A summer’s afternoon, 1889. In a hotel in the sedate Welsh resort of Llandrindod Wells, holidaymaker Mr T.J. Osborne is preparing to catch the train home. The day is warm. The window is open. A fully-grown African lion leaps in.
In the animated few minutes that follow, a startled Mr Osborne gets a crash-course in lion-taming, and after holding the ferocious beast at bay with a chair, becomes the star of a brisk article in the next morning’s newspapers.
The report of this unlikely encounter is just one of countless extraordinary tales which have lain unseen and unknown in the dusty recesses of newspaper libraries across the nation.
Journalist Jeremy Clay has delved into the British Library archives to find the long-lost stories that enthralled and appalled the Victorians. The result is The Burglar Caught By A Skeleton and Other Singular Stories from the Victorian Press, a treasure trove of bizarre, quirky, pathetic and grisly stories from the newspapers of the age.
* An unseemly brawl between a bearded lady and a snake charmer.
* A fisherman who netted the body of his long-lost brother.
* A dozy inventor, killed by his own Wallace and Gromit-style contraption.
* A widow living with a corpse, to claim his pension.
* A python, stoned to death by boys in Middlesbrough.
* A cricket match which set a team of one-legged men against players with one arm.
* A drunk monkey, that smashed up a bar after being refused more booze.
At first, Jeremy Clay wanted to be a soldier. A war hero. The kind of steel-jawed Tommy from the comic books, who single-handedly storms a machine gun post to anguished cries of aieeeeeeeee from the enemy. But after losing a primary school fight to a younger kid who grew up to be a poet, he quietly changed tack. In his early 20s he set out on a short but satisfying career as a layabout, which segued neatly into a stint in an also-ran indie band. No, you haven't heard of them. They released two albums - the second selling even worse than the first - before splitting up, to general in...
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