Within the Fenwick Collection there are numerous references to where circuses would perform. These were often on the edges of the town, in fields, or on show grounds. The scale of some of these circuses meant that there would be no other option to cater for a ‘mammoth’ show consisting of 1000 men and beasts.
Other sites were more un-expected. J Woods, for instance performed on the River Tyne, sailing a washing tub pulled by geese. Perhaps this was a fore runner of site-specific performance which became popular at the turn of the millennium.
Note – Where it was billed as “for the Benefit of” performers were encouraging the audience to give generously as an old performer wanted to end his career.
Note also – on some hand bills there were adverts that offered a chance for ladies and gentlemen to have lessons with the Performers at different times. Again a precursor to some contemporary circus practice and the popularization of skills.
There were a great number of Theatres which played host to variety and circus performances at the turn of the century. These are also referenced Mike Armstrong’s research in the Tyne and Wear Archives and City Library. Mike tells of how the Woods Collection of posters was salvaged. A printer in Hartlepool which printed all the hand bills, for decades kept one of each run. These were stacked up in piles in a warehouse. Over the years the roof caved in and and the top 1 1/2 inches turned to mush with was water damaged. Still it is a unique record of entertainment in the region for researchers interested in theatrical history.
It includes references, with sample flyers or cuttings, to the following establishments: Sunderland Empire 1910; Newcastle Empire 1909; Pavillion Theatre, Newcastle, 1909; Victoria Theatre Royal, West Hartlepool, 1872; Empress Theatre of Varieties, Hartlepool 1904. the Gaiety Theatre of Varieties, Hartlepool 1902, Town Hall Hartlepool 1849.