Break time

June 24th, 2011

I’m going to take a break for a while to work on another project – have a look back here towards the end of the year…I might start again.

In the meantime if any of you would like to publish some articles for your area let me know in the comments or via the contact page. I’m happy to host them here or even help you set up a site of your own.

See you around


Franco Piper at Sunderland Empire

June 17th, 2011

Franco Piper, “The Maestre of the spinning, tossing, juggling, and swinging banjos” was on the bill at the Sunderland Empire for the week of 26 September 1910:

Franco Piper at Sunderland Empire Poster - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

I described the Howard Brothers doing something similar a couple of weeks ago, so it appears there was a fad for this kind of act at the time – but fortunately the Royal Magazine ran a four page article on Franco Piper in 1901 – it’s a really interesting read.

We can see that Franco was performing at Hammerstein’s Roof Garden in New York from this June 1903 article in the New York Times – though he admits to still struggling with the 4-banjo part of his act. The 6 banjos shown in the Royal magazine article in 1901 must have been a little further away then he admitted back then.

There’s also a copy of his promo material from 1925 in both ‘Juggling the Art and its Artists’ and ‘4000 Years of Juggling’ by Karl-Heinz Ziethen:

Franco Piper - Promo from 1925 - Scan from K-H Zeithen's Juggling: The Art and its Artists

Scan from K-H Zeithen's Juggling: The Art and its Artists

Unfortunately his story doesn’t end well – his listing in Michael Kilgarriff ‘Grace Beauty and Banjos’ states rather baldly that in 1933 he, “depressed at wife’s illness and lack of bookings killed himself”.

RIP Franco.

Enzer at the Sunderland Empire

June 10th, 2011

For the week of 1 August 1910 Enzer “Late Sergt. Major Instructor H.M. Army Gymnastic Staff, the Soldier Juggler, Sword Expert, Etc.” appeared at Sunderland Empire “assisted by Miss Clarice the Lady Ju-Jitsu Expert”:

Enzer at Sunderland Empire Poster - From Tyne & Wear Archives

From Tyne & Wear Archives

There’s no other reference that I can find to Enzer apart from this (unfortunately undated) article from the Scarborough Evening News –  it seems that five boys were accused of breaking into a shop over the weekend and Enzer’s son Leonard was there for at least part of the time, helping himself to some chocolates.

Mr Whitfield for Enzer pointed out that he was a lad of some ability, having passed, although only 13 now, the 7th standard last summer. He was not the originator of the mischief, and that had to be considered. He was not in the shop till the Sunday. He was the son of respectable people, his father having been a sergeant major in the Army on the gymnastic training staff, and he was at present on the music hall stage, a brother of the defendant being with him. The father intended to take the defendant, who had been training as a juggler, with him, and although, unfortunately, the lad had been in some trouble before, he submitted that under his father’s control he would be all right, and that it would be better than sending him to a reformatory.

Unfortunately the magistrates seemed to think that handing a thief (with previous) over to the care of a music hall juggler wasn’t “suitable for the lad”, and sent him to reformatory for 5 years. Who can blame them?

Howard Brothers at Newcastle Empire

May 27th, 2011

Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant of 27 February 1909 describes a performance by the Howard Brothers at Newcastle Empire:

Howard Brothers at Newcastle Empire article from Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant 27 February 1909 - From Newcastle City Library

From Newcastle City Library

In the 1996 Andrew Conway posted an extract from Variety Magazine of 23 December 1911 in this rec.juggling post. It describes the routine beautifully:


There are many players of banjo touring the vaudeville circuits, and banjo playing acts must posess exceptional features in order to be classed among the Novelties. The exacting demands of modern vaudeville fall most heavily
upon acts of this sort. The Howard Brothers are far in advance of all other exponents of this form of entertainment, and the musical possibilities of the banjo have never been shown to greater advantage than by these young men who play classical and popular airs, and give pleasing imitations, and cap their performance by juggling the banjos like Indian clubs between them, and at the same time playing popular airs with wonderful precision and real art.

Andrew adds “The illustration shows the two brothers standing back to back and passing
eight banjos. Now that’s what I call entertainment…”

The Great Weiland at Sunderland Empire

May 20th, 2011

The Great Weiland, “America’s Funniest Juggler” performed at the Sunderland Empire for the week of 15 March 1909:

The Great Weiland at Sunderland Empire Poster - From Tyne & Wear Archives

From Tyne & Wear Archives

My brain is playing tricks on me – I’m sure I’ve seen references to him all over the place, but all I can find is this 6 April 1912 article from the New York Clipper (towards the bottom of the final column) were we see The Great Weiland appearing in Birmingham at the Grand alongside the great magician Chung Ling Soo.

There are poster prints of a cartoon of Weiland available form lots of sources around the internet – you can see an example at Can you help my faulty memory?




Professor Renniff, circa 1873

May 13th, 2011

Professor Valentine was a mystery when I blogged about him on March 18 this year, and so is Professor Reniff now:

Professor Renniff Poster, around 1873 - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

This seems to be a draft version of the poster as it features alterations and a very PostIt-like note, but details of the venue or the date don’t survive. It’s believed to be from around 1873.

Has anyone out there heard of him? Let me know in the comments. I can’t find another reference to him anywhere.

Cornalla & Eddie at Sunderland Empire

May 6th, 2011

For the week of 5 June 1911 Cornalla and Eddie, “Toss ’em and Miss ’em”, perform “their funny and clever juggling and acrobatic act”:

Cornalla & Eddie at Sunderland Empire 5 June 1911 Poster - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

Before they appeared in Sunderland the only online references come from the USA – in 1906 they performed in Newark as described in the Cranford Chronicle of 9 August 1906 (third column, where the description says they are “a pair of comedy acrobats whose feats are unparalleled…and doubtless will be one of the hits of the bill”) and in 1909 in Washington DC as the Washington Times of  16 May 1909 (in the third column) shows.

If they’re American performers then they seem to have settled in Britain. The Bristol Hippodrome’s website shows them appearing there every year from 1912 to 1922 (although in 1921 it’s Knapp and Cornalla) and again in 1924, 1925 and 1928 and 1930, so we can assume that they’re regulars on the variety circuit.

We know from the poster above that they added juggling to their acrobatics by 1911 but unfortunately it’s rare to find a description of a juggling routine, and we’re in that situation again. We know that they were still concentrating on the comedy from the listings in Barcelona’s Mirador from 30 October 1930 (see the advert in column four at the bottom of page 5) La Vangardia for the next day, 31 October (half way down column 5) for their appearance at the Principal Palace Theatre. They’re described as “champions of laughter” in Catalan in the Mirador (“campions de riallo”) and promise “continuous laughter” in Spanish (“risa continua”) in La Vanguardia. Perhaps we can also assume that it was a non-verbal routine as they’d performed in the English speaking world for so long and then went to Spain towards the end of their careers?

The Juggling McBanns at the Pavillion Theatre, Newcastle

April 8th, 2011

The Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant of 6 Feb 1909 gives a longer than usual description of a juggling routine when The Juggling McBanns appear:

The Juggling McBanns at the Pavillion, Newcastle Weekly Journal & Courant Article 6 Feb 1909 - From Newcastle City Library

From Newcastle City Library

They “gave an exhibition of club swinging in which they showed themselves to be highly proficient, and the variety and dexterity of their manoeuvres in this line were apparently very highly appreciated, as they concluded their performance amid a very hearty round of applause”.

