London's Weirdest Deaths

By James FitzGerald Last edited 18 months ago
London's Weirdest Deaths

Fun fact for you: there were no fewer than 50,543 recorded deaths in London last year. Death is the only certainty in life, but of course there's no saying how you're going to go. And the capital has witnessed more than its fair share of bizarre bucket-kickings. Here's a handful.

Phiz's 1853 illustration of spontaneous human combustion in Charles Dickens's Bleak House. A case of the strange phenomenon was claimed in London in 1982.

Dying for a leak

In medieval London it was customary for sewage to simply be chucked out onto the street. One night in 1325, a John Toly awoke needing to relieve himself, which he did through his 30ft-high window. He then proceeded to fall out it himself.

The coroners' rolls state that he "died about cock-crow".

Not as fun as it sounds

A beer flood. It really happened. But if a tidal wave of the hoppy stuff is your idea of a dream, know that such a freak occurrence could have deadly consequences.

In 1814, barrels leaked at the Meux & Company Brewery at St Giles Circus (now the site of the Dominion Theatre). 1.5 million litres of the booze spilt into the streets, damaging buildings and killing eight people. Read more about it here.

1799 map of the area, highlighting the brewery and the (very) approximate extent of the flood.

Dead ironic

It doesn’t get much more macabre than Henry Taylor's death in 1872. The pallbearer was at work one day, carrying a coffin through Kensal Green cemetery, when he slipped. The box crushed him.

The police's report states that "the widow of the person about to be buried nearly went into hysterics."

The gamble gone wrong

History is replete with tales of individuals who have met their maker in embarrassing self-inflicted accidents.

Take poor Walter Cowle. Drinking in the Carlisle Arms in Soho in 1893, the youngster reckoned he could put a billiard ball in his mouth and close his teeth round it. He managed it — but choked to death.

Kensal Green Cemetery, where Henry Taylor was killed by a coffin, Photo by Sophie-A. Mévisse in the Londonist Flickr pool.

Tragedy at Crystal Palace

Bridget Driscoll found herself making history in the grimmest way imaginable when, in 1896, she became the first pedestrian killed by a car.

The accident occurred in the grounds of the Crystal Palace. The automobile was driven recklessly according to witnesses, although the then-speed limit was only 14mph, and the driver claimed to have been going no faster than 4mph. Read more about it here.

Too much of a good thing?

Carrots are hard to beat from a nutritional viewpoint - but that’s assuming you're not having them, juiced, by the whole gallon every single day.

But that was the habit of one Dr Basil Brown, a health food enthusiast from Croydon. His apparent addiction led to his death, in 1974, of hypervitaminosis.

Death by carrots: a very real thing. Photo by Richard Parmiter in the Londonist Flickr pool.

A cold war mystery

It's the stuff of Bond films. Shortly after crossing Waterloo Bridge in 1978, the Bulgarian dissident Georgi Markov felt a sharp pain in his leg and saw a man rushing away with an umbrella.

Markov died of ricin poisoning, it's thought from a pellet fired from the umbrella device. The murder remains unsolved, but it's speculated that the Soviet KGB or Bulgarian secret services were behind it.

Going out with a bang   

Charles Dickens was obsessed with spontaneous human combustion: a phenomenon in which people supposedly burst into flames at random. It’s the fate of Krook in Dickens's novel Bleak House.

And it's claimed that this actually happened in London in 1982, to the unfortunate Jeannie Saffin. She was doing little more than sitting in her kitchen in Edmonton when she caught fire. She died from the burns.

Read about any other strange deaths in the capital? Let us know with a comment below.

Last Updated 04 August 2016