Norwich: His name was Billy Bluelight!

BILLY Bluelight was a Norfolk eccentric who – in the absence of a welfare state lived on his wits and his charm. This most iconic of characters was famous for racing the steam pleasure boats along the River Yare from Bramerton to Norwich – hoping for spare change from the passengers on board.

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At half past eleven or so every morning, the tinkle of a bell would intrude upon the cooing of the wood pigeons; it heralded the approach of the Yarmouth Belle or the Waterfly, both deep in the water as a result of their heavy freight of Yarmouth trippers, all bound for Norwich.

As if on cue, a strange figure would appear on Bramerton’s river bank and take up a familiar stance. Clad in shorts and a singlet and hung with a prodigious array of medals, his expansive smile, matched at a higher level by the peak of his gaily-striped cricket cap. From the river bank he would call out:

“My name is Billy Bluelight, my age is 45,
I hope to get to Carrow Bridge before the boat arrive.”

Billy at Boom Tower

With these words, he would sprint off along the river footpath of the Yare. At Woods End he would be no more than level, but once out of sight he always gained by taking a short cut across the Whitlingham Sewerage Farm, to reappear still neck and neck by the time both man and boat had reached the old limekiln at Crown Point. There, Billy would again disappear from view, and while the boat passed very slowly through unsuitable bends and narrow waters, Billy would make a detour over Trowse Bridge. By the time Carrow Bridge was reached, there would be Billy, ready to receive the well-earned plaudits of the trippers and the coppers thrown on to the path by the Boom Tower.”

Year after year this performance was repeated, but Billy’s age remained 45! This may have been for the sake of the rhyme, but there was enough of the Peter Pan in him to have justified it on other grounds.

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Billy Bluelight died 70 years ago but is remembered by a bench at Riverside in Norwich and a statue by the river at Bramerton where he once ran to beat the boats. Picture Credit: Archant

Bluelight, whose real name was William Cullum is one of many interesting ghostly characters that still lingers on the 35-mile route along the Yare from Norwich to Great Yarmouth. He was born in the slums of his home city of Norwich, eking out a living selling cough medicine, firewood and blackberries. He never received a formal education, but he did however teach himself to read and worked briefly at Caley’s chocolate factory. By 1907 he was already legendary for his racing and street selling activities and continued racing boatsBilly Bluelight (in shorts) into the 1930s, when he was considerably older than 45 – He is said to have remained ’45’ for many, many years. He never married and lived with his mother, until her death around 1930. The two lived at several addresses in the city including Oak Street, Colegate and Pkyerell House at St Mary’s Plain. After his mother’s death, he was reported to have entered Woodlands, part of the West Norwich Hospital. By the 1940s he was living at Palmer Road on the Mile Cross Estate which was built between the wars. In his eighties he entered the West Norwich Hospital and was later moved to St James Hospital at Shipmeadow, Suffolk where he died in 1949. Five years after his death, writer R L Potter wrote this description of him:

“That over-worked term ‘nature’s gentleman’ was never better exemplified than in the gentle, unpretentious character called Billy Bluelight. It may seem astonishing that a humble little man could imprint his personality so widely on a large city, but it was so. ”

— R L Potter, EDP.

Billy Bluelight (Pub Sketch)
The Billy Bluelight Public House, Norwich (Courtesy of JohnWatson)

In 1994 Woodforde’s Brewery renamed their outlet The Freemasons Arms in Hall Road, Norwich to The Billy Bluelight, but since March, 2005 and after a change of ownership, the pub reverted to its former name. However, close to the Woods End Inn in Bramerton and on the Wherryman’s Way long-distance footpath stands a life-size statue of Billy. This particular footpath is named after the men who operated the distinctive flat-bottomed sailing barges that were the HGVs of the 1700s, when Norwich was England’s second city, and a prodigious amount of cargo was ferried between the Low Countries and Norwich via the Yare. This was thirsty work and its legacy, happily, lingers in an unusual wealth of riverside pubs, there to refresh the walker en route – although never Billy Bluelight, who was teetotal.