The Juggler’s Bulletin of May 1946 gives a little biography and history: “The McBann name is a contraction of the two names – Pat McGreevey and Tommy Bannahan. They were the original McBanns and afterward Pat put his brother Henry in the act and the act really made a big name for itself. They were known as the fastest double act of their time (1908 – 1912). When Pat died in Lucerne, Switzerland, Henry continued the act with Jerry Buckley. Pat McBann was the first juggler to attempt six clubs. I’ve been told he juggled four in one hand and two in the other but he passed away before he could get it perfected to put on the stage.”

There are a couple of sources that show Pat and Tommy performing together before Henry joined in 1908. The New York Times article from 16 July 1905 mentions them as performing at as far back of 1904 at Hammerstein’s Roof Garden alongside, amongst others, legendary trick-roper Will Rogers. That must have been early in the partnership as Franciso Alverez’s book, Juggling – its history and greatest performers says “McBann and his twin brother had played Hammerstein’s Victoria in 1904 in the well-known act, the Juggling Johnsons.” It adds “Pat McBann was an outstanding club juggler during the first part of the century…Some old-timers used to say that Pat could juggle four clubs in one hand. Harry Lind, who had seen this trick, had this to say, “Pat kept the four clubs going with an underthrow, all the time turning his body to the left as he made the passes.” Many believe that, while Cinquevalli may have been more spectacular, McBann was the better juggler. Pat’s sudden death came as he was performing on the stage of Berlin’s Wintergarten. He is said to be buried in the Alps in Switzerland.”

The act was still going strong in 1912 (whether this was Pat and Henry or Henry and Jerry Buckley isn’t clear), by which time they had added  hat throwing and electrical illusions to the club swinging as you can see from this advertisement for their performance at the Theatre Royal in the Brisbane Courier from 24 April 1912.

The Gascoignes at Sunderland Empire

April 1st, 2011

I’ve just got a short article for you this week – during the week of 3 November 1913 The Gascoignes were at the Sunderland Empire:

The Gasgoignes at Sunderland Empire 3 November 1913 Poster - From the Tyne and Wear Archives

From the Tyne and Wear Archives

They weren’t very high on the bill and I can’t find many references to them elsewhere – but have a look at the detail of their bill matter:

The Gasgoignes at Sunderland Empire 3 November 1913 Poster (Close Up) - From the Tyne and Wear Archives

From the Tyne and Wear Archives

…they’ve got a dog that does double somersaults! Who could ask for more!

Seven Perezoffs at Sunderland Empire

March 25th, 2011

The Seven Perezoffs aren’t as renowned as they should be – although there’s a fantastic lithograph that appears in several books, their restaurant themed act isn’t well known these days. The Price Brothers and the Ramblers Troupe also did dining room routines, but they only had four members each.

They appeared at the Sunderland Empire for the week of 29 August 1910:

Seven Perezoffs at Sunderland Empire Poster - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

This poster from the collection shows the members juggling plates, parasols, lamps and furniture amongst other things. There’s a more stylised poster from the same collection that shows similar feats. Have a Google to see them travelling the world – they were in New York in 1909 and Australia in 1911, and the family is still working in the circus to this day – Youtube has footage of their descendents’ unicycle act.


Professor Valentine at the Victoria Theatre Royal, West Hartlepool

March 18th, 2011

There’s a bit of a mystery about this week’s subject – I can’t any reference to this performer anywhere – but we are back in 1872 for Professor Valentine’s appearance at the Victoria Theatre Royal for the week of 16 September:

Professor Valentine at Victoria Theatre Royal, West Hartlepool Poster  - From Tyne and Wear Archives

From Tyne and Wear Archives

In close up we can see that he is “The Great Slack Wire Performer, in his Unparalleld Acts of Juggling, Ballancing, &c which must be seen to be credited”.

Professor Valentine at Victoria Theatre Royal, West Hartlepool Poster Close up - From Tyne and Wear Archives

From Tyne and Wear Archives

Does anyone out there know anything about him?

I’m back!

March 15th, 2011

I’ve got a working desktop machine again, so normal sevice will resume from Friday. Thanks for hanging around.

Sorry for the lack of updates…

January 30th, 2011

…the PC that I use for image manipulation has died, as soon as it’s up and running again normal service will be resumed!

The Schmettans and The Riogoku Family at Tynemouth Palace and

January 7th, 2011

I’ve really enjoyed my time in dusty archives and libraries looking for material for this blog, but I’ve also been amazed by how much stuff there is online which you can stumble across. I’ve got two newspaper clippings for you this week, but they’re really brought to life by photos from the Jaap Best collection – all the work of Japp Best, a Dutch circus fan and collector, whose archive is now photographed and on the web at

On 3 July 1909 The Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant reported on The Schmettans “posing, juggling and hand-balancing performance” at the Tynemouth Palace:

The Schmettans at Tynemouth Place - Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant Article, 3 July 1909

From Newcastle City Library

In Jaap Best’s collection you can see a poster of the Schmettans from 1906 (complete with greengrocer’s apostrophe) showing a really impressive 8-ball juggle while in a head-to-head balance.

Two weeks later the Riogoku Family where also at the Tynemouth Place, and the same publication described says that this Japanese troupe gave “a marvellous exhibition of hand-balancing, acrobatic and juggling work” and “nothing to approach it has been seen at the Palace in recent years”:

The Schmettans at Tynemouth Place - Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant Article, 3 July 1909

From Newcastle City Library

There are four items in the Jaap Best collection relating to the Riogokus and the poster from their 1901 performance with the Grand Cirque National Suisse shows that they included ball spinning and mouthstick work and a foot juggling act amongst their acrobatic feats. There’s also a general promotional poster and two photos of them, one against a decorated wall, and one with an outdoor scene in the background.

The juggling material in Jaap’s collection is fantastic to trawl through – try starting at this link to the juggling section, or have a play with the search facility.

MacCarte’s Circus – Windmill Hills, Gateshead

December 25th, 2010

On 16 August 1951 the Gateshead and County Durham Observer published on odd article on MacCarte’s Circus who had arrived in town. Here it is as a Christmas treat for you:

MacCarte's Circus Article from Gateshead and County of Durham Observer August 16 1951 - From Gateshead Central Library

From Gateshead Central Library

MACARTE’S CIRCUS. – On Saturday, a circus was erected on the Windmill Hills, to the great excitement and delight of Young Gateshead. Formerly the cry through the borough would have been, “The mountebanks! the mountebanks!” But the world has now become “genteel.” Shopmen are transmuted into assistants – reporters into representatives of the press, or commissioners-bagmen into travellers or ambassadors – attorneys into solicitors – singers into vocalists – and mountebanks into equestrians, voltigeurs, acrobats, and whatnots. No longer are the boys and girls, and children of a larger growth, presented with performances in the open air, “Mr Merryman” making the “pot boil” with the sale of lottery tickets, giving the “lucky holders” the chance of a gownpiece, tea-tray or fat-pig (said pig falling to the lot of some suspicious supernumery); but a “marquee” is erected – the entertainment is given under cover – and you pay for admission to boxes, pit, and “promenade” – the last of the three corresponding to what in out vulgar youth went under the designation of “standing places.” We dropped in, in the afternoon, upon Madame MacCarte, when Carlo Albertini was exhibiting his surprising feats – perching himself upon a pillar of champagne glasses, surmounted by a decanter-his “promenade”-and there rivalling “the Indian Juggler” with a brilliancy which ordinary “artists” could not have equalled on terra firma. Signor Francisco, a man of wondrous power and muscle, tossed his little nephews about, with leg and arm, as though they had been ball of pith ; and the youngsters did their share of the marvels admirably. The clown – (no longer Mr Merryman,” although still occasionally the “fool”) – was very facetious, and had his reward in the silvery laughter of his juvenile audience. The performance, altogether, went cleverly off.

