Our last evening talk of 2023, held at Cross Corners on an unseasonably warm and well attended evening on Tuesday 10th October, was given by Jo Vigor-Mungovin on the subject of “Joseph Merrick – The Elephant Man”. Jo is a well-known local historian, and has carried out extensive research into the sad, but occasionally fulfilling, life of Joseph Merrick.
Joseph grew up in the Wharf street area of Leicester, and although his remains are in London, members of his family (who later lived in Belgrave) are buried in Belgrave Cemetery. Also buried there is Sam Roper, one of the showmen that exhibited Joseph around the East Midlands – an abhorrent practice now, but very popular in the Victorian age.
Jo’s fascinating talk highlighted the fact that what most people think they know about Joseph Merrick’s life is based on the film starring John Hurt – a very good film that bears no resemblance to Joseph’s actual life other than the character of surgeon Frederick Treves; however, the portrayal of the relationship between Joseph and Treves is completely inaccurate.
Jo also described her research into Joseph Merrick, and her attempts to raise funding for a statue of Joseph in Leicester. This project failed for a number of reasons, including some very spiteful comments about Joseph posted on social media. However, Jo is working with the borough of Tower Hamlets in London, where a garden (opposite the Royal London Hospital where Joseph spent his final years) is to be named in his honour, and is working on other projects about Joseph Merrick.