Many theories have been put forward to how he received his name. In 1907, a reference was made to the ‘bluelight’ of his eloquence; another suggestion was that of his blue nose in winter, or that he sold blue-tipped matches. ‘Bluelight’ was also a Victorian term for teetotaler or temperance worker and William Cullum did speak out against the dangers of alcohol.

 

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My name is Billy Bluelight
My age is 45. I hope to get to Carrow Bridge before the boat arrive. (c) Copyright Evelyn Simak and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

There have been several reminders of him in the Norwich area over the years since the days when he graced the River Yare and Norwich, from a pub, a statue and the Apache theatre company’s play about his life in recent times, entitled “Nature’s Gentleman – The Story of Billy Bluelight.”

THE END

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billy_Bluelight
https://www.edp24.co.uk/features/derek-james-nostalgia-billy-bluelight-jock-the-highlander-1-5849337

COPYRIGHT NOTICE2

Mountainous Norfolk and Other Hollywood Myths!

On the 25 April, 2001, the following article by Tom Utley, appeared in The Telegraph. Its title: “The mountains of Norfolk and other Hollywood myths”. In it he cited our County of Norfolk, England, UK – not Norfolk, Virginia in the States by the way. For that reason readers of this Blog, who might have missed the article the first time round, might like to read it for themselves. They may, or may not, agree with his views which were written some eighteen years ago. Apologies for a few minor tweaks to the article, and for leaving out the advertising and other extraneous matter which only detracts from an interesting article. Read on:

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The White Swan Hotel in Guangzhou, China.

Most of us will have felt a pang of sympathy for Claudia Neira. She was the American who arrived in Guangzhou, China, after an exhausting flight from New York, only to find that the White Swan hotel had no record of the booking that she had made over the internet. Further inquiries revealed that she had actually booked her eight nights at the White Swan hotel in Pickering, on the other side of the world, in North Yorkshire. The charitable among us will say that this was an easy mistake to make. The two hotels share a name, after all, and there is no telling where a website hails from on the internet.

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The White Swan in Pickering, North Yorkshire, England

But we should not be too quick to acquit Mrs Neira of stupidity. For there are a number of clues on the two websites to suggest the whereabouts of the hotels they advertise. There are photographs, for a start. The Chinese White Swan is shown as a 34-storey skyscraper towering over banyan gardens at the water’s edge on Shamian Island. The photograph of the Pickering White Swan shows a two-storey, 16th-century coaching inn, unmistakably English in appearance. The Chinese hotel boasts on its website of its specialised regional cuisine from Beijing, Sichuan and Shanghai. The Yorkshire hotel is proud to announce that its chef makes his own sausages and bread. The address at the top of the English website is a bit of a giveaway, too: “Pickering, Ryedale, North Yorkshire, YO18 7AA” – Perhaps it was the “YO” that threw Mrs Neira: it does look vaguely Chinese!!

I blame the American film and television industry for Mrs Neira’s unhappy plight. For instance, the Disney corporation did set its £50 million thriller, ‘Reign of Fire’, in the mountains of Norfolk, England! Now, the one thing that most of us know about Norfolk, was summed up succinctly by Noel Coward in Private Lives: “Very flat, Norfolk”. Disney’s location scouts must have discovered as much, when they came to have a look at the County. But rather than admit that they got it wrong, they took their cameras off to the Wicklow Mountains in Ireland, and went on pretending that the action of their film was set in East Anglia – and Norfolk in particular!

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Norfolk, England is flat – very flat!

No wonder Mrs Neira was confused when she clicked on the Pickering White Swan’s website, thinking that she was booking a room in China. I suspect that, in the course of her childhood, she must have seen a Disney film set beneath the banyan trees by the banks of the Pearl River in North Yorkshire, in which an American hero defeated Attila the Hun’s air force. Or perhaps she saw a film set among the flat-capped, bangers – and – mash – scoffing pigeon-fanciers of Guangzhou, in which another American hero beat off an invasion from outer space. How is a poor New York girl to tell the difference between Europe and Asia, Pickering and Guangzhou, when she has been fed all her life on a diet of inane fantasy?

