Here lies the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo

FEW local residents could have caused a stir as big as Joseph Hobson Jagger.

He became famous as "The Man who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo."

He stands out in a newly compiled list of nearly 5,000 people buried at Bethel Chapel, Shelf.

Jagger lived from 1830 to 1892 and was born at Cock Hill, near Shelf. He was an engineer employed locally at Henry Bottomley's mill.

It was in 1875 that he literally struck gold, winning more than two million francs in eight days, which at that time was about 400,000.

Jagger had gone to Monte Carlo on holiday and the roulette tables aroused his interest because he believed the wheel cylinders could be faulty.

So he organised a team of spectators to monitor the numbers appearing at every table for a full week and noticed one wheel showed a tendency to throw a higher percentage of certain numbers than was mathematically possible.

He put his findings into practice on July 7, 1875 and his remarkable run of "luck" that first day drew the attention of the casino's surveillance staff.

They were employed to stop cheating and knew of around 40 systems used by gamblers to beat the odds. But Jagger followed none of those.

He was wise enough to occasionally back numbers which had little chance of winning to hide his secret, but after a week the casino moved the faulty wheel from table six to table one.

Unknown to the authorities, Jagger had scratched the faulty wheel and was able to follow it to table one.

He won again.

That proved to the casino his success was due to a faulty wheel and not a new gambling system and that night the cylinder was replaced.

Next day Jagger walked around the tables and left without placing a bet.

According to jargon he had "broken the bank" several times during his flutters, exhausting the reserves on the roulette table, meaning more gold coins had to be brought.

The casino put the table "into mourning" by covering it with a black crepe sheet.

Jagger returned to England and settled with his wife, Matilda, in Little Horton, Bradford, and invested his money in property.

But retiring to a life of luxury brought problems.

He suffered long bouts of depression and died aged 61. He left 200 for the upkeep of his memorial headstone in the chapel graveyard.

A music hall song was later written about him by Fred Gilbert and made famous by Charles Coburn.

As I walked along the Bois Bologne

With an independent air

You can hear the girls declare

He must be a millionaire.

You can hear them sigh and wish to die

You can see them wink the other eye

At the man who broke the bank at Monte Carlo."

A computerised record of burials at Bethel Chapel has been compiled by graveyard secretary Christine Firth, 69, of Elwell Close, Shelf.

She is in no doubt the grave belongs to the man who broke the bank.

"There was no other Joseph Hobson Jagger from this area who was an engineer," she said.

Mrs Firth spent two years compiling her records and uncovered several fascinating facts.

The first burial took place in 1852 and the figure now stands at 4,938.

Woodhead is the most common surname at 198, with Sharp on 162.

John tops the Christian male name on 258 and for females it is Mary at 296. Ann is the first name on 92 graves but 202 as a second name meaning Mary Ann was a very popular first and second name.

There are three Elizabeth Taylors and one Isaac Newton and numerous unusual Christian names include Zinah, Zebedee, Theophilus, Bethel and Temperance.

Between 1852 and 1892 there were 2,131 burials and from 1973 to the present day there have been only 63.

Mrs Firth said cremation became propular after World War Two, and after penicillin was introduced in the 1920s people began to live longer.

"The records show a lot of babies. When I came across people reaching 40 I cheered," said Mrs Firth.

There were 14 funerals in November 1918 due to the flu epidemic and there were Christmas Day burials in 1856, 1860 and 1895.

A refugee from the Channel Islands, Rita May Cohu, was buried in 1944, aged 21.

Mrs Firth, a retired teacher, followed in the footsteps of her father, Frank Wood, and his uncle Isaac Pickles, who were also graveyard secretaries.

On April 21, from 9.30am to 4pm, a display of her findings will be on show at Bethel Chapel, Halifax Road.