The Portuguese State Circus and the Blackwall Tunnel
This isn't Londoner "Gumball" writes:
Designed by Sir Alexander Binnie and constructed by S.Pearson & Sons at a cost of £1.4 million, the first bore of the Blackwall Tunnel was opened by the Prince of Wales on the 22nd May 1897. Present at the inauguration ceremony, at the request of the then Mayor of London Lt .Col Horatio Davies, was the world renowned Portuguese State Circus and Travelling Freak Show.
As a symbol of the grand design and innovative construction that went into producing the new tunnel under the River Thames the Lord Mayor thought it would be fitting to request that the Portuguese Circus’s biggest and most loved act, the famous gentle giant Juan Leap should lead the procession through the tunnel. Although Juan could speak no English he gestured that he would be honoured to lead the procession.
As the procession set off Sir Alexander Binnie was approached by William Forman, a young reporter from the London Times newspaper who, fearful of the thought of actually going under the River Thames nervously enquired ;
“How long exactly is the tunnel?” to which Sir Alexander replied
“Forman, its one small step for Juan Leap, a kind giant man.”
It was at this point that tragedy struck. Unknown to all was the fact that Juan was taller than the tunnel opening. No sooner had the procession started than it was ground to a halt as the giant became stuck in the tunnel mouth. Confusion turned to panic as the crowds at the back pushed forwards, not knowing that their way was blocked. It was reported later in the London Times that it took almost 40 minutes to clear the road. Unfortunately Juan Leap later died from the head injuries he sustained as a result of walking into the commemorative plaque that was hanging over the tunnel mouth. Nobody else was seriously hurt in the incident but a valuable lesson was learnt, in that some form of height restriction would be necessary to prevent any future accidents of the same nature.
This incident is still celebrated to this day by the Portuguese who, at irregular intervals (usually during morning rush hour) will ignore all the posted warnings and attempt to send an over-height lorry driven by a man chosen for his complete ignorance of the English Language through the Blackwall Tunnel in honour of their beloved gentle giant Juan Leap. The historic relevance of this act however seems to be lost to the drivers of the vehicles behind him.