Some will say that all this is just a lot of fuss about nothing, and that it does not really matter; so what if Disney chooses to pretend that there are mountains in Norfolk? It is just a bit of escapism, they will say – poetic licence, and all that. Nor would it matter very much, if this were an exceptional case. But the fact is that nearly every single film churned out by Hollywood is based on some kind of lie. The world’s greatest democracy, and its only remaining superpower, has shut its eyes and blocked its ears to any consideration of the truth, retreating into a fantasy world of its own.

I am not thinking only of geography and topography. Hollywood takes the most breathtaking liberties with history, too. Braveheart, Gladiator, Saving Private Ryan, Patriot, U 571, Michael Collins, Thirteen Days – just show any American film made over the past 20 [now 38] years that claims to have some basis in historical fact, and I will show you a pack of lies from beginning to end. Yet for most of the people who watch them – people with votes to cast for heaven’s sake! – these films are the only exposition of history that they will ever see.

The past troubles in Northern Ireland? A case of British imperialists oppressing a subject people. Simple as that. Cracking the Enigma code? All down to the heroism of the Yanks, wasn’t it? The Irish potato famine? An act of genocide by Queen Victoria. The Cuban missile crisis? A triumph of statesmanship for J F K.

How we all sneer at those Soviet propaganda films of the 1930s, showing happy peasants bringing in their abundant harvests in accordance with their glorious leader’s latest five-year plan. But Stalin’s film-makers have nothing to teach modern Hollywood about perverting or ignoring the facts to suit their masters’ ends. Hollywood cannot even tell the truth about what Americans call “interpersonal relationships”. If you believed the movies, you would think that every child who had ever breathed was a little ball of sugar-coated candy – capable of naughtiness, certainly, but just as cute as pie underneath. Even the villainess of ‘The Exorcist’ turned out to be a sweetie in the end.

They have shown Mrs Doubtfire repeatedly on television – as disgusting a piece of trash as anything produced by the porno industry in Los Angeles, made all the more revolting by Robin Williams’s brilliant, schmaltzy performance in the title role. The final scene showed our hero’s ex-wife and children wiping away tears of admiration as they watched him on television, dressed as an elderly woman, delivering a little homily about how kiddies shouldn’t feel bad when their parents divorced. Yeurrgh!! Life just isn’t like that. Never has been, never will be.

In his final refusal to accept reality, Walt Disney left instructions that his dead body should be frozen until medical science came up with a way of bringing him back to life. The time has surely come to thaw the old swine out, and put him on trial at the Hague for crimes against Western civilisation and the truth!

THE END

Sources:
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/comment/4261557/The-mountains-of-Norfolk-and-other-Hollywood-myths.html
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/europe/united-kingdom/england/yorkshire/north/hotels/the-white-swan-inn-hotel/
https://www.agoda.com/en-gb/white-swan-hotel/hotel/guangzhou-cn.html?cid=-217

COPYRIGHT NOTICE2

Norwich’s Victorian Circus Star!

The first fact to reveal about Pablo Fanque is that he was born in Norwich in the County of Norfolk. The second, and probably the more important, is the fact that he not only became a brilliant equestrian performer, but famous as the first non-white British circus owner in Britain and the most popular circus proprietor in Victorian Britain during a 30-year golden period of circus entertainment. His life’s story starts in Norwich, and it is this beginning on which the City lays its own claim to this showman’s name and fame.

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A Blue Plaque unveiled at All Saints Green, on the John Lewis building, in Norwich on 16th February 2010.

Norwich boasts the fact that Pablo Fanque, baptised William Darby, was born in the City; the date of his birth was 30th March 1810. He died on 4th May 1871 in Stockport, Lancashire, having left Norwich as a teenager; he only ever returned to Norwich as a performing act.

Fast forward to 2010; this was the year when Norwich first expressed its pride in being associated with the gentleman in the form of a commemorative blue plaque placed on the wall of the John Lewis department store on All Saints Green. Its position was the nearest the authorities could get to the house in Ber Street where Fanque lived his earlier years. Then, in 2018 a student accommodation block was opened in the Norwich, opposite the John Lewis Store and named ‘Pablo Fanque House’.

