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Billy Purvis

1784 – 1853

Painting of Billy Purvis held in the Laing Art Gallery stores, part of Fenwick Collection.Billy was known as a clown and jester of the North. Born, William, near Edinburgh he moved to Newcastle aged 2 to the Close (near Mansion House) where he lived for 66 years. Aged 16 he became an apprentice joiner in the Bigg Market for 7 years and then became a cabinet maker. He worked at the same time as a call boy at the Tyne Theatre. He was also a drum major for the Hexham Militia. As a clown his first acting was for 1 guinea with Ord’s Circus on the Town Moor. Later he had a traveling company of 30, known as the Victoria Theatre, which toured the region.

He was a well loved prankster. One of his famous comedy acts involved stealing a bundle from outside a pub. He had a wife and 7 daughters “all respectable women”. He died in Hartlepool just before retirement & is buried in St Hilda’s. His tombstone erected by the Sangers “Take him for All in All, we shall Ne’er shall look upon his like again.” However there have been several people who have re-enacted his act in the last 30 years. A replica costume is in the Discovery Collection.

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