Portrait of Peter Labilliere by Henry Kingsbury.
|Other name(s)||Peter Labelliere|
|Born||30 May 1725|
|Died||6 June 1800 (aged 75)|
Labilliere was born in Dublin on 30 May 1725 to a family of French Huguenot descent. He joined the British Army at the age of 14, becoming a major in 1760. After leaving the army he became a political agitator and was accused in 1775 of bribing British troops not to fight in the American War of Independence, although he was never tried for treason. Throughout the 1770s and 80s Labiliere corresponded regularly with both Benjamin Franklin (at that time the American representative in France) and the Long Island wax sculptor Patience Wright. The effect of his anti-war protests on British public sentiment is uncertain, although he appears to have attracted a following of over 700 like-minded adherents, and the army was required to rely on German mercenaries, as recruitment of British troops for the war became increasingly difficult.
Labilliere moved to Dorking from Chiswick in around 1789, living in a small cottage called "The Hole in the Wall," on Butter Hill, and often visiting Box Hill to meditate. With old age he became increasingly eccentric and neglected his own personal hygiene to such an extent that he acquired the nickname "the walking dung-hill".
Labilliere died on 6 June 1800. In accordance with his wishes he was buried head downwards, on 10 or 11 June on the western side of Box Hill above The Whites. In the presence of a crowd of thousands that included visitors from London as well as the local "quality gentry", Labilliere was buried without any religious ceremony, having reportedly said that the world was "topsy-turvey" and that it would be righted in the end if he were interred thus. But this preference was not mentioned in his "Book of Devotions": rather he there said that he wished to emulate the example of St Peter, who was crucified upside-down according to tradition.[note 1]
Former and current memorial stonesEdit
- Peter Labelliere An eccentric resident of Dorking, was buried here, head downwards 11th June 1800
Note the spelling Labelliere is used, whereas all surviving manuscripts indicate that he spelt his name Labilliere.
He then earned a mention (continuing the 'e' spelling) in Edith Sitwell's 1933 book The English Eccentrics, which surely draws on Timbs' description, and through which he came to feature in W.H. Auden's 1940 book of poems New Year Letter (The Double Man in the United States) (Part 1, ll. 368-82):
- [We] Get angry like Labellière,
- Who, finding no invectives hurled
- Against a topsy-turvy world
- Would right it, earning a quaint renown
- By being buried upside-down;
- Unwilling to adjust belief,
- Go mad in a fantastic grief
- Where no adjustment need be done, ..
- Christian political bee-hive: containing an assemblage of first principles, manifestly calculated to promote universal amity and good government and to secure real and permanent felicity to every individual who hath regard for truth and liberty or pure Christianity (1794)
- Labilliere's Book of Devotions was taken by the youngest daughter of his landlady, who passed it down to her children. The book is now held by Dorking Museum along with some of his personal trinkets.
- Lander 2000, pp. 7–8
- Lander 2000, pp. 20–21
- "To Benjamin Franklin from Peter Labilliere, 8 December 1781". Founders Online. National Archives. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
- "To John Adams from Patience Lovell Wright, 5 June 1785". Founders Online. National Archives. Retrieved 11 October 2019.
- Lander 2000, p. 25
- Lander 2000, p. 19
- Timbs 1877
- Lander 2000, pp. 35–36
- Major Peter Labelliere: Strange history of man buried upside down atop Box Hill, Surrey Mirror, by W. H. Chouler, July 1963
- Lander 2000, pp. 39–40
- Gittings, Clare (20 Nov 2017). "Eccentric or enlightened? Unusual burial and commemoration in England, 1689 – 1823". Mortality. 12 (4): 321–349. doi:10.1080/13576270701609667.
- Huxley, AJ. "A curious burial". Country Life. 117 (3049): 1625.
- "Strange burial requests: Man who was buried upside down". Hull Daily Mail (15964): 3. 26 December 1936.
- Lander 2000, p. 6
- No, Doilum. "Box Hill, Surrey sur Flickr : partage de photos !". Flickr.com. Retrieved 27 July 2012.
- The W. H. Auden Society Newsletter No. 14 - Notes and Queries, April 1996
- The W. H. Auden Society Newsletter No. 15 - Notes and Queries, November 1996
- Labelliere, Peter (1794). Christian political bee-hive: containing an assemblage of first principles, manifestly calculated to promote universal amity and good government and to secure real and permanent felicity to every individual who hath regard for truth and liberty or pure Christianity. London: R Hawes.
- Portrait of Labilliere in the National Portrait Gallery collection
- Portrait of Labilliere held by Dorking Museum