The Juggler of Notre Dame

December 10th, 2010

The story of “The Juggler of Notre Dame” has appeared in lots of places over the years. It was origanlly written in French (named Le Jongleur de Notre Dame) by Anatole France in 1892, but it has it roots in a traditional medieval tale. On Saturday 22 April 1893 this translation was published in The Newcastle Weekly Courant:


In France, during the time of King Louis, there lived a poor juggler named Barnabe, a native of Campeigne, who went from town to town giving exhibitions of strength and skill.

On fair-days he would spread out in the public square a piece of worn-out carpet, and after having collected around him all the children and idlers in the district by a droll discourse, which he has learned from a very old juggler, and of which he never altered a word, he would assume attitudes which were not in the leas natural, and balance a brass plate on his nose. The crowd at first watched with indifference.

But when, after a while, he would stand on his hands, head downward, and throw and catch with his feet copper balls, which flashed and glittered in the sunlight, or when, bending backward until the nape of his neck touched his heels, he would cause his body to assume the shape of a perfect wheel, and juggle with twelve knives in that posture, a murmur of admiration arose in the audience, and small coins rained upon the carpet.

However, like most of those who live by their talents, Barnabe of Campeigne found it hard work to get along. In earning his bread by the sweat of his brow it seemed that he had to bear more than his share of the burdens attached to the sin of Adam, our father. He could not work enough to meet his wants. In order to do himself full justice, he needed, like the trees to put forth flowers and fruit, the warmth of the sun and the bright light of day. In the winter he was a tree denuded of its leaves and all but dead. The frozen ground has harsh and unyielding to his necessity, and, like the grasshopper of which Marie of France speaks, he suffered much from the cold and hunger in the hard season. But his heart was simple, and he bore his ills in patience.

He had never though much about the origin of riches, nor the inequality of human conditions. He firmly trusted that, since this world was bad, the next one must surely be better, and this hop sustained him. He did not imitate those worthless, thieving strollers who have sold their souls to the devil. He never took in vain the name of God: he lived in honesty, and, though he had no wife of his own, he never coveted his neighbour’s.

In truth it cost him more to renounce the ale jug than the ladies, for, without departing from a decent sobriety, he loved to quench his thirst in the heat of the day. He was a worthy, God-fearing man, and most zealous in his worship of the Virgin Mary. He never failed when in a church to kneel before the image of the Mother of God and address to her this prayer:

“Madame, watch over my life until it please God that I should die, and after death vouchsafe that I shall taste the joys of Paradise.”

Now one evening, as he was walking along, bowed and sad, with his copper balls under his arm and his knives rolled up in the old carpet, seeking some barn where he might find supperless rest and shelter, he was a monk coming down the road in the same direction as himself, and he respectfully saluted him, As they walked side buy side, at about the same gait, they soon fell to conversing.

“Friend,” said the month, “how is it that you are thus arrayed all in green – perchance you take part in some mystery?”

“No, indeed my father,” answered Barnabe. “Such as you see me, I am Barnabe, a juggler by calling. The finest calling in the world, if it but enabled one to eat every day.”

“Friend Barnabe,” replied the monk, “look to what you are assaying; there is no finer calling than ours. We are continuously singing the praises of God, the Virgin and the saints, and the monk’s life is one perpetual hymn to the Lord.”

Barnabe replied:

“My father, I confess that I have ignorantly spoken. My profession cannot be compared to yours; and though there may be some slight merit in dancing with a coin balanced on the end of your nose, I confess that it can in no way equal your holy practices. I would like it very well, Father, if I might sing the service every day like you, and especially the service of the most Holy Virgin, whose devout worshipper I am. I would willingly renounce an art by which I am renowned from Soissons to Beaulieu in more than six hundred towns and villages, to embrace the monastic life.”

The monk was touched by the juggler’s simplicity, and as he was not lacking discernment, he recognised in Barnabe one of those righteously inclined men of whom our Lord has said, “Peace be with them on earth!”

“Friend Barnabe, come with me and I will procure your admission to the convent of which I am Prior. He who conducted Mary the Egyptian across the desert has placed me in your path to lead you into the way of salvation.”

It was in this way that Barnabe became a monk. In the convent, where he was received, the good brothers were ardent enough in the worship of the Virgin Mary, and each one employed all the knowledge and skill with which God had endowed him, to do her honour.

The Prior, for his part, wrote books which treated, according to scholastic rules, of the virtues of the Mother of God, and Father Alexander illuminated them with fine miniatures, in which the Queen of Heaven could be seen seated upon Solomon’s throne, with four lions guarding its foot, and seven doves fluttering around her nimbused head to symbolise the seven gifts of the Holt Ghost. She had for companions six golden-haired virgins: Humility, Prudence, Seclusion, Respect, Virginity and Obedience. At her feet were two little naked, white-robed figures, in an attitude of supplication. They were souls imploring, certainly not in vain, her all-powerful intercession for the final grace.

On another page, Father Alexander represented Eve under the eyes of Mary, so that one glance of the observer might embrace both sin and its redemption, the woman crushed to earth and the exalted Virgin.

Father Marbode as also one of Mary’s devoted sons. He was continuously chiselling little images out of stone, so that his hair, beard and eyebrows were white with the dust, and his eyes were all swollen and weary, but he was hale and hearty at a very advanced age – undeniably the Queen of Paradise protected her child’s declining years.

And, besides, they had poets in the convent, who wrote prose and hymns in honour of the most-glorious Virgin Mary, , and they even counted amongst their number a Picardian, who related the miracles of Our Lady in the vulgar tongue and in rhymed verses.

When he saw this rich harvest of works and heard the swelling chorus of praise, Barnabe was sad at heart, and bewailed his ignorance and simplicity. “Alas!” sighed he, as he walked alone in the little shadeless garden of the convent, “how unhappy I am that I cannot, like my brothers, pay worthy homage to the Holt Mother of God, to whom I have dedicated the whole love of my heart. Alas! Alas! I am a rude untutored boor, and I can bring to your service, Holy Virgin, neither edifying sermons not scholarly treatises, nor fine paintings, nor perfectly chiselled images, nor verses counted in feet and walking in step”

After this fashion he moaned and lamented and abandoned himself to the deepest grief. One evening, when the brothers were conversing, for recreation, he heard one of them tell the story of the monk who new no single thing to recite but the Ave Maria. This good man was despised for his ignorance during his lifetime, but in death five roses sprang from his lips, in honour of the five letters of the same name Maria, and thus was his sainthood made manifest.

