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Doncaster Features: Famous Doncastrian: Jemmy Hirst
Taken from an anonymous publication (if anyone knows the source, please get in touch so we can credit them.)
This was Jemmy Hirst, who was animal daft. He rode a bull, tried to train an otter to fish for him (catching the fish wasn't a problem. It was getting the otter to let go that was the hard bit).
He also hunted using pigs instead of dogs as pointers and generally behaved very oddly indeed - so much so that King George III was intrigued enough to invite him to London from his home in Rawcliffe, near Goole, for a meeting.
Like Bill Sharp, Jemmy Hirst's eccentricity began with a disappointment in love. He lost his intended to the smallpox, having earlier rescued her from a flooded river. At first, like Sharp, he took to his bed. And he suffered what was then called a 'brain fever' which made him even odder than he had been before; which was pretty odd.
While at school, Jemmy, who was born to a farmer and his wife in 1738, had a tame jackdaw trained to take the mickey out of schoolmates, teachers and neighbours. He also trained a hedgehog to follow him to school. This was not the sort of behaviour for a lad whose parents fondly
hoped would become a parson.
These plans fell through and the young Hirst was apprenticed to a tanner, whose daughter he planned to marry. It was she who died of smallpox, turning Jemmy's head still further. After the brain fever and a period of moping, he took up animal training. His first success was Jupiter, a young bull which he trained to behave like a horse, successfully enough for it to ride to hounds and to pull a carriage. No ordinary carriage, mind - this one looked like an upside-down lampshade, with big wheels and a patent device which was an early form of mileometer.
This conveyance he took with him to Doncaster races where, dressed in a waistcoat of duck feathers, and a lambskin hat with a brim nine feet around the edge, he cut rather a figure.
Jupiter struggled to pull the carriage, so his master had it fitted with sails. This was not an altogether wise move, as on a windy day it crashed though a shop window, earning a ban from the town of Pontefract.
He'd been left a few bob by his father and, eccentric or not, had a social conscience, blowing his hunting horn to summon the poor and the elderly to his house for a free tea.
When he finally married his housekeeper, Jemmy wore a toga and decided the ceremony should be conducted in sign language.
The King heard of Jemmy's exploits and summoned him to London, which bewildered him. He had never met his monarch and, as far as he knew, he didn't owe him any money. But he would go. And go he did, in his carriage. His appearance at court reduced one noble to uncontrollable laughter. The obliging Jemmy pinched his nose and threw a goblet of water in his face - 'because the poor man
were 'avin 'ysterics'.
He was pleased to find his king a plain-looking fellow - and astonished the court by saying as much. Then he invited him back to Rawcliffe 'for as much good brandy as tha can sup'. The king, surprisingly, never took up the offer.
Jemmy departed this life in 1829 aged 91. The day of his funeral was declared a public holiday and a firework display took place in the evening. It was only fair, since Jemmy Hirst had brightened the lives of many.
It is also rumoured than Jemmy built his own coffin with windows and shelves!
There have been several pubs locally named after Jemmy, the most local (and current) would be the Jemmy Hirst at the Rose and Crown in Rawcliffe.
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