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.

Tudor Circus

1894-8 On an Alan Godfrey reprint of the Ordnance Survey 1894 map of Newcastle and Gateshead, was a building which was written about, in the modern blurb. It said, “A new circus is shown in Sunderland Road, but this and other nearby theatres were always short-lived”. In the ‘Gateshead Register of Street and Building Plans’… [Read More]

NE Circus Venues

19th Century 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… [Read More]

Sangars Circus

19th C – early 20th C Sanger’s Circus was formed in 1821. There are many snippets about the circus in the Fenwick Scrapbooks. In them Arthur Fenwick tells of the beginning of the circus with “with an old horse and little grey pony” and how George Sanger took the title of Lord so as not… [Read More]

Arthur Fenwick

1876 – 1957 “I shall always be interested in the wandering life.” Arthur first encountered circus, while sitting under a tree, when he met a boy who had run away from a fairground. He went down to see if he could help. So started a long life of encounters and friendships with circus and fairground… [Read More]

Dame Laura Knight RA

1877 – 1970 Dame Laura Knight was an artist who was very interested in circus. She is a Royal Academician and was part of the St Ives School and often painted children at the sea side. She was also a war artist. We found out about her through Arthur Fenwick’s scrapbooks where there are lots… [Read More]


19th C & 20th C Mr Felix Testot was a French magician and optical illusionist from the 1820’s. He was known as a real French performer and professor of recreative philosophy.  Later joined by his son, a proficient violinist and juggler, The Testots Travelled for over 20 years performing from town to town including Newcastle… [Read More]


Founded 1850 Pinder’s Circus started in 1850. Queen Victoria summonsed them to Windsor Castle but commanded that they leave the lions behind. “The Queen does not like them”. William Pinder and Sons (Tom Eddie, Billie and George) were a family well known to Fenwick. In his scrapbook in 1929 ‘Pinder” is written at the bottom… [Read More]

Bertram Mills Circus

There are several orders of prestige for Circus’s and their shows. Some are elaborate high-end productions which attract many people including Royalty. Bertram Mills was of this order, he was known as King of the Circus (Radio Times 1938). His lavish shows were often presented at Olympia in London. Dame Laura Knight painted scenes of… [Read More]

Bostock & Wombwell

Sale at Newcastle 1931 The animal theme has intersected with circus for years on end, as it has with other showmen’s products such as optical illusions, early cinema & tableaux vivants. Traveling with dangerous animals requires much practical knowledge, going beyond what you would expect. The cost of maintaining & controlling animals is vastly expensive…. [Read More]


1913 – 1976 Mills Brothers Circus said Koringa was from India and the “Only Female Fakir in the World”. Her billing also claimed that she was orphaned at the age of 3 and brought up by fakirs who taught her the arts of sorcery and magic, mesmerizing people and animals, walking over broken glass with… [Read More]