The Kayes family’s War Circus story is transposed from contemporary newspapers, retaining the language of the time.


Ref: inc. newspapers found in the British Libraries’ online archive, British Newspaper Archives and The World’s Fair, the Showland newspaper held on microfiles at the National Fairground and Circus Archive, University of Sheffield.


OCT 1916





In consequence of the “round up” of absentees at local feasts, and the subsequent arrest of the brothers William and Timothy Kayes, at present somewhere in khaki, a most unusual, not to say risky, occupation has been taken up by their mother, Mrs. Elizabeth Kayes. In normal times her three sons acted the parts of a lion tamer and keepers respectively. On their separation, by the eldest, the trainer, going to the Army, one of the brothers who acted as keepers was prevailed on to deputise for him, and to go into the lion’s den. Later, however, by the operation of the Military Services Act, the show was deprived of its deputy lion tamer as well as of the services of the third brother.

   Faced with the responsibility of keeping the show on the road (and the keep of the Lions it was no insignificant item, by the way), the proprietors were in a fix. The show, since the departure of the three brothers, has wandered around the vicinity of Leeds like a ship without a rudder. Mr. Wm. Kayes, who is 70 years old, is afflicted with defective vision, which, apart from his age, would in its self prevent him from going into the lions’ cage to put them through their usual performance. Then Mrs. Kayes, who has still six younger children left at home, determined that she would do her most to keep the show on the road, and took the show people by surprise and astonishment by announcing her determination to assume the role of lion tamer.

   The circus and menagerie has been located at Castleford during the early part of this week, and before the awe stricken audience, Mrs. Kayes boldly entered the cages of the two distinct groups of lions, and successfully put them through their paces.” Thank God,” she exclaimed as she made her exit from the huge lion with an awkward turn of temper, “I’ve done it, and the show will carry on.”

If a Huns run up against the sons of a mother who can face living lions and hold them at bay, there should be something more exciting than exchange of words. G. C. C.

20/10/1916 Yorkshire Evening Post





“ My friends tell me it is foolhardy of a woman to tame lions. Candidly, I’m not fond of the job, but it’s either a case of going on showing, or of shooting the animals, for you cannot sell them now.”

Thus Mrs.William Kayes, the plucky show-woman, who, as we stated yesterday, has taken the place of her soldiers sons. It was at Castleford, last night, where our representative of “the Yorkshire Evening Post” saw her. She and her husband run an old-established circus and menagerie that has been on the road 70 years or more – latterly under the title of Buff Bill’s show.

   It was in danger of being closed down entirely a fortnight ago, and probably would have been but for the pluck and bravery of the proprietor’s wife. Three of her stepsons had, in turn, acted as keepers and trainers of two cages of African lionesses. They were at Wilbury fair when the last of the sons was claimed under the Military Services Act. Mr. Kayes, having seen 70 winters in his showman’s caravan, was obviously too old to enter the lions cages, and there was not a man or boy left who fancied the job.

“Very well,” said Mrs. Kayes.”I will do it myself.” She was as good as her word, and though she had then, and has since had, good cause to fear one of the lionesses, she has made good” with a performance which she hopes will ensure the show being kept together “until the boys come home.” Mrs. Kayes who is the mother of six children, is a comely as well as plucky woman, and dressed in black velvet tunic, riding britches, and hightop white kid boots, she looks the part of a lion-tamer to a nicety.

The lionesses which she faces are “five year olds”. Two of them are trained, but the other is an untameable brute in regard to which Mrs. Kayes can never feel a moment safety or security. Only the other day that animal rose at her, and clawed in twain a skin rug protection which she was wearing shoulders. It may be well understood that she is not enamoured of her part, but, as she explained “needs must,” and although there be but fifty pennies and twopences in the show she takes her life in her hands and gives her performance.

To begin with, Mrs Kayes had a trial show in private. She donned her son’s clothes to look as much as possible like the trainer to which the animals have been accustomed to, and boldly entered the cage of the two trained lionesses.

“Then,” explains one of the eyewitnesses, “it seemed as if her courage failed her, and all she could do was to act as mechanically upon the advice which was shouted to her from the outside. When she came out of the cage her face was like marble. She gave vent to her pent-up feelings in a flood of tears, she nervously fasten on her skirt over her riding britches. When she became calmer, she said she could not remember a thing. All she knew was that she had got the confidence to give the show, and, true enough, she has gone into both cages ever since without a show of fear or any emotion.”

   Mrs. Kayes herself speaks very modestly of her performance, “I was very timid at first time, “she says, “but I had to get over that, for it would never do to let the lionesses see that I was afraid of them. I’ve got over the worst now. Although I’ve had some narrow squeaks with the savage one. “

Mrs Kayes is hoping to get some music hall or other engagements.

21/10/1916 Yorkshire Evening Post




   The many friends of Private Timothy Kayes, son of Mr. Wm. Kayes (Buff Bill), will be sorry to hear he has been wounded. He has had the misfortune to lose his left leg and is now in the hospital in Leeds. He would be pleased to hear from old friends. His address is: 3779, Private Timothy Kayes, 15th West Yorks, A Napier Ward, East Leeds War Hospital, Harehills Road, Leeds.

18/5/1918 The World’s Fair