Louis Bally: Famous for fifteen minutes

by Bob Davenport

In late October and early November 1869, variants of the following story appeared in some two dozen newspapers across the United Kingdom:


The inhabitants of this suburban locality have, within the last day or two, been much excited by a story which had obtained extensive circulation, and which, although alarming in its character to the individuals more immediately concerned, has been the source of much amusement from the ridiculous incidents connected with it.

It appears that on Wednesday afternoon [20 October] Mr. Ward, cow-keeper, of Highgate, had been purchasing some cattle at Hendon, and they were brought to his premises, near Highgate, at the top of Kentish Town. Suddenly a cow, which is said to have been two years in a shed, started off, and the attempts to catch her only seemed to have the effect of worrying the animal and accelerating its speed. On reading the Malden-road it was so beset that as a sort of alternative to escape it made a dart off towards a woman. The woman ran at the top of her speed and the cow after. Next to the ‘Sir Robert Peel’ is a boot and shoe shop, No. 106, kept by a German shoemaker, Louis Bally. Into the door of this shop rushed the woman, and instantly after followed the cow; and now comes the tragical as well as the ludicrous part of the occurrence. Bally was sitting in his parlour, opening by a large door into the passage, reading the newspaper. A dreadful noise and screaming first met his ear, and in an instant a frantic woman appeared and fell flat on her face on the floor. Before he could recover himself a still more dreadful noise succeeded, and the head of a horned animal rushed furiously towards him.

The German shoemaker, with hair on end, dashed under the table, and in another instant a tremendous crash told that the grand dénouement had taken place, and on looking up, as he himself describes it, ‘trembling vary mooch all over,’ he saw the cow’s tail disappearing through the back parlour window, through which the infuriated animal had dashed into a yard 15 feet below. Now came the hue and cry. In rushed the proprietor of the cow, in rushed the people. The poor woman the object of the cow’s aversion or attraction, as the case may have been, still lay on the floor quite insensible from fright, and, no doubt, trampling upon. Bally made his appearance from under the table, restoratives were applied, and the woman, who lives in the neighbourhood, was carried home, and is still said to be very ill. The cow, which was somewhat cut by the glass, was found in the back yard apparently perfectly tamed down by her little excitement, and was ultimately got up the stairs and taken home. There appeared to be at first little or nothing the matter with her; but it was reported yesterday that she had died during the night. With the exception of the fright, the German shoemaker was uninjured. Mr. Ward has had his window put in and reimbursed for other damage, and the excitement will no doubt benefit him in his trade.

Morning Advertiser, 23 October 1869

‘Mr. Ward, cow-keeper, of Highgate’ was probably the Joseph Ward who for many years until his death in 1874 rented a farm in Fitzroy Park, Highgate, from the Earl of Mansfield.

A 1900 photograph of the farm in Fitzroy Park, Highgate (London Collection, Bishopsgate Institute)


Louis Bally, the shoemaker whose space had been so spectacularly invaded, was not in fact German but had been born in Lausanne, Switzerland, somewhere between 1824 and 1831 (the ages given in various official records do not tally). When he came to England is not known, but in the April 1861 census he is recorded as a butler, aged 33, in the household at 18 Whitehall Place, Westminster, of Sir William Lawrence, one of the original fellows and a sometime president of the Royal College of Surgeons and the then sergeant-surgeon to Queen Victoria.

Sir William Lawrence, 1783–1867 (from the Illustrated London News, 27 April 1867)


Also listed in the Lawrence household in the 1861 census was Dinah Farmer Gilding, a 26-year-old housemaid who had been born nearby, and on 4 September that year she and Louis were married in the local church of St Mary le Strand. In the marriage register, her father’s occupation is given as ‘Silversmith’ and Louis’s father’s as ‘Turner’. They went on to have two children: Louis George, born 18 days before the cow incident, on 2 October 1869, and Bessie Sarah, born in 1872.

An anonymous engraving of St Mary le Strand church in about 1850


Whether ‘the excitement’ did benefit Louis’s trade, as the Morning Advertiser predicted, is not known, but he died on 29 November 1889 – still at 106 Malden Road – leaving a personal estate of £460 16s. 11d. (equivalent to about £60,500 in 2020), and was buried in St Pancras Cemetery on 4 December.

Louis Bally’s grave in St Pancras Cemetery



• In addition to the Morning Advertiser of 23 October 1869, the following papers – and possibly others too – also carried the story of the runaway cow (not always mentioning Louis Bally by name): Evening Standard (London), 23 October; Islington Gazette and Southern Reporter and Cork Daily Commercial Courier, 26 October; Derby Mercury and Leicester Guardian, 27 October; Ross Gazette and Witney Express and Oxfordshire and Midland Counties Herald, 28 October; Bicester Herald, Coventry Standard and Diss Express, 29 October; Alcester Chronicle, Brecon County Times, Buxton Advertiser, Clare Advertiser and Kilrush Gazette, Congleton & Macclesfield Mercury and Cheshire General Advertiser, Cork Constitution, Exmouth Journal, Holborn Journal and Lake’s Falmouth Packet and Cornwall Advertiser, 30 October; Cirencester Times and Cotswold Advertiser, 1 November, Thame Gazette, 2 November; Teesdale Mercury, 3 November; Bromsgrove, Droitwich and Redditch Weekly Messenger, 13 November 1869

Hampstead and Highgate Express, 1 February 1911 (‘Death of Mr. T. K. Ward’)