As he listed to this recital, Barnabe was no more than ever filled with admiration for the Virgin’s goodness, but he was not consoled by the example of this most blessed death, for his heart was full of zeal, and he burned to achieve at once something that was new to the glory of his Lady in Heaven.

He sought long without finding the means to accomplish his end, and day by day he became more afflicted. At last one morning he awoke in joyful mood and ran straightaway to the chapel, where he remained more than an hour alone. He returned there again after the mid-day meal.

And from this time be betook himself every day to the chapel at the hour when it was deserted, and he spent there a great part of the time that the other monks devoted to the practice of their liberal and mechanical arts. Conduct as singular soon aroused the curiosity of his companions, and the questions soon passed around in the community, why Brother Barnabe made such frequent retreats.

The Prior, whose duty it is to acquaint himself with every particular in the conduct of each member of his flock, resolved to watch Barnabe in his seclusion. So one day, when the latter had shut himself up in the chapel, as was his wont, the Prior, accompanied by two of the oldest monks in the convent, came and took his stand at the door and peeped through the cracks at what went on within.

They saw Barnabe, head downward and feet in the air in front of the Holy Virgin’s altar, juggling with six copper balls and twelve knives.

He was performing in hour of the Mother of God the difficult feats which had once won for him the most applause. Not understanding that this simple man was thus giving all his knowledge and talent in loving service to the Virgin, the two old men cried out that sacrilege was being done.

The Prior knew the innocence of Barnabe’s heart, but he believed him to be demented. They all three prepared to remove him in haste from the chapel, when they saw the Holy Virgin descend the altar steps and wipe away with her blue mantle the pearling drops of sweat from the poor juggler’s brow.

The Prior prostrated himself with his face against the stones and recited these words: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God!”

“Amen!” responded the old men, and they kissed the floor. – From the French of Anatole France.

(See the bottom of this article for an image of the original text).

A different, less sympathetic, translation is available from the New York Times archive from 13 February 1893 too. The story led to an opera being produced in 1902, and the wikipedia entry says that “”straight” dramatic versions have also been produced”.  Maybe the plays mentioned in previous articles on this blog are actually versions of this story? It was also apdated and made into a TV drama in 1982, starring professional juggler Carl Carlsson, whose stage name is Barnaby.

Here’s the original article in all it’s glory (click it for a larger version):

The Juggler of Notre Dame Article - The Newcastle Weekly Courant Saturday April 22 1893 - From Gateshead Central library

Monsieur Lavanti at Victoria Concert Hall, West Hartlepool

November 26th, 2010

This time I have a fairly early poster from the Victoria Concert Hall in West Hartlepool, which includes a performance from Monsieur Lavanti “Champion Juggler” for the week of May 2, 1870:

Lavanti at the Victoria Concert Hall Poster

From the Tyne and Wear Archive

Unfortunately I can’t find anything about this chap, or any suggestion of what championship he might be claiming to have won. Does anyone out there have any leads?

Morton Jewell Troupe at Sunderland Empire

November 12th, 2010

The Morton Jewell Troupe “American Novelty Club Jugglers, presenting “An Event in Clubdom”” appeared at Sunderland Empire on 8 December 1913:

Morton Jewell Troupe Poster - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

There are a couple of references on the web that note that the Morton Jewell troupe were the only act who combined singing with juggling. The Just Juggling Jottings article from the Vaudeville Missouri Breeze of 1 October 1915 is a real gem.

Derenda and Green at Newcastle Empire

October 29th, 2010

The Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant described the “amusing and clever juggling act of Derenda and Green” on 31 July 1909:

Derenda and Green Article Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant 31 July 1909 - From Newcastle Central Library

From Newcastle Central Library

It’s not a fascinating article by any means – but after a bit of searching I realised that just 6 months later these two young performers would be tragically dead.  This site about the wreck of the General Chanzy as she sailed from Marseille to Algiers on 10 February 1910 tells the story in Spanish – click here to read the google translation. 139 out of the 140 passengers and crew were killed when she sank, including eleven performers who were travelling to perform at Algiers casino; the others are listed in the third column of this page from New York’s Sun newspaper from 13 February 1910.

The biographies of Leo Derenda and the mysteriously named Mr Green from the General Chanzy site give some intersting detail about their histories and the act – they’re well worth a read.

Edit: Thanks to The Void for the correction to the Mr Green link

Troba at the Hartlepool Theatre of Varieties and Tynemouth Palace

October 15th, 2010

Troba was a German juggler and contemporary of Cinquevalli. According to this article in the Juggler’s Bulletin of July 1947 he even did some similar tricks – but his speciality was juggling rifles and firing them as he caught them.

He appeared at the Empress Theatre of Varieties in Hartlepool on 25 April 1904 with headline billing as “the phenomenal juggler”:

Troba at the Empress Theatre of Varieties Poster - From the Tyne and Wear Archives

From the Tyne and Wear Archives

It’s truly a night of variety though – as there’s also a photography competition on the bill!

Along with the poster we’re lucky to also have a programme from that evening with an elegant lady illustrated on the cover:

Troba at the Empress Theatre of Varieties Programme (Front Cover) - From the Tyne and Wear Archives

From the Tyne and Wear Archives

…and the running order and some marvellous advertisements inside; you need never wonder where to go for a French sailor hat ever again!

Troba at the Empress Theatre of Varieties Programme (Front Cover) - From the Tyne and Wear Archives

From the Tyne and Wear Archives

Just over four years later Troba was back in the North East – this time performing at the Tynemouth Palace. In this article from the Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant from 12 June 1909 he’s “truly described as a “great juggler”” and he “provides many thrilling feats in which strength and smartness are combined”:

Troba at the Tynemouth Palace Article - From Newcastle City Library

From Newcastle City Library

Durham Juggling Convention

October 1st, 2010

This time we’re leaving the history behind and concentrating on something a bit more up-to-date. On 16 and 17 October durham juggling convention will take place at Wolsingham School in County Durham. It will include a cabaret-style show featuring jugglers from home and abroad on the night of Saturday 16th October – come and say hello!

Full details are at

Kara at Sunderland Empire

September 17th, 2010

By 22 March of 1909 Kara was already so known that he could be highly billed without any flourish simply as a “juggler” when he appeared at the Sunderland Empire:

Kara at the Sunderland Empire Poster, March 22 1909

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

 As one of the originators of the Gentleman Juggler style he’s a hero of mine. Check out these links for more information on the great man: the JIS hall of fame entry has some good biography, the IJA newsletter of January 1957 had description of the routine by Horace Lerrette, who saw him live around the time of the poster above. No one who cares about the history of juggling should skip Francisco Alvarez’s book ‘Juggling – its history and greatest performers’ – check out parts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 for Kara.  Finally there’s the article about the Salerno Ring from Juggle magazine that I linked from a previous entry of this blog about Salerno, which has the story of great rivals coperating in the aftermath of the Great War.