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An artist impression of  ‘Pablo Fanque House’ before it was built on the former Mecca Bingo site on All Saints Green, Norwich. Photo: Alumno Developments.
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The completed ‘Pablo Fanque House’ in Norwich. Photo: Courtesy of Reggie Unthank.

Much of Pablo Fanque’s early life in Norwich is unknown and speculative. What is known comes from the City’s church records which state, quite clearly, that he was born in 1810. He was one of at least five children born to John and Mary Darby (née Stamp) in Norwich. When Fanque married in 1848, he entered on his marriage certificate “butler” for his late father’s occupation. A Dr. John Turner, in a biography, speculated that Fanque’s father “was Indian-born and had been brought to Norwich and trained as a house servant.” Other accounts have also speculated that Fanque was orphaned at a young age, and even born in a workhouse to a family with seven children.

Over the years, biographers have also disputed Fanque’s date of birth and it was Dr John Turner, again, who popularised the belief that Fanque was born in 1796, presumably based on the 14 May 1871 ‘Era’ newspaper which recorded that Fanque’s coffin bore the inscription; “AGED 75 YEARS”. Dr Turner may also have been influenced by the detail on Fanque’s gravestone, located at the base of his late wife Susannah Darby’s grave in Woodhouse Cemetery, Leeds (now St George’s Field) which reads; “Also the above named William Darby Pablo Fanque who died May 4th 1871 Aged 75 Years“.

But those who support the belief that Fanque was born earlier than 1810 should maybe take note of certain facts. Firstly, his age was recorded in the 1841, 1851 and 1871 Census’s of England as being born in 1810 – surely, not all three would be incorrect! Then, a birth register at St. Andrews Workhouse in Norwich also records the birth of a ‘William’ to John Darby and Mary Stamp at the workhouse on 1 April 1810. This is the same birth year as that on Norwich’s blue plaque (above).

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The Marriage Certificate of William Darby’s parents, John Darby and Mary Stamp who married in St Stephen’s church, Norwich on 29 March 1791. William Darby was their fifth son. Norfolk Record Office, PD 484/14.

It is particularly worth noting the marriage record of a John Darby to Mary Stamp on 29 March 1791 at St. Stephen’s, Norwich, and the records of their children; these include a John Richard on 4 Jul 1792, Robert on 27 Jul 1794, William on 28 Feb 1796, Mary Elizabeth on 18 Mar 1798, and William (again!) on 30 March 1810. Crucially, the family also had two burial records, a William on 30 April 1797 and Mary Elizabeth on 10 Feb 1801. Now, Genealogists worth their salt would know that it was quite common in families that suffered infant mortalities in the past for a later child to be given the same name as a sibling who had previously died. This was particularly true where parents wished to maintain a family name in perpetuity. These facts strongly indicate that our subject, William, (Pablo Fanque) was indeed born in 1810 – following the earlier William who had died in 1797.

Pablo Fanque (Baptism)
This is thought NOT to be the baptism record (at top) of William Darby (Pablo Fanque). Photo: via Secret Library.

William Darby became apprenticed to the circus proprietor, William Batty, around 1820, when he was about ten years old and in circumstances that biographers can only dream up. Certainly, Darby picked up the ‘bug’ of being a circus entertainer in Norwich and made his first known appearance in a sawdust ring there on December 26, 1821. He was billed as “Young Darby”; his acts including equestrian stunts and rope walking. Then, as soon as he had grown and developed into a young adult with the full range of skills that he was to became famous for, William Darby left Norwich for good and toured extensively.

It is not certain when William Darby changed his name to his professional “Pablo Fanque” identity, but certaimly in the spring of 1840 when William Batty’s Circus performed in Norwich, the bill boards included a ‘Pablo Fanque’ in the entourage. An article in the Norfolk Chronicle on 21 March 1840 stated:

‘Pablo Fanque Darby commenced the representations with his
extraordinary leaps and other gymnastic feats’.

