Bristol is already pretty famous for producing one particular mysterious artist. We don’t need name names, do we? But now it seems another is striking the city and placing statues in some of the city’s more off-the-beaten-track locations. Over August bank holiday weekend, the artist Getting Up To Stuff hid a statue of the South West legend Princess Caraboo at the very corner of the overgrown, and much abandoned, graveyard Hebron Burial Ground in Bedminster (accessible from Melville Terrace).
Who is Princess Caraboo?
The story goes that, in the early 19th century, a cobbler came across a peculiar young woman in the Gloucestershire town of Almondsbury. She was wearing exotic clothing and speaking a strange language. Shortly after, she was declared a beggar and taken to Bristol to be tried for vagrancy.
During her imprisonment, a Portuguese sailor claimed to speak her language. He identified her as Princess Caraboo from the island of Javasu. She had escaped capture from pirates by jumping into the English Channel and swimming to land. Fame followed thereafter, with newspapers publishing her story and her portrait painted. For 10 weeks people treated her like the royalty she claimed to be.
That is until a boarding-house keeper recognised Princess Caraboo’s picture in the Bristol Journal. Apparently, she was not royalty at all, but a cobbler’s daughter from Devon. Her real name was Mary Willcocks. She had been a servant girl, with nowhere to stay, and invented a fictitious language from imaginary and Romani words. Mary continued appearances at Princess Caraboo in the US for several years after, potentially in France and Spain too. But by 1828, Mary had returned to England. She spent the rest of her days in Bedminster and is now buried in Hebron Burial Ground.
She is not the only Bristol legend to be commemorated in statue form by Getting Up To Stuff this August either. Behind the toilets on The Downs, you can discover a sculpture of Victoria Hughes. She was a self-described ‘loo-lady’ on Bristol’s Durdham Down that gained fame after publishing her memoirs, Ladies’ Mile. As a toilet attendant, she took care of many sex workers in the area, providing support, advice and tea.
Getting Up To Stuff’s other work in the area has included: a homeless man with a Monopoly board on Jamaica Street; a young man and a teddy bear to mark Suicide Prevention Week; and various little rainbow streets hidden around Bristol. To see more of the guerrilla artist’s work see here.