Emerson and Baldwin

September 3rd, 2010

Emerson and Baldwin appeared at the Pavilion Theatre in Newcastle in 1909 as this article from the Newcastle Weekly Journal & Courant, 30 January 1909 shows:

Emerson and Baldwin Article for the Newcastle Weekly Journal & Courant, 30 January 1909

From Newcastle City Library

Not only are they considered “clever comedians” but they performed “some wonderfully smart and unique juggling feats”.

There’s some good biography of Eddie Emerson with some description of his act and relationship with Jerry Baldwin in this miracle factory article. It’s not explicit, but it appears that they’re Americans – so their appearances in North East England are obviously part of trips abroad.

It seems that they were no strangers to travel – while there are internet resources that show them in the USA in New York in 1907 (The Evening Telegram article, 16 February 1907), 1912 (New York Times article, 29 December 1912) and 1913 (New York Times, 8 April 1913), they also show up in Perth, Australia in 1912 as this article in The Western Australian from 12 April shows.

After all of that they were back in the UK, at Sunderland Empire on  21 July 1913:

Emerson and Baldwin at Sunderland Empire Poster, 21 July 1913

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

Bank Holiday Bonus III – A printer’s warning

August 30th, 2010

It seems that not all jugglers can be trusted. In 1972 Robert Wood wrote a book entitled “The Victorian Provincial Printer and the Stage; an essay based on information gleaned from the papers left by John Procter and his son”. It has a section describing the letters that printers sent to each other to warn their colleagues about dodgy characters. Here’s one of them:

Letter from Wood, R (1972). The Victorian Provincial Printer and the Stage; an essay based on information gleaned from the papers left by John Procter and his son

From Wood (1972)

Dear Procter,

A person named Shaw, ‘recreative philosopher’ or ‘Juggler’, left this part six years ago, owing me 21/-. He is now in the neighbourhood and tells me a ‘cock and bull story’ about giving someone the money to pay me and that this somebody gave him a receipt, purporting to be mine, and he is going to prosecute the individual.

He promises to pay me this week, whether or no, so you had better look out for some tin should you do him any work.

Yours truly,


Emeline Ethardo at Newcastle Empire

August 20th, 2010

 Readers of rec.juggling may recognise today’s material – it’s the very first stuff that I found when I started looking for  material about the history of  juggling in the North East. This advertisement appeared in the 27 July 1895 edition of the Gateshead Guardian: 

Emeline Ethardo advert - Gateshead Guardian, July 27 1895

Gateshead Guardian, July 27 1895

Emeline Ethardo, “A distinct Novelty, A Juggler, a Contortionist, a Dancer, an Acrobat, an Instrumentalist. Something new” was on the bill at the Newcastle Empire Theatre for the week of 29 July 1893. Also of note on the bill is the second appearance on this blog of Conway and Leland, “One-legged Acrobats” who also appeared with WC Fields in Sunderland in 1908, billed as “Cheerful Monopedes”! 

Emeline is listed in Michale Kilgariff’s book ‘Grace, Beauty and Banjos: Peculiar Lives and Strange Times of Music Hall and Variety Artistes’ as a juggler, which suggests a link with Signor Ethardo – the Spiral Ascensionist (he used a walking globe and climbed enormous spiral tracks) – although he was possibly as a mentor or trainer rather than a relative.  The excellent  also has her listed as appearing at the opening of the Metropolitan Theatre, Paddington, London in 1897. 

But the only information we have about the performance comes from the review from the Gateshead Guardian in the week following the advert above. On 3 August 1895 they say: 

The Empire, Newcastle
There has been this week an excellent company at the Empire, and full houses. The chief attraction is Mr Edwin Boyd, the favourite London comedian, whose songs were rendered in a very talking manner, and were received with the greatest enthusiasm, especially his song “Life in the East End of London”. Miss Emmeline Ethardo pleased the audience immensely with her clever displays of juggling and contortion feats. Conway & Leland, the one legged acrobats, met with a great reception with their clever tumbling, etc. The Albert & Edmund troupe provide a highly amusing sketch, “The Locket”. The other artistes were Edith Yorke, vocalist; the Waldrons (Joe and Etty), burlesque artistes and dancers; Lily Langtree, comedienne; the Fairy Four, vocalists and dancers; and Arthur F. Cecil, mimic; all of whom gained the cordial approval of the audience. 

The Zanettos and the Korosko Bale Sisters

August 6th, 2010

Firstly – my apologies for missing a post last time, hopefully this double dose will make up for it!

The Zanettos, “World-renowned jugglers and equilibrists” are advertised to appear at the Newcastle Empire on the front cover of the Gateshead Guardian of 31 August 1895:

The Zanettos at Newcastle Empire 31 August 1895 - Gateshead Guardian Advert

From Gateshead Central Library

As you can see from their review a week later (published on 7 September 1895) there’s scant information apart from describing their routine as “clever”, and misspelling their name:

The Zanettos at Newcastle Empire 7 Sept 1895 - Gateshead Guardian article

From Gateshead Central Library

However, a bit of Googling has revealed a real treat. is a treasure trove of information about the Bale family who were the core of the Zanettos. The Posters, Press and Programmes page has some great material that fans of this site will enjoy, but for me the best stuff is on – which includes an interview with Edwin Bale published while he was performing in Newcastle.

The interview describes how the performers came to impersonate Japanese jugglers (with some language that’s probably most kindly described as “of its time”) which leads me onto the second half of this weeks double-header. At the Gaiety Theatre of Varieties in Hartlepool, for the week of 11 August 1902 the Sisters Korosko Bale, “Double Japanese Jugglers, Balancers &c” appeared, along with their “splendid performing pigeons”:

Sisters Korosoko Bale Poster

From Tyne & Wear Archives

The name Bale associated with ‘Japanese’ juggling must mean that they’re linked to the Zanettos, but I’ve not been able to confirm the exact nature of the connection. However I did find the abstract for a academic conference presentation that refers to the Zanettos and the Korosko Bale troupe, and has some more pictures of the Zanettos. Scroll right down to the bottom of the page to find a link to the presentation slides.

I hope you enjoy all that linked material as much as I did.

WC Fields at the Sunderland Empire

July 9th, 2010

This week I’ve got another of the multi-coloured posters from the Sunderland Empire featuring a big star, W.C. Fields who appeared in the week of October 12 1908:

WC Fields at the Sunderland Empire Poster - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

Of course Fields was a well known star of the Vaudeville stage before he went on to find success in films. A lot of his stage routine can be seen in his film ‘The Old Fashioned Way’.

There were some other treats on the bill that night though – I’d love to see what Conway & Leland “the Cheerful Monopedes” did. I’ve seen them billed elsewhere as “one-legged acrobats” – that’s a fairly specialist gimmick! Also notice that Glee isn’t the new phenomenon that some people might have you believe.

William Claude may have headlined in Sunderland, but  he’s certainly not the big hit at the Newcastle Empire the following year, as this article from the Newcastle Journal and Courant of August 21 1909 shows:

WC Fields at the Newcastle Empire - Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant August 21 1909 Article - From Newcastle City Library

From Newcastle City Library

While the “programme has a bright star in Mr W. C. Fields, a very clever and original eccentric juggler” they’re much more interested in the antics of “Consul, the anthropoid ape”. Fields was well known for his short temper; imagine his reaction to being upstaged by a monkey!