The following year Pablo decided to set up his own circus while on tour with Batty’s circus. He started with just two horses and an assortment of acts provided by one family: a clown, “Mr. R. Hemmings and his dog, Hector,” together with “Master H Hemmings on the tightrope and Mr. E. Hemmings’ feats of balancing.” These were assembled at his establishment at Wigan, in Lancashire…. “in which county Mr. Pablo is well known, and a great favourite.” Thus started the 30 year period when Fanque ran his own successful circus, only sometimes involving partnerships with others where these were necessary. During this time he toured England, Scotland, and Ireland, but performed mostly in the Midlands and the Northern England counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire, and what is now “Greater Manchester.”

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Playbill advertising Pablo Fanque’s Circus Royal at Victoria Gardens, Norwich, December 1848. Norfolk Heritage Centre. 

Throughout the 1840s Pablo’s circus performed primarily in Yorkshire and Lancaster with occasional trips back to Norwich. However, in 1848, Pablo returned to Norwich for a more sustained period, with his ‘Circus Royal’ performing in Victoria/Ranelagh Gardens for the winter season. Pablo performed with William Batty’s Black Mare, Beda and newspaper reports of the time heavily emphasised his return to his native city:

CIRCUS, VICTORIA GARDENS. –On Saturday, the 23rd inst,. Mr Wm. Darby, professionally called Pablo Fanque, a native of Norwich, entered this city with a fine stud of horses, preceded by an excellent brass band. We hear that the performances during the week have been well attended, large numbers having gone away unable to obtain admission.

The Norfolk News, Eastern Counties Journal, and Norwich, Yarmouth and Lynn Commercial Gazette. Saturday 30 December 1848.

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An illustration of the Victoria/Ranelagh Gardens; at one time situated near St Stephens Street – opposite the present Norwich Bus Station. Image: Courtesy of Reggie Unthank.

Families flocked to his shows in their thousands, lured by exciting poster and newspaper advertisements, street parades and the stories told by those who had been held spellbound by what they had experienced. Fanque was extremely adept at conjuring together new ‘exotic’ names, acts and historical extravaganzas, which could transport poor people out of what many experienced as drab, hardworking lives into a world of imagination, colour, dangerous feats of courage, expertise and sheer fun!  His shows appealed equally to those of the higher classes.

One reason for Fanque’s success, one that often goes unremarked in circus histories, was his keen appreciation of the importance of  advertising. Among the advantages that his circus enjoyed over its numerous rivals was that it enjoyed the services of Edward Sheldon, a pioneer in the art of billposting whose family would go on to build the biggest advertising business in Britain by 1900. Fanque seems to have been among the first to recognise Sheldon’s genius, hiring him when he was just 17.  Sheldon spent the next three years as Fanque’s advance man, advertising the imminent arrival of the circus as it moved from town to town.

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A circus playbill similar to that which would have been used to advertise Batty’s circus in the spring of 1840. This playbill was used to advertise Batty’s Modern Roman Circus in Aylsham in 1849. Norfolk Record Office, MC 3/362, 477X8.

In addition to such advertising, Fanque would organise a spectacular parade to announce his arrival in town.  In some towns he would drive ‘Twelve of his most beautiful Hanoverian and Arabian Steeds’ through the principal streets, accompanied by his ‘celebrated Brass Band’.  He was also known to drive fourteen horses in hand through the streets in some places. When Pablo performed in Norwich he drew heavily on the fact that he was born in the city in order to draw the crowds to his performances. On Saturday 30 December 1848, the Norwich Mercury published the following article:

The Horseriders:
The Christmas pleasure seekers have been gratified by the appearance in Norwich of Mr. Wm. Darby’s stud of horses and equestrian company. Their location is at the Victoria Gardens, where they arrived on Saturday. Mr. Darby’s professional pantomimic is “Pablo Fanque,” but being a native of this city he has withdrawn the veil from his travelling title, and introduced himself in propria persona in terms that reach the poetic! He states that “it is with those pleasing emotions that dwell in the breast of every Englishman which, when returning to his Native City, (after years of absence) he must delight to indulge, that have induced me to issue this circular and offer these prefatory remarks. No man can appreciate the blessings of home like him who has long been absent. To grasp once more the hands of the playmates of his boyhood: to hear once more the music of the rippling brook upon whose banks he has played in childhood’s innocence: to look once more with solemn reverence upon that hallowed ground where repose the remains of his parents. It is with these impressions indelibly engraved upon my mind that I am brought back to my native city, and to solicit your and my other fellow-citizens kind support, and the amusements I have selected I hope will meet with the same approval that has rewarded my perseverance and study in other parts of the country!” Hitherto, we believe, Mr. Darby and his troupe have given the usual satisfaction which such amusements afford, and as a native of the city, if deserving, we wish him success.

