Houdini “planned escape” stunt from landmark city building

Harry Houdini, the world famous escapologist lived from 1874 to 1926

World famous escapologist Harry Houdini may have been planning a stunt to break out of Canterbury’s Westgate Towers.

Magic history researchers have been trying to establish whether the Hungarian-born American wanted to set up an escape from the one of the Towers’ prison cells.

They sat next to what was once the city’s police station, now The Pound bar and restaurant.

Houdini, who lived from 1874 to 1926, visited Kent in 1905 and 1911 as part of tours to England.

Escapologist Stuart Burrell performed escapology stunts over the first weekend of Canterbury’s new magic bar Houdini’s in St Peter’s Street and has been looking into the entertainer’s history.

Escapologist Stuart Burrell performed in Canterbury

He told the Canterbury Journal: “Houdini would have visited the various towns and cities he was due to perform in and undertaken private functions for charity and to generate interest or visit orphanages to put on a show for other local magicians.

“Being the son of a Rabbi, Houdini had been brought up to be respectful of other peoples faiths and as Canterbury was the hub of the Church of England, he would have made time for a short visit to the city.

“Throughout his career, Houdini would try and escape from prison cells as these had proven to be excellent forms of publicity.

“In 1905, he was scheduled to perform in Chatham and had heard that the prison cells had been modernised.

“He asked Kent Police if he could escape from them, but was denied.

“They did not want the public to think that the very expensive new cells that had just been installed could be broken out of.

“Houdini was in need of a publicity stunt. The Chief Constable of Rochester Police, which was a short train trip away, and independent of Kent Police at the time, obliged instead and Houdini promptly escaped.

“Now, if the Chief Constable of Rochester had not obliged, the next cell Houdini could have used, that did not require a compliant Chief Constable, is in the Westgate Towers in Canterbury.

Houdini’s magic bar in St Peter’s Street

“Houdini and his crew never relied on just one back up plan.”

Stuart is the holder of world record holder for freeing himself from a pair of prison irons.

On the first Saturday Houdini’s was open, he managed to break the record again, reducing it to 58 seconds.

He is now waiting for the record to be verified. “I must defer to the various record keeping bodies before I can officially claim it,” he said.

“I have learnt from experience not to count my chickens before they hatch.

“But I would like to say that I cannot praise the staff of Houdini’s or the public of Canterbury enough.
“They were supportive and exceptional. Earlier in the week, prior to performing, I did say it was an honour to be asked to be there and the weekend proved it.”


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