War Circus Stories about the North East of England feature in this thread. They have been transposed from newspapers found in the British Libraries’ online archive, British Newspaper Archives; Tyne and Wear Archives, Fenwick Collection; The World’s Fair, the Showland newspaper held on microfiles at the National Fairground and Circus Archive, University of Sheffield. Note over all War Circus Story relates to the North East as so many of the people were constantly travelling.


Arthur Fenwick c. 1913 © Fenwick Family, Tyne & Wear Archives.

Arthur Fenwick was also a member of the Pen and Pallet Club Newcastle and member of the Showman’s Guild.



   The London correspondence of The Daily Dispatch writes as follows:-

I was fortunate enough to meet a member of a neutral Legation who had only just returned from Berlin. From him I heard the truth about the Scarborough raid as expounded in official circles in the Kaisers’ capital.


   It would appear that the objectives of the raid, as of last Sundays also, was the Tyne and, in particular, it’s important shipyards and the high-level bridge between Gateshead and Newcastle.


Fog baffled the Germans on the first occasion, and drew them opposite the Durham and Yorkshire Coast’s instead of the Northumberland coast, while on the second (occasion) they were so unlucky as to meet Sir David Beatty on the way. (Admiral of the Fleet.)

30/1/1915 Newcastle Daily Journal





   When the air raid took place on the North-East Coast on Tuesday night, bombs were dropped on a fair ground, and Mr. J. Murphy’s scenic railway was destroyed by fire. Others who suffered the loss of emma stalls, shooters, houp-las, etc., were J. Slater, Sam Biddall, W. Noble, J. W. Gray, T. Noble, Newsome, and Stott. Happily the living carriages were uninjured and willing helpers saved the fire spreading to them. Mr Sam Biddall’s attractions were located on a piece of ground a few yards away and were not touched.


19/6/1915 The World’s Fair






   The charm of the travelling showman is very great to many people, and Mr. A. J. Fenwick, whose photo we give, has studied our people very closely. On Saturday last Mr Fenwick gave a lecture at the Pen and Pallette Club, Newcastle-up-Tyne, which proved very entertaining. A full report of the lecture will be found on page 13 of this issue.

11/3/1916 The World’s Fair





   Of course this lecture in Newcastle would not have been complete without a short history of the famous Billy Purvis, who, in his day, was Newcastle’s favourite showman.

   Mr. Fenwick finished his lecture with a short resume of all that had been done by the show people for their country during the war, the number of men sent out, the loan of their traction engines, and the money subscribed to the different funds, especially to the Prince of Wales’ Fund.

   The Chairman, in thanking Mr. Fenwick for his lecture, said he felt sure that all present would take very much more interest in travelling shows in the future. Mr. Williams then told some excellent stories and experiences relating to the life of the travelling showmen.

   In conclusion, Mr. John Atkinson, a well-known Newcastle artiste , gave a few personal reminiscences when making life studies on the fair ground and at travelling menageries.

Fenwick Collection 1/3/1916 The World’s Fair






(By ARTHUR J. FENWICK, Hon. Member of the Showman’s Guild.)


   The arrival of the Bostock and Wombwell’s Menagerie has always been an interesting event in our city: it is our oldest travelling show, and the Lord Mayor’s War Relief Fund has benefited by receiving from Mr E.H. Bostock, the proprietor, the whole of the opening day’s takings without any deduction. This generosity reminds me of many other instances of the great patriotism of the travelling showman, in spite of the fact that no business has been harder hit than theirs with the war. Showland was never so proud as when a few weeks ago the managing director of Messrs. Wm. Foster and Co. Ltd., of Lincoln, builders of traction engines for showmen, was knighted. Sir W. A. Tritton, as has already been disclosed, took a very large share of the development of the “Tanks.” Fifty or more of the Guilds traction engines are working in France; over £3000 has been sent by them to the Prince of Wales’ Fund, and two battalions of showmen are now at the front. Next the Showmen of Great Britain decided to give to their country: a larger fleet of motor ambulances, and presentations of these have been already taken place at Manchester, Wolverhampton, Birmingham, Leeds, Walsall and Hull, as many are on order for other centres. Our “Travellers” did not forget to help the War Loan, and I noticed among the subscribers that


the executors of the late Frank C. Bostock invested the splendid sum of £17,500 and one of the youngest roundabout proprietors took up £2000 worth. Mr Patrick Collins, president of the Showman’s Guild, said at the annual meeting in the agricultural hall, Islington, “There is not a showman who hasn’t put his “bit” in the War Loan.”