The Frank L Gregory Troupe at the Sunderland Empire

June 25th, 2010

The Frank L Gregory Troupe appeared at the Sunderland Empire for the week of 21 September 1906 “in a marvellous exhibition of hoop rolling and juggling” where there are “hoops made to act like human beings”:

Frank L Gregory Troupe Poster - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

This article from the Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant, published on 23 January 1909 mentions the troupe a few months later when they appeared at the Pavilion Theatre, Newcastle:

Frank L Gregory Troupe Article in Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant Jan 23 1909 - From Newcastle City Library

From Newcastle City Library

Unfortunately the journalist is reduced to the stock description of “novel and clever” with no details of the routine. However we do know that they were still working in 1914 as this article in the New York Times on 29 December 1914 mention them as the “Marvellous Gregory Troupe, hoop rollers and jugglers” performing at Keith Alhambra Theatre.

There is some more information looking back on the heyday of hoop performers in this article from the Juggler’s Bulletin on September 1947 – scroll down to the “Out of my Scrapbook” column by Jack Greene. He describes how Frank Gregory “tossed a hoop in the air and made it light on a string held by his partner several feet away from him, then roll back to the tosser”.

The Brothers Hutchinson at Hartlepool Town Hall

June 11th, 2010

This week I’d like to show you a poster from right back in 1849, when the Brothers Hutchinson, “who are justly acknowledged to be the wonders of the age”, appeared at Hartlepool Town Hall for the nights of 31 May and 1 June.

The poster is a masterpiece of mid-Victorian pomp, describing both the luxurious props and crowned heads who’ve seen the act before:

The Brothers Hutchinson poster. From the Tyne and Wear Archives

From the Tyne and Wear Archives

Queen Victoria and most of her court seem to have been there at Drury Lane Theatre in London to see them perform the “Sports of Atlas” which included tossing “three German Silver Globes backwards and forwards to each other with the feet”, and they’re pictured in the background of the illustration while the brothers do their stuff:

The Brothers Hutchinson poster - close up. From the Tyne and Wear Archives

From the Tyne and Wear Archives

The Sports of Atlas are probably derived from the ‘Atlas Games’, which I’ll write more about as soon as I can work out which book I read about them in!

There’s another act to interest us jugglers on the poster. Mr Thompson, Decanter Equilibrist was part of the bill for those two nights. Steve Rawlings eat your heart out!

Bank Holiday Bonus II – “She Did a Few Tricks Herself and Wanted to Learn More”

May 31st, 2010

It’s the second May bank holiday in England today, and also the last day of the marvellous Bungay Balls Up juggling festival, so here’s an extra humorous article from the Gateshead Guardian 6 July 1895. Can you work out what the old lady’s accent is supposed to be from?:

The Gateshead Guardian, July 6, 1895

The Gateshead Guardian, July 6, 1895


She Did a Few Tricks Herself and Wanted to Learn More.
As I purchased my ticket to go into the circus which was exhibiting in a town at the foot of Cumberland Range, a little old woman who wore a poke bonnet and was without shoes or stockings, beckoned me aside and said:
“Look yere, stranger, I’ve walked ten miles to see this yere sarcus.”
“I reckoned to git in fur two bits, but I can’t do it. The price is fo’ bits, and they won’t abate. Do yo’ know any of the sarcus folks?”
“No, I don’t.”
“If yo’ did they might abate. I kin do some sarcus tricks myself, and maybe they’d let me in for free. Cum’ out yere and see me flop a summersault, as they calls it.”
“Really ma’am, I haven’t time.”
“Wall then, give me room and see me turn a cart-wheel. I can do it as slick as any man yo’ ever seed.”
“Yes, I presume so, but I can’t spare the time.”
“I walked the top-rail of a fence fur half a mile without fallin’ off,” she continued, “and I believe I could walk a rope. Git outen the way and I’ll show yo’ a hand-spring as good as yo’ ever saw.”
“Please don’t, ma’am. If you want to go into the circus—”
“Yo’ kin hoot that I want to go into the sarcus!” she interrupted. “That’s what I’m here fur. Whenever a sarcus comes along I git thar if I kin and ketch on to all the new flip flops. The ole man is sick and couldn’t come, but I promised him to hev a good look at the hyenas and tell him all about ’em. As fur me, I’m bound and determined to ride that trick mewl twice around the ring or perish in the attempt. What was yo’ goin’ to say?”
“I was going to say that I’d pay the other two bits and take you in with me.”
“Would you do that fur a pore old woman who hadn’t seen sarcus fur two y’are?” she anxiously asked.
“Of course.”
I got her a ticket and we passed in together, and a her request I hunted up the cage of hyenas the first thing. She stood and looked at them for five minutes before saying:
“Wall, I don’t see whar’ the purtiness cums in, but the old man is crazy ’bout hyenas. Now for the sarcus.”
We sat down together, and she took a great interest in and vigorously applauded every feat.
By and bye, when the trick mule was brought in and the usual announcement made, she sprang up and was at the ringside before anyone else could move. Everybody laughed and the ringmaster was confused. He finally had to tell her that all women were barred out, and when she persisted a couple of employees led her back to her seat. She came back flushed and angry, and when I attempted to console her she said:
“That’s the way of it all over – the wimmin folks bain’t got no rights and can’t get em. I could ride that mewl to his grave and not bin throwed off, and that’s what they was afraid of. Are’ thar’ any camp-bells with this show?”
“You mean camels. Yes, there are four or five in the other tent.”
“Then I’ll ride a camp-bell without doin’ sunthin’ to brag of.”
She slipped away, and when we filed out after the performance she was sitting between the two humps of a half-asleep dromedary and saying to the man who wanted her to come off:
“You go to ballyhack! I cum to this sarcus to git a pinter or two, and if you git me off’n this campbell I’ll ride yer ole rhinoceros around ’till he draps dead!”

Le Diabelo at Empress Theatre of Varieties, Hartlepool

May 28th, 2010

On 15 October 1906 Le Diabelo appeared at the Empress Theatre of Varieties in Hartlepool. The content of his act is a bit of mystery. He’s billed as “Looping the Devil’s Wheel”, but as he is “riding on the outside of the wheel” we have to assume that it’s some kind of acrobatic apparatus, and the similarity of the name to our diabolo is coincidental.

Le Diabelo Poster - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

The extra treat that comes with this performance is the programme as well as the poster:

Empress Theatre of Varieties program, 15 October 1906 (outside) - From the Tyne and Wear Archives

From the Tyne and Wear Archives

While the outside is a strange mixture of adverts the inside gives us a really nice picture of what we could expect to see at the a provincial variety theatre in 1906 – click on the picture to see the detail:

Empress Theatre of Varieties program, 15 October 1906 (inside) - From the Tyne and Wear Archives

From the Tyne and Wear Archives

Salerno at Newcastle Empire

May 14th, 2010

Salerno was one of the originators of the “gentleman juggler” style where the performer dressed in evening wear and juggled the everyday articles that you might find in a home of the day.