Reviews of the circus performances throughout January and February 1849 praised their high character, with Pablo Fanque and his troupe continuing to draw good audiences. There is a mention to the graceful and daring equestrians, the elegant rope dancing of Mrs Mackintosh, the flexibility and agile movement of The American Brothers and excellent humour of the clowns. Pablo Fanque jun. also performed as an equestrian but is it Pablo Fanque and the ease and skill with which he rode the mare Beda in bold and daring performances which drew the greatest praise.

Even serious churchgoers sought enjoyment from a Fanque circus, whilst risking chastisement from some quarters. It was earlier in 1843, when clergy in Burnley were criticised in the Blackburn Mercury for attending performances of Fanque’s circus. This prompted one reader to respond thus:

“Ministers of religion, of all denominations, in other towns, have attended Mr. Pablo Fanque’s circus. Such is his character for probity and respectability, that wherever he has been once he can go again; aye and receive the countenance and support of the wise and virtuous of all classes of society. I am sure that the friends of temperance and morality are deeply indebted to him for the perfectly innocent recreation which he has afforded to our population, by which I am sure hundreds have been prevented from spending their money in revelling and drunkenness.”

Prior to Pablo’s appearance in Norwich in 1848, he made his highly successful London debut in 1847, under his professional name “Pablo Fanque”.

Pablo Fanque (Feature)

Describing Fanque and his performance at that debut, The Illustrated London News wrote:

“Mr. Pablo Fanque is an artiste of colour, and his steed … we have not only never seen surpassed, but never equalled … Mr. Pablo Fanque was the hit of the evening. The steed in question was Beda, the black mare that Fanque had bought from Batty. That the horse attracted so much attention was testament to Fanque’s extraordinary horse training skills.”

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This same edition of The Illustrated London News also provided an example of how contemporaries regarded Fanque’s performance:

“This extraordinary feat of the manège has proved very attractive, as we anticipated in our Journal of last week; and we have judged the success worthy of graphic commemoration. As we have already described, the steed dances to the air, and the band has not to accommodate itself to the action of the horse, as in previous performances of this kind. The grace and facility in shifting time and paces with change of the air, is truly surprising.”

Fanque was also described as a “skilful rider” and “a very good equestrian. It was the same newspaper, reporting on another performance at London’s Astleys Amphitheater, that filled in many more biographical details of Fanque:

Pablo Fanque (Poster)1

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“… Mr. William Darby, or, as he is professionally known, Mr. Pablo Fanque, is a native of Norwich, and is about 35 years of age. He was apprenticed to Mr. Batty, the present proprietor of “Astleys Amphitheater” and remained in his company several years. He is proficient in rope-dancing, posturing, tumbling etc; and is also considered a very good equestrian. After leaving Mr. Batty, he joined the establishment of the late Mr. Ducrow, and remained with him for some time before rejoining Mr. Batty.”

Pablo Fanque (Dacrow)
Andrew Ducrow rides five-in-hand during a performance of “Mazeppa”, an elaborately staged spectacle, loosely based on the life of the Cossack chief, that helped make his name. Photo: via Smithsonian Magazine.

The Beneficial Nature of Mr Fanque:
The “Benefit for Mr. Kite”, a title later to be immortalised by the 20th century’s musical Group ‘The Beatles’, was one of many benefit shows that Pablo Fanque held for performers in his own circus, for others in the profession who had no regular retirement or health benefits, and for community organisations. Fanque was, in fact, a member of the Order of Ancient Shepherds, a fraternal organisation affiliated with the