In a 19th century book from my personal library called Old and New London comes the bizarre tale of Daniel Wildman – bee tamer extraordinaire! This Barnum of the bees put on a show at Jubilee Gardens in 1772 called “Exhibition of the Bees on Horseback”.
At the Jubilee Gardens, late Dobney’s, this evening and every evening until further notice (wet evenings excepted), the celebrated Mr Daniel Wildman will exhibit several new and amazing experiments never attempted by any man in this or any other kingdom before.
The experiment would involve Wildman – said to be an American but possibly from the west country (accents can be so confusing!) – standing with one foot on the saddle of a horse and the other on the animal’s neck.
While riding round he would also have a mask of live bees on his head and face. Just to vary things a bit, Wildman also stood upright on the saddle with the bridle in his mouth and by firing a pistol, he could make one part of the bees march over a table while another part swarmed in the air then returned to their hive. Must have been quite a show!
Doors opened at six and the stinging commenced at 6.45pm. Admittance in the boxes and gallery was two shillings, cheaper seats were shilling and Wildman seems to have sold swarms of bees to punters.
The venue for this weirdness, Jubilee Gardens, was on a site in north London near Pentonville prison. As with many of these entertainment spaces, they tended to slide into decline, get built over and forgotten about. Not even Wildman’s bees could stop the rot.