BBC History Magazine

Choked by a billiard ball


AnGrantham Journal/ 11 November 1893

inquest was held in London for the death of a young man, Walter Cowle, who had previously been employed as an envelope-cutter. On a recent night out in Soho, Cowle had visited the Carlisle Arms Tavern, on Bateman Street, to meet with friends.

Some way into the evening the conversati­on turned to tricks and feats each could perform, and, perhaps on a dare, Cowle claimed he had the ability to place a large billiard ball in his mouth and close his teeth. His friends were eager to see this trick performed, and so the landlord was requested to produce one – which he did after several assurances that Cowle would not actually put the ball in his mouth, but would use sleight of hand to amuse and trick the gathered company.

Unfortunat­ely something went wrong, and Cowle attempted to swallow the ball, immediatel­y choking. There was little the collected crowd could do. They held him upside down, slapped his back, and tried to remove the ball from his mouth, but nothing worked and Cowle was soon pronounced dead. A good friend of Cowle’s insisted he had seen Cowle do the trick many times, and it had never gone wrong before. News story sourced from perarcchiv­ and rediscover­ed by

Fern regularly appears on BBC Radio 3’s Free ThinkingT

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