of his duties during Sunday morning service.

The feat Stephens is most associated with is his attempt to ‘shoot’ Niagara Falls in a barrel in 1920. For this venture he had a custom built barrel constructed by a Bath cooper with specially strengthened wooden staves it was thought would be capable of withstanding the battering it would receive in the choppy waters, and rocky terrain it was set to negotiate. This special strengthening process was achieved by adding an extra coat of varnish. The barrel’s interior incorporated state of the art technology – for 1920 – in navigational aids, those being a shelf on which to place an A-Z of the Niagara area and a peephole.

Before leaving for the Canadian border with the USA, Stephens put his barrel on display in Bristol. The consensus of opinion was that it would be better for him if he put it on a bonfire instead.

Upon his arrival in North America, Stephens set up a base camp in Buffalo and put his barrel on show there charging one cent for spectators to look inside. It was a great relief for the American press when a decent crowd assembled to view the strange contraption as it proved that Stephens did have some cents after all.

It was during one of these public viewings that the famed American stuntman Bobby Leach voiced his concerns about the barrel being too heavily weighted. Stephens was so irked by this that he added extra weight via a couple of full pots of paint. Leach dismissed this as a cynical attempt on the Bristol daredevil’s part to gain more female interest in his endeavour to ‘shoot’ Niagara Falls by aiming for the emulsional impact. Stephens simply brushed the jibe aside.

Charlie Stephens courted further publicity by setting up home in his barrel in the days leading up to the attempt. This elicited much sympathy from around the world as well as a letter from Bristol City Council informing him that he’d now been placed a band higher on their list of those in need of social housing.

The Mad Barber of Bedminster was aware of the money making opportunities his daring attempt upon the Falls presented. He obtained a healthy payment for exclusive film rights. This was because the fee was counted out inside his barrel which he’d made a no smoking zone.

The night before the attempt a barrel of ale in a Buffalo bar, where Stephens was drinking, fell from its shelf and smashed to pieces on the hard, uncarpeted floor. Then the bartender explained that they were out of whisky so he couldn’t fulfil an order of scotch on the rocks so the customer had to make do with Harveys Bristol Cream on the rocks instead. However, the weather forecast seemed promising so the omens looked good for the following morning.

In the night Stephens started expressing some doubts which caused him a sleepless night in his barrel. To allay his growing fears he hired the services of a clairvoyant who, with the assistance of a crystal ball, foretold that the Bristol daredevil would die as his barrel smashed to pieces on the rocks of Niagara. This was bad news for the clairvoyant because it was a home visit.

This didn’t deter Stephens as he reminded himself that he was an Englishman and made of sterner stuff…he just wished his barrel was too. On the morning of July 11th, 1920 he set off in his barrel. The ravenous cataract soon claimed his life. Leach had been correct as Stephens’ too heavily weighted barrel simply fell through the water and smashed into smithereens on the rocks below. All that was recovered of Stephens was a severed arm chained to a fragment of barrel. The arm was returned to Bristol and given a decent burial. Thankfully the hand contained more than two fingers otherwise it would’ve been an indecent burial.

As a result of this tragedy there was an emergency sitting of Parliament and a new law was passed which meant that any barrel designed to convey a human had to carry the following message on its side, ‘HM Government Warning: Shooting Niagara Falls In A Barrel Can Seriously Damage Your Health’. Fortunately, the occurrence of people dying in barrels has been a rare phenomenon since 1920, so Charles Stephens’ death was not in vain.