Archive for the ‘Gateshead’ Category

MacCarte’s Circus – Windmill Hills, Gateshead

Saturday, 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.

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

Monday, 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!”

A permanent circus building in Gateshead?

Friday, 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!