He appeared at the Empire Theatre, Newcastle in the week of 30 September 1895 – as this advertisement from the Gateshead Guardian shows:

Gateshead Guardian, 28 Sept 1895

Gateshead Guardian, 28 Sept 1895

“The great continental juggler and equilibrist” is mentioned briefly a week later in the Gateshead Guardian and Newcastle Suburban Press – but there’s hardly a surfeit of detail about “the clever company”:

Gateshead Guardian and Newcastle Suburban Press, October 5 1895

Gateshead Guardian and Newcastle Suburban Press, October 5 1895

That’s all the local material that I’ve found – but there were two good articles about Salerno in JUGGLE magazine in the Spring and Fall 2009 editions (I’m agnostic about IJA politics, but I like the magazine). The article in the Fall edition concentrates on a prop that’s very rare these days: Alan Howard (in wonderfully florid prose that would fit into most of the publications I normally read for this blog) writes: “The Salerno ring balance involves a pole that is placed on the juggler’s forehead; atop the pole is a ring in which a billiard ball is coaxed to revolve, thanks to the impetus generated by the continuous up-and-down motion from the juggler’s knees”. He juggled four balls with this all in place, including a shower where the balls passed through the ring.

Salerno’s nearest rival in the gentleman juggling style was Kara, a German citizen who was caught in Paris at the outbreak of the first world war. He was interred for the duration and had no access to props or practice space but on his release Salerno offered to share his equipment so Kara could get back on his feet. Kara learnt the Salerno ring, and later mentored Bob Artur, who performed as Caral, and the routine passed to him. Caral in turn handed the routine onto Jeton, who is still performing it today. These four are the only known performers of this intriguing prop. The full article from JUGGLE is on Jeton’s website.

Bank Holiday Bonus – Indian Jugglers

May 3rd, 2010
It’s a public holiday in England today, so here’s a bonus article from the Northern Echo published on October 10 1890 to celebrate:
The Northern Echo, October 10, 1890

The Northern Echo, October 10, 1890

Indian Jugglers

The most startling feats and tricks in the world are those performed by the numerous professional jugglers of India; and these have been unvaried since the days of Baber, the descendent of Timour, in the sixteenth century. “I was frequently amused at the public wells and halting places,” says Forbes, “by the vanjarrahs and their families, and especially by the jugglers, who generally found out the encampments of these travelling merchants. There they spread their carpets, and performed feats of legerdemain superior to any I have seen in England; the most conspicuous was generally one of the women mentioned by Dr Fryer, who hold nine gilded ball in play with their hands and feet, and the muscles of their arms and legs, for a long time together without letting them fall. The well known sword feat is described at great length by Forbes. Seating himself, the juggler took the sword, which had a straight blade, about twenty inches in length and one in breadth, with edges and point blunted, and after oiling, he it introduced the point into his mouth, and pushed it gently down his throat until the hand of Forbes who held the hilt came into contact with his lips. “He then made a sign to me,” says the narrator, “with one of his hands, to feel the point of the instrument between his breast and navel, which I could plainly do by bending him a little more backwards, and pressing my fingers to his stomach, he being a very thin and lean fellow.” On taking his hand from the hilt, the juggler fixed to it a little machine, from which a firework that emitted blue flames encircled his head, and imparted a diabolical aspect to his brown face; and on withdrawing the blade, blood was seen on some parts of it, showing that its introduction was not effected without violence. To this feat he had been accustomed since his earliest years, having from the first been taught to introduce elastic instruments, till he came at last to swallow the iron sword in question. Forbes considers that “the great flexibility of their joints, the laxness of their fibres, and their temperate mode of life, render them capable of having considerable violence done to the fleshy parts of their bodies without any danger of the inflammation and other bad effects which would be produced in the irritable bodies of Europeans; witness their being whirled around on the point of a pole, suspended by a hook thrust into the fleshy part of their backs, without experiencing any fatal consequences. There is, therefore, no great wonder if, by long habit in stretching up their necks, they are able to bring the windings of the stomach into a straight line, or nearly so, and thereby slide the sword down into the latter organ without so much difficulty. – From Cassell’s Illustrated History of India for October.

Juggling at the Theatre

April 30th, 2010

We’re used to seeing jugglers performing in theatres, but there seems to have been a short period of popularity of plays (or maybe just one play) about them.

In April 1873 two plays featuring juggling where showing in the north east of England. The New Gaiety Theatre of Varieties in West Hartlepool is showing Life of a Showman on the 4th and 5th April:

Life of a Showman 4 April 1873 - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

And the Theatre at Choppington is showing Juggler of Paris on 4th and 10th April:

Juggler of Paris 4 April 1873 - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

This poses a bit of a problem when you look at the details. Despite the plays having different names the characters are the same and so are the cast; we have to assume that it’s essentially the same play. So how are the same people acting in the same play on the same day in towns that are 40 miles apart? Even in those days where a single trip to the theatre would include two or three different full length shows the simply wouldn’t be time to make the journey by horse in the course of an evening.

The answer may be in the source of the posters. These are part of the Wood Collection in the Tyne and Wear archive, and is a collection saved from a printer’s in Hartlepool when they went out of business. As you delve through the old posters you often come across corrections and markings on the posters that show that they’re proofs. So maybe only one of these performances went ahead – maybe neither did.

Whatever the actual occurrence in April, things have moved on by October, and on both the 3rd and 6th Jocrisse the Juggler is showing at the Theatre Royal in West Hartlepool:

Jocrisse the Juggler 6 October 1873 - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

In this close up from the poster for 3rd October we can see that the same characters appear as they did in Life of a Showman and Juggler of Paris back in April, but the cast are different this time.

Jocrisse the Juggler 3 October 1873 (detail) - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

Finally we see what may be another revival on 21st March 1921 – though the only detail we have is that The Juggler is a “Story full of pathos…admirably acted…which cannot fail to interest” – so it may be a completely different show.

The Juggler 21 March 1910 - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

Of course none of this tells us if there was actually any juggling in the play, and whether either the juggling or the play are any good. An internet search doesn’t really shed any new light on that point, but the list of new plays licenced in England in 1961 suggests that that Jocrisse the Juggler was originally called Magloire the Prestigiater and was written by Thomas William Robertson. Back then the word ‘juggler’ applied to the object manipulators that we know now, but also to magicians.  The word ‘Prestigiater’ implies a sleight-of-hand artiste to me, so this whole article might have been a wild goose chase – but the text is available from, so I’ll add it to my wishlist!

Cinquevalli at the Sunderland Empire

April 16th, 2010

Some of the big stars of the juggling world passed through North East England. Paul Cinquevalli appeared at the Sunderland Empire in 1911, topping the bill in the week of 23 January:

Cinquevalli at the Sunderland Empire Poster - from the Tyne and Wear Archive

From the Tyne and Wear Archive

Unfortunately I’ve not been able to find any contemporary reviews of his appearances – but there’s a fantastic article from the Strand Magazine of  1897 which describes his routine. The article is reproduced in Charlie Holland’s book, ‘Strange Feats and Clever Turns’ (it should be available from your favourite juggling shop); and the text and some of the pictures are online at the Juggling Hall of Fame.

A permanent circus building in Gateshead?

