YOU may already know that the most ‘wicked’ man in Britain was supposedly born in Leamington, but did you also know elephants were buried here?
A surprising list of facts about Leamington have been compiled by a former resident, who says the town’s history can rival that of some of the UK’s biggest cities.
James Hunt’s article – titled ’13 Things You Might Not Know About Leamington Spa’ – features facts about elephants bathing in the River Leam and even a man who supposedly cursed the town.
Former Whitnash resident James, who is deputy editor of website Mental Floss, said: “Our website was running a series of articles along the lines of ‘things you might not know’, but for big cities.
“I contended I could do one for Leamington which would be at least as interesting as any of those.”
Some of the facts about the town include:
The ‘wickedest man in Britain’ was born here –
Leamington was the birthplace of Britain’s most famous occultist, the so-called ‘Great Beast’ Aleister Crowley.
He was born in 1875 to Edward and Emily Crowley and lived in Leamington until he was six-years-old. The house where he was born – 30 Clarendon Square – is still standing today although it has since been converted into flats.
By all accounts Crowley didn’t spend a lot of time in Leamington, but local folklore suggests that in later life he placed a curse on anyone born in the town and deemed it impossible for them to ever escape.
It’s one of only three towns with a ‘Royal’ prefix –
The town was granted its ‘Royal’ status in 1838 by Queen Victoria, who had enjoyed her first ever overnight stay away from home in 1830 while still a princess. Royal patronage of this kind has only ever been handed to three towns – Royal Leamington Spa, Royal Tunbridge Wells and Royal Wootton Bassett.
The Queen Victoria statue is offset on its plinth –
Following the death of Queen Victoria, a statue of the monarch who had once favoured the town was erected outside Leamington’s town hall in 1902. But almost 40 years later, it was offset by several inches on its plinth when a German bomb exploded nearby on November 14 1940. It was never returned to its original position, and a plaque on the statue’s pedestal now commemorates the event.
Elephants used to wash in the town centre –
Leamington may be the only town in Britain with its own elephant wash. The first elephant trainer in England was Sam Lockhart, a member of the famous Lockhart circus family. For much of his life he was based in Leamington, and when he acquired three elephants from Ceylon he kept them with him in the town as well as touring them around the country.
According to local legend, the circus animals were were regularly walked down from their quarters to bathe in the River Leam, but after their trumpeting disturbed worshippers at the nearby parish church a dedicated elephant wash was built further away for them to use. Contemporary evidence of this is hard to come by, suggesting it may be just a myth – but the ramp that forms the alleged elephant wash is still visible from the Mill Road Footbridge opposite the Jephson Gardens park.
There definitely were elephants buried in someone’s garden –
One thing that’s a matter of record, however, is the suggestion that one of Sam Lockhart’s elephants was buried in the grounds of his home at No. 1 Warwick New Road. Although simply a rumour for decades, it was finally confirmed in 2015 when a car park in the grounds of the building was dug up to make way for a new apartment block, revealing the genuine elephant bones. Lockhart himself is buried in nearby Milverton Cemetery.
The Czechoslovakian Army was once based in Leamington –
Inside the Jephson Gardens park there is a memorial fountain commemorating seven members of the Free Czechoslovak Army (FCA). This army was based in Leamington during the Second World War after its home country was occupied by the Nazis. Four of the men named on the memorial were even involved in -Operation Anthropoid’ – a successful plot to assassinate Hitler’s friend and confidante, Reinhard Heydrich, who was killed by the Allied forces in Prague. Heydrich was seen by many as a natural successor to Hitler and operated as second-in-commend to Heinrich Himmler, as well as being the military governor of Czechoslovakia – hence the FCA’s involvement.
Frank Whittle learnt his trade in the town
Best known for inventing the Jet Engine, Frank Whittle learned his engineering skills in his father’s workshop – the Leamington Valve and Piston-Ring Co., which was located on Clinton Street.
Visit mentalfloss.com/uk for the full list of facts.