London Blog

The Scientific Tourist in London: #12 Frozen Chicken Kills Scientist

The very best stories involve an element of rationality with a touch of the mysterious. Such a tale concerns the demise of proto-scientist Sir Francis Bacon in 1626.

Bacon is often held up as one of the pioneers of modern scientific thought. He championed evidence-based inquiry over argument from authority, a position that is all-to-often forgotten even in these enlightened times. He developed Baconian method, a deductive procedure we would now equate to scientific method. A statesman and lawyer as well as a philosopher, Bacon rose to become Lord Chancellor, the highest public office in the land. Some even believe he authored many of the plays attributed to Shakespeare.

Nothing about this Renaissance man was average or workaday. Even his death was somewhat unusual. Bacon was travelling with the King’s physician through the small village of Highgate, on the northern fringes of London on a cold, snowy April day in 1626. The cold weather prompted the pair into discussing whether food might be preserved by freezing. Like any good empiricist, Bacon decided to run an experiment there and then.

He purchased a chicken from a nearby vendor and proceeded to stuff the carcass with snow and ice, thereby preparing the first recorded frozen chicken in British history. Sadly, Bacon never completed the experiment. His icy exertions led to an acute case of pneumonia from which he soon succumbed.

The story has been neatly summed up in verse:

Against cold meats was he insured?

For frozen chickens he procured

brought on the illness he endured,

and never was this Bacon cured.

Whether the story is true, well, we have to rely on argument from non-authority (in this case, numerous web sites and folklore books). What we can say for certain is that tales of a ghostly chicken haunting Pond Square in Highgate are pure cock and bull.


View The Scientific Tourist in London in a larger map

Comments

  1. Report this comment

    Heather Etchevers said:

    Cock and boar, surely, if we’re talking Bacon…

    Also, if Sir Francis had tried his experiment on a hen rather than a pullet, he might have had more luck. Bacon and eggs go together rather nicely.

  2. Report this comment

    Richard Wintle said:

    Excellent story. Predates Clarence Birdseye rather significantly.

    I have to admit I was expecting a rather more dramatic demise, after reading the title.

  3. Report this comment

    Bob O'Hara said:

    Ah, but was Bacon’s body preserved by being frozen?

  4. Report this comment

    Cath Ennis said:

    Surely some Scottish farmers had observed frozen chickens before, but I’m willing to believe that Bacon was responsible for the first recorded deliberately frozen chicken in British history.

  5. Report this comment

    Kristi Vogel said:

    When I first saw the title, I though about the “rooster boosters” used by the Air Force and engineers to study bird strikes on jets.

    So yeah, as Richard says, “a more dramatic demise”.

  6. Report this comment

    Kausik Datta said:

    What a waste of a perfectly good chicken! Oh that it were elevated to the hallowed status of incorporation into Tikka Masala or butter chicken!

    But, B-A-C-O-N!! Mmmmmmm… [slurp]

  7. Report this comment

    Matt Brown said:

    The funny thing is, he reportedly bought the chicken at the foot of Highgate Hill, which links up with Holloway Road. Any North Londoner will know that Holloway Road has the highest density of fried chicken outlets in the capital. That’s psychogeography for you, right there.

  8. Report this comment

    congmin liao said:

    Surely some Scottish farmers had observed frozen chickens before, Nike SB but I’m willing to believe that Bacon was responsible for the first recorded deliberately frozen chicken in British history.

Comments are closed.