This day in London’s History
1877: The first ever human cannonball act took place in Westminster Aquarium. Zazel, the brave 14-year old whose job was to literally get herself fired, was propelled around 100 feet into the air using the potential energy of India rubber springs.
The Era reported the event thus:
Our vision is startled by the sight of the living Miss - we mean missile - flying through space, and alighting safe and sound in the huge net spread to receive her.
Proving that puns are as bad today as they’ve always been. The much imitated Zazel later toured with the famous circus of PT Barnum (‘The Greatest Show on Earth’).
London fact of the week
Westminster Aquarium (known as ‘The Aq’) was situated opposite the Abbey, on the site now occupied by the Methodist Central Hall. Its original purpose was as a venue for lectures, exhibitions and concerts, interspersed with giant fish tanks to educate and inspire visitors. However, as with the recent case of the Planetarium closing to make way for a celebrity ogle-fest, Londoners preferred cheap thrills to educational diversion. The Aq was soon a centre of circus acts, feats of endurance and freak shows. If King Kong had been captured by the Victorians, this is probably where he’d have been displayed. The delightfully bonkers building had a tragically short life, opening in 1876 but being torn down in 1902 to make way for more godly occupants.
London person of the week
Let’s give it to Banksy for adding a striking new three-dimensional direction to his work.
One thing you must do in London this week
The corpses are back in town. More plastinated flesh and bone is set to go on display at Earls Court from Wednesday. Body Worlds, once shocking and controversial, now has competition in the form of Bodies…The Exhibition. We’re holding out for the inevitable ‘Bodies…The Revenge’, a Night of the Living Dead-style exhibition where animated rubberized cadavers are pitted against celebrity victims in a Shoreditch warehouse.