Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Saturday 13th Feb 1751

Front Cover of Diary"... turning did find that my other friends were already gone ahead, being Attracted by the gathering of a crowd; and to join them, to find a Watchmaker who had setup a Booth near Durham Yard in the Strand. There on trestles he had set out a tiny Chaise with four wheels, this being mighty small; and then he coaxes a Flea out of a box and sets him to draw it; other fleas being taken out which did turn water mills and march in troupes like soldiers; at which I was amazed, having never attributed aught of Intelligence to Fleas but a Malignant Instinct. This London be a marvellous place, where one may see more Wonders in ten yards than one would see in ten Miles at home; the which is no doubt wht the inhabitants are more hare-brained, constant Surprises shaking the Wits and enervating the Reason."

This extract comes from the "The diary of a surgeon in the year 1751-1752" by John Knyveton, a who was surgeon in London and later on HMS Lancaster, kindly provided by the Wellcome Trust Library. This is quite a significant find as it's 10 years before the previous earliest record of a flea circus and provides significantly more detail of the acts performed. If the proceedings of the old bailey are anything to go by there were several watch makers in the area of Durham Yard and it was a favourite for theives who were running away from crimes.

Stop Press

There is evidence to indicate that these diaries perhaps works of fiction rather than fact, for example errors in dates of key events. However there are other references to this event in the London, Daily Advertiser and other newspapers that report this booth was in existence between 1742 and 1763.

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