It wasn’t so much a case of bringing the house down as bringing the bridge down when Cooke’s Equestrian Circus became the first circus to visit Great Yarmouth, in 1845. To drum up publicity, Nelson the Clown sailed down the River Bure in a bathtub pulled by four geese. So many people crammed onto the suspension bridge to see him that the bridge collapsed and 79 people were drowned.
A painting depicting the disaster is one of the exhibits of Showtime, an exhibition celebrating 165 years of circus in the seaside resort, at the Time and Tide Museum Of Great Yarmouth Life.
Naturally, much of the exhibition focuses on Yarmouth’s very own piece of circus history, Britain’s oldest circus building, the Hippodrome. Owner Peter Jay has loaned a wealth of items such as posters, paintings, and props from his backstage collection. These include a chimp bicycle used by the Billy Russell chimps in the 1950s, a swan float from the water-shows and an elephant razor. This razor was used by an elephant for pretending to shave a member of the audience, before dousing them in water!
The exhibition also includes a massive collection of memorabilia amassed by circus historian Don Stacey. He has loaned props and costumes such as a big cat pedestal, trapeze and a white-faced clown costume made by Vicaire. Vicaire was a Parisian maker who specialised in creating heavily sequinned costumes to contrast with the well-known style of baggy tartan trousers and red nose favoured by Jacko Fossett, Britain’s best loved clown. A leotard once worn by Miguel Vazquez, the first trapeze artist to successfully complete the quadruple somersault is also amongst Don’s loans as well as paintings, prints, and posters.
|The Great Yarmouth Hippodrome as it was|
- a picture from the Showtime souvenir programme
There will also be a series of talks each Friday morning, including A History Of Clowning by Don Stacy and The Roman Circus by Adrian Marsden.
If you want to get more involved, Rollo the clown will be hosting a drop-in circus skills workshop every Monday from July 26 to August 30.
Showtime is open from 10am - 5pm until October 31, which makes it the perfect taster for a visit to the Hippodrome’s summer season.
If you’re unable to attend the Showtime exhibition, though, don’t forget you can order Circus Mania direct from Peter Owen Publishers at the special discount price of just £10 postage-free. Simply send a cheque or postal order to:
Peter Owen (Sales)
81 Ridge Road
London N8 9NP
Or click here to buy Circus Mania from Amazon.
COMING SOON on the Circus Mania blog: Meet the Mr Big of British circus!