Lewis Davenport: the penniless Cockney who became the world's greatest illusionist – and sold magic kits to Houdini and Tommy Cooper

Lewis Davenport with his first wife Julia
Lewis Davenport with his first wife Julia Credit: Tony Buckingham

Lucy Davies on the East End boy who made a fortune – and dazzled Houdini – by pursuing his talent for tricks

You’re a 12-year-old boy in the East End of London, in the early 1890s. There are 26 people living in the three-bedroom house you share with your widowed mother, younger siblings and a roster of lodgers. To help make ends meet, you take a job as a cooper’s apprentice. In short, yours is a life of drudgery and squalor.

But then, one of the boarders shows you a magic trick – a simple sleight of hand with a deck of cards – and everything changes. You spend any spare moment perfecting that trick and others like it. Second-hand magic magazines are readily available in the local street markets...

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