North East Circus History

These North East England circus profiles and notes are created from many 1st & 2nd hand sources, researched by the Family La Bonche. Including: documents & notes from Arthur Fenwick’s Scrapbooks held in the Tyne & Wear Archives; stories from NE based or visiting circus artists and NE circus communities, and documents from their personal archives; photos and articles from local newspapers; online research and, of course, some of our own stories too. The profiles form a time line from 1237 – 2013.

North East Circus Records with Northumberland Archives.

Northumberland Archives hold several interesting documents with relate to circus which they are sharing on their Facebook page as part of the Circus250 celebrations.  Many of the documents relate to incidents involving circus people in trouble or having drawn legal attention to themselves.  1988 Leslie Ord – Photo: Acquisition number NRO 3680/185. “The photograph is from… [Read More]

Circus Graves Research

With the interest in Circus Heritage heightened by the Circus 250 celebrations in 2018, we have started a small research into locating where circus people have been laid to rest, answering the call by Circus 250 to “Hunt for the nation’s secret, forgotten or unknown memorials announced (by) Historic England. Let them know about your… [Read More]

Incident in Wooler, 1908

Image courtesy of Northumberland Archives.  Here is a curiosity, but is is a circus curiosity? Northumberland Archives, at Woodhorn have published this photograph of the Wooler Bridge accident c.1908, on their Facebook Page. Our Circus heritage interest meant that we picked it up as the archives reputed is as an engine and trailer owned by… [Read More]


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… [Read More]

Pablo Fanque’s visits to the North East

Pablo Fanque was a very famous Victorian circus artist. We are grateful to the author for this well researched contribution to our knowledge of circus in the North East in the 19th century. When Madame La Bonche asked if I’d consider doing an article on Pablo Fanque in the North East for this website I did warn her not… [Read More]

Hob of Pelaw

1237 Hob of Pelaw, the unlucky entertainer at Durham, was employed by the prior of Durham, Thomas Melsomby in 1237 for the entertainment of the monks. His tight rope was rigged between the Central Tower and West Tower of Durham Cathedral. He fell during the act, much to the horror of the audience, and died…. [Read More]

Billy Purvis

1784 – 1853 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… [Read More]

James Newsome

1842 – 1912 James Newsome, or genius of the Ring, was born in 1824 in Newcastle upon Tyne and then raised in Astley’s Amphitheatre in London. His brother Timothy was a famous lion tamer who worked with many menageries. When he was 12 his father apprenticed him to William Batty to become an equestrian because… [Read More]

Martini Maccomo

1835 – 1871 Probably born in Angola, though some think he was form The West Indies, Martini Moccomo was “a man of indomitable courage, whose 12 years of performances with the lions and tigers of Manders’ Great (then Royal) Menagerie gained for him a reputation second to none as a tamer and as a man.”He… [Read More]

Town Moor Newcastle

Founded 1882 The Town Moor in Newcastle has a long history as a home to Circus, The Races and as a Fair Ground. Initially known as the Temperance Festival, it started in 1882. Barnum & Bailey’s show appeared and 1898 & 1899 with 960 men & 420 horses in 1904 Buffalo Bill’s Wild West appeared… [Read More]