April 9th, 2010

This week I’m going to take the liberty of my first diversion away from “pure” juggling.

My wife has been affected by the recent malaise sweeping across Britain and has been researching her family’s history (to be fair, I’ve succumbed too). She’s got fairly deep roots in this area, and she bought an Alan Godfrey Maps reprint of the Ordnance Survey’s 1894 map of Newcastle and Gateshead. I love maps, so I pored over it, and then read the (modern) blurb on the back describing some of the interesting features. It happens to mention a “new circus is shown in Sunderland Road, but this and other nearby theatres were always shortlived”. A permanent circus building, a short walk from my house!? That raised images of the Moscow State Circus or the Cirque d’Hiver – how could I not know about this magnificent edifice? 

At first I headed off to Gateshead Library to see what could be found there, but all the building records have been passed over to the Tyne & Wear Archives. 

It was another week before I could get to the Archives. 

Finally I got my hands on the “Gateshead Register of Street and Building Plans”, and this is what I saw:

Gateshead Register of Street and Building Plans - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

 “W. Tudor” has applied to build “Intended Circus” at “Sunderland Road, Part of Back Sunderland St.” This is it! His application was approved on 7th March 1894, just in time for his building to be included on my wife’s 1894 map. The remarks say “Also Standard Theatre, see also plan no. 217 1897 for improvements” – sure enough the comments on the back of the map hold true, this building didn’t last long in its original form, but was converted to a full theatre in 1897. 

So, I filled in my request slip for the plans that W. Tudor had submitted to get permission for his building, and sent it off into the bowels of the archive. Apparently some have been lost over the years, but these are still there in all their glory: 

Tudor's Circus Plans - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

These were the days were circuses were still focused on trick horse riding, so there are stables and tack rooms on the ground floor, as well as the ring and seating for the audience. There’s also a second storey with a gallery for more spectators. The body of the building is timber, with a corrugated iron roof. 

The real gem for this story is the letter enclosed with the plan though: 

Tudor's Letter, page 1 - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives

Tudor's Letter, page 1 - From the Tyne & Wear Archives

From the Tyne & Wear Archives




South Shields 

Sole Proprietor: MR. W. TUDOR 

Feb 1st 1894 

To The Borough Surveyor Gateshead 

Dear Sir, 

My manager will be at your office at the Town Hall about 12 o’clock on Friday morning Feby 2nd with plans of building I propose erecting at Sunderland Road Gateshead as a Circus. It is the same building I have used for 2 seasons at South Shields, passed by Mr Hall, Surveyor. I intend to take down at the termination of the present season, and remove it to Gateshead, provided permission is granted by the Authorities. I shall be glad if you can make it convenient to meet him at that hour 

Yours Truly 

W. Tudor 

Circus proprietor 

Just three documents manage to give us a pretty clear picture of the events here; Mr Tudor had been operating his circus by the coast at South Shields for two years, and he decided that he needed to move on. He takes his existing building apart, and ships it piece by piece to be re-erected 8 miles inland at Gateshead. The local authorities give him permission, and he gets it erected just in time for the Ordnance Survey surveyors making their map. After three years of trick riding and clowning around he decides not to move it, but it is converted to a permanent theatre instead. 

So there we go, a short-lived but “permanent” circus building existed in the UK, right on my doorstep. I’m not sure a wooden hut with a corrugated iron roof can’t really compare with the Cirque d’Hiver though!

Frank Sylvo

April 2nd, 2010

I’ve not been researching for this blog for very long but one name keeps popping up. Frank Sylvo isn’t well known today, but he was clearly well respected by the promoters of his era.The earliest appearance that I’ve found isn’t from North East England but the Palace, Greenwich, London – strangely enough the article is in the New York Clipper and the date isn’t made clear, but it seems to be April 1901 or 1902. He also appeared in Empire Palace Theatre, Dublin in 1904, as advertised in the Evening Telegraph; and at the opening of the Grand Theatre of Varieties, Birmingham and is listed on the special silk commemorative programme for this event, which is held in the Victoria and Albert museum.

I’ve first found him in the North East on 25 January 1909 at the Sunderland Empire:

Frank Sylvo at the Sunderland Empire Poster - From the Tyne & Wear Archive

From the Tyne & Wear Archive

All these venues have one thing in common – they were all owned by Moss Empires. This was the largest chain of variety theatres in the UK, and they clearly liked what Frank had to offer, despite the rather lukewarm review that he received in the Newcastle Journal and Courant of 23 January 1909 after he’d appeared at the Newcastle Empire. All they could manage to say was that he was “quite acceptable”:

Frank Sylvo at the Newcastle Empire review - From Newcastle City Library

From Newcastle City Library

Despite that faint praise he was still working in the Empires empire 14 years later; he was back at the Sunderland Empire on 2 July 1923:

Frank Sylvo at the Sunderland Empire Poster 1923 - From the Tyne & Wear Archive

From the Tyne & Wear Archive

I look forward to seeing where else he shows up!

Tom Hearn and Paul’s Juggling Girls

March 26th, 2010

The week of Monday October 11 1909 was a good one for the audiences at the Sunderland Empire as they were treated to two juggling acts on the programme that week:   

Tom Hearn & Paul's Juggling Girls at the Sunderland Empire Poster - From the Tyne & Wear Archive

From the Tyne & Wear Archive

Paul’s Juggling Girls present “The Swells at Practice”, which is  “A dainty juggling act, introducing a wonderful exhibition of club manipulation, with original effects”. Unfortunately I’ve not been able to find any description of their routine, but they travelled as far as New York with their performances; the New York Times records them arriving in New York to perform on the Morris Vaudeville Circuit on 30 January 1910 (see the pdf article, linked from this page at the New York Times. We can assume that their first performance was at the American Music Hall, as this pdf article, also dated 30 January (linked from this page at the New York Times) mentions them performing in that venue.   

Tom Hearn & Paul's Juggling Girls at the Sunderland Empire Poster (Detail) - From the Tyne & Wear Archive

From the Tyne & Wear Archive

 I have found more information about Tom Hearn’s act. He’s billed as “the Laziest Juggler on Earth” and this description from the Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant, from earlier in the year, on 6 February 1909 explains why:  

Tom Hearn at the Newcastle Empire - article from the Newcastle Weekly Journal and Courant - from Newcastle City Library

From Newcastle City Library

Mr Tom Hearn has fairly earned his title of the “laziest juggler on earth”. He is also the funniest. From start to finish of his entertainment he is too lazy to complete any of his tricks. He is discovered in bed as the curtain rises, in a comfortably furnished bedroom. He emerges from bed, and practices in a meek-and-mild manner with little dumb-bells and punching a diminutive ball. Other tricks follow, with lamps and articles of furniture and vertu, all of which get broken owing to Tom’s inborn laziness to properly negotiate his different tricks. He every now and then returns to bed in complete exhaustion. The turn caused roars of laughter, and is better than ever.  

An interesting gimmick for sure – and he had a high billing at the Sunderland Empire so he must have been well received.


March 22nd, 2010

Welcome to – this is going to be a fortnightly blog about juggling history and especially jugglers who performed in the North East of England – I hope you enjoy it.