   An appeal from Showland has been made for the Soldiers and Sailors buffet at Victoria Station, London, through the office of The World’s Fair, £25 paying expenses for one day, and through the generosity of its readers, they have now almost enough funds to provide four of these days, which will be known as “The Showman’s Days.”

It should also be mentioned that every show in the land is assisting to pay for the war through the Amusement Tax. Lord John Sanger and Sons have released from the circus all the elephants for work on the land, and photographs appeared in most of the illustrated papers of ploughs being drawn by this motive power, which is slow but sure.                                  

   If during the holidays you should be amongst the hundreds of people looking for a little relaxation by visiting the Menagerie in the Haymarket, Hancock’s Hoppings at Byker, the Carnival of Randall Williams at Gateshead, not forgetting the several roundabouts in the district of the Murphy family, remember the Showpeople have tried to do their bit for the war.

Fenwick Cutting 7/4/1917 Newcastle Journal




Visit to Newcastle.


   Bostock and Wombell’s menagerie will be located in the Haymarket, Newcastle, for ten days, commencing on the 6th April. … The numerous carriages will contain, amongst other unique specimens of forest and jungle habitants, a fine collection of lions of all ages from a few weeks upwards, (including “Wallace,” “Brutus,” “Nero;” and “Prince,” which Captain Wombwell performs with daily at 3.30, 7, and 8,30, tigers, leopards, bears, hyenas, wolves, jaguars, a wagon load of monkeys, and aviaries of foreign birds, etc.

The latest additions include the giant hippopotamus, the only one travelling; it is undoubtedly a show in itself…

To-morrow (Thursday), the opening will be graced by the patronage and presence of the Right Hon, The Lord Mayor, the Sherriff and City Council at 3pm. The whole of the day’s receipts will be given to the Lord Mayor’s War Relief Fund.

Fenwick Clipping 4/4/1917 Newcastle Evening Chronicle









The Northumberland and Durham Showmen who were present at the presentation of eight patent field hand ambulances which have been subscribed for by the showmen in that district and of which we gave a full report in our last issue. A large number of prominent people were present at the ceremony. Sir Thomas Oliver (chairman of the joint- committee) and Mr. Sheridan thanked the showmen for the gift, and Col. Percy Hall, who had just returned from the front, joined in the thanks for the two field ambulances which have been sent abroad. Others present included: Messrs. Randall Williams, John Evans, Peter Molley (secretary, acting on behalf of Mr. H. T. Smel(?) at the present in His Majesty’s Forces), John Hancock and, Mr. and Mrs. Gordon Anderson.

14/7/1916 The World’s Fair




   Soldiers from America are to-day to give an exposition of their national game of baseball at St. James’ Football Ground, Newcastle, and the novelty of the pastime will doubtless attract many spectators. The game was first played in this country, including Newcastle, on the occasion of the visit of Barnum and Bailey’s Circus 20 years ago. Later teams of baseball players visited the country, but, with the exception of Sheffield, the pastime did not catch the fancy of football followers.

Fenwick Cutting 8/6/1918





Consett Prosecution.


   This afternoon, at Consett, Henry Powell, amusement caterer, was charged with having neglected to extinguish their lights at the roundabout shows and stalls in the public recreation ground act at Consett at 10.50 on the night of the 27th July.

   Defendant’s manager enquired what was the proper time for roundabout lights to be extinguished. They had been allowed to burn at certain places until 10.30 without complaint. The Bench said the official time was half an hour after sunset, and the Clark pointed out that the defendant could not display an outside light after this time without the authority of the superintendent of police.

Fenwick Cutting 12 /8/1918 Newcastle Evening Chronicle