Archive for April, 2010

Juggling at the Theatre

Friday, 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

Friday, 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?

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!

Frank Sylvo

Friday, 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!