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The Scrivener: Spangles And Sawdust - Part One

And now ladies and gentlemen, for your delight and delectation….a very special treat…something to make you gasp with wonder… chuckle in delight…we bring you THE CIRCUS!

Brian Barratt has had a life-long enthusiasm for the glitter, glamour and excitement of circuses; an enthusiasm expressed so entertainingly in this column, the first of a ten-part series.

For more fun with words visit Brian’s Web site www.alphalink.com.au/~umbidas/


Sixty-five years ago, I saw a real fairy. I can’t recall her clearly but retain a mental picture of a sparkling little figure in a darkened tent.

The Big Top appeared each summer in a field down Tolney Lane, just over the river at Newark-on-Trent. I was told in later years that at the age of about four or five I was convinced that the young lady on the tightrope was indeed a real fairy.
Our ‘regular’ circus was Cody's, which boasted ‘Buffalo Bill’ and, of course, a good measure of equestrian acts. Colonel William F. Cody first staged his Wild West Show in 1883 and merged with James Bailey in 1896. In those days, crowds of 20,000 people attended the shows. Our Cody’s was a much more modest affair and had no relation to the original show.

Cody's also performed during summer at a more permanent site at Skegness, the Lincolnshire seaside holiday resort. In the early 1950's they featured Joan Rhodes, a muscular lady who specialised in tearing up London telephone directories and enormous Bradshaw's railway timetables, as well as bending steel rods in her teeth.

It’s possible that I also saw Rosaire’s or Kaye’s circus in our almost annual trip to the Skegness Winter Garden Circus. During my last visit to England, in 1987, I noticed a small tenting circus pitched on a tober close to the Winter Gardens. Somehow, because I had memories of earlier years, and because it was a wild, rainy night, the old ‘glamour’ did not come through.

During the 1940's, I used to drag my long-suffering parents to each circus that came to Newark... Powells, Ringlands, Sir Robert Fossetts, Barrett's Canadian, Robert Brothers are just a few of the names I remember.

Ringlands raised the hope that there might be some connection with Ringling Brothers — my father often told of the visit of the mighty Barnum and Bailey show to Newark during his youth in the late 1800’s. It could not be held in the usual Tolney Lane field as the tent would not fit into the small space, so everyone walked several miles to a field further out of town.
Barnum and Bailey amalgamated with Ringling Brothers in the early 1900's and it was always my dream to see it. Ringlands, however, was just another small British tenting show. But that didn’t really matter. It was, after all, a circus.

© Copyright 2005 Brian Barratt


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