The great eccentrics

I’ve always enjoyed reading about eccentrics and their dotty ways. An article in the Daily Mail is chock-full of spicy details about them.

A few examples:

Where would we be without Jonas Hanway, the 18th-century philanthropist who first dared to walk the streets of London while holding a wooden stick which supported a canopy of oiled silk over his head?

Oblivious to the ridicule of passing coachmen, Hanway persisted and soon his invention, the umbrella, was jeopardising the livelihoods of those very coachmen who had mocked him.

. . .

Charles Hamilton of Painshill Park in Surrey was one of many wealthy Englishmen who, in the mid-1700s, advertised for a hermit to live on his land, offering £700 in return for seven years of ascetic solitude spent studying the Bible while dressed in a camel-hair robe.

Sadly, the only known applicant had to be sacked when he was spotted at the local pub three weeks after moving in.

. . .

… perhaps the most remarkable character of the time was John ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton, a heavy-drinking Shropshire squire.

He owned a bear, named Nell, on the back of whom he once rode into a dinner party in full hunting gear, roaring “Tally ho!” as his guests dived for cover.

Nell later ate part of his leg,but this did not blunt Mad Jack’s passion for animals; at one point there were estimated to be 2,000 dogs in his house.

They were fed steak and champagne and the dining room on the first floor was fitted with a trapdoor so his pet giraffe could join him for Sunday lunch.

Mad Jack could be rather less kind towards humans. One night after entertaining his doctor and local parson for dinner he dressed up as a highwayman and ambushed his two guests on their way home, firing shots over their heads and chasing after them as they ran for their lives.

. . .

But perhaps one of my most surprising discoveries was an Englishman who in some ways way matched the behaviour of such eccentrics as bearriding ‘Mad Jack’ Mytton.

Like Mytton before him, Hew Kennedy is a wealthy Shropshire landowner and he has spent years building a life-size replica of a trebuchet, a 30-ton medieval catapult, the height of a four-storey building.

He uses this to send sailing high across his estate dead cows, small cars and defunct grand pianos with explosives attached.

‘Why?’ I asked him. ‘Because it’s bloody good fun!’ was the reply.

The author is publishing a book about English eccentrics. Details of it, and more stories of the weird and batty, are at the link. Good Saturday morning reading.



  1. I’m not convinced that possession or even use of a trebuchet qualifies one as “eccentric”.

    Inviting a giraffe to pop in for a snack, yeah, probably.

    But committing highway robbery on one’s dinner guests merely qualifies one to run for Congress as a Democrat.

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