It was more than a three-ring circus when the big top came to our towns
Last updated at 19:55, Thursday, 28 June 2012
Paint the town red!
That was the instruction given to Sanger’s Circus advance publicity team in 1919.
Good publicity was essential to the successful running of a circus.
That’s what “Lord” John Sanger, the circus owner, told a local reporter.
The publicity boys must have been busy. In fact, they needed to paint eight towns red.
Just try to imagine Sanger’s Circus playing Wigton on September 5, Maryport – on the cricket field – on September 6, nothing on the Sunday – but followed by shows at Workington, Cockermouth, Keswick, Ambleside, Windermere and Kendal – putting on an afternoon and evening performance at each location.
Evening performances were scheduled to kick off at 8pm.
The circus crew must have had to work through the night to dismantle the tent.
No easy job, as it weighed 15 tons and consisted of 5,000 square yards of canvas, plus sufficient seating round the arena to seat 6,000.
So after the necessary work following a late finish at Wigton, the circus team would have had to travel to Maryport cricket field and assemble the big top in time for the afternoon performance starting at 2.30pm.
They must have had it down to a fine art as Sanger claimed that it only took their workmen two-and-a-half hours to do the job.
Sanger’s circus had been in the area before.
Circus founder, George Sanger, is reputed to have claimed that “there wasn’t a town in England with a population of over 100 that hadn’t been visited by a Sanger circus.”
I’ve no doubt that this might have been an excellent sound bite – albeit a trifle exaggerated.
When the circus came to town, it usually arrived in a blaze of colour and activity.
In earlier years Lord George Sander’s wife was often to be seen being pulled in an elaborate coach – with a lion and a lamb. There would have been a long procession of horses, elephants and other exotic animals, both in and out of cages. It was a spectacle – free entertainment for the crowd – and excellent publicity. But that was before the Great War.
In 1919, given the rocketing price of everything, the circus, in contrast to earlier years, was rather an austere affair.
Owing to the difficulty in acquiring feed, there were fewer animals. The circus had its team of elephants – which were billed as Elephant Land Workers. They had, reputedly, been engaged in ploughing, reaping and sowing during the war years.
Also on the bill were African snake charmers, clowns, sea lions, a dancing horse and, I don’t know why, Mlle Trevoni, a Russian ballet dancer.
Also “Lone Face” and his “daring troupe of North American Indians. . .the only savage troupe of riders in Europe.”
They were probably Sioux from South Dakota.
Then there was Pimpo the Clown. The local reporter was so impressed by his performance. He thought that he was “the best all-round circus artist” he’d ever seen. James Freeman, his real name, was clown, trapeze artist, wirewalker, animal trainer, etc – there was very little he couldn’t turn his hand to.
The reporter also thought, and I think this was somewhat surprising for the age, that “circus people have a lot to teach us in the way of physical culture for females.” The women were, apparently, almost as fit and agile as the men – without losing their femininity. Our reporter was most impressed. He concluded that “If we want to become more of an A1 and less of a C3 nation, we might with advantage study some of the secrets of the ring.”
Sanger gave some idea to an interviewer as to how a circus tour was organised. Five weeks before a performance, an advance manager is sent out to organise the renting of a site. Two weeks later the promotional team turn up and literally plaster a town with posters. Printing cost £260 a month and poster sites a further £260. Publicity never comes cheap.
Neither did feeding their 320 animals – fewer than they used to have. The larger animals went through 100lb of meat daily, costing £5. And with £7,000 in wages, to put on a 34-week tour cost Sanger around £60,000.
So what were the admission charges? They ranged, for adults, from 1s 3d to 5s 9d. Children paid from 8d to 3s 6d. The circus tent could seat about 6,000 and there were two performances every day – six days a week.
One pound in 1919 is, using RPI, worth almost £36 in today’s money. I’ll leave it to you to work out the finances.
Travelling circus was still big business back in 1919.
First published at 19:24, Thursday, 28 June 2012
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk