Today I walked down Ber Street in Norwich, childhood home of Britain’s first black circus proprietor, Pablo Fanque.
Born William Darby in 1810 (or possibly 1796; accounts vary) Fanque made his name as a horseman and appeared at Astley’s Amphitheatre in London. He later established his own circus which toured as far as Ireland and Scotland but mainly worked in the north of England.
Almost a hundred years after his death, John Lennon chanced upon a circus poster for a benefit show Fanque arranged for one of his performers. The result was the Beatles song Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite!, which mentioned Fanque in the lyric.
If Fanque’s success and celebrity in Victorian England seems remarkable in an era when America still had slavery, then the Rev Thomas Horne, chaplain of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain put his achievements in the context of his profession:
“In the great brotherhood of the equestrian world there is no colour line. The camaraderie of the ring has but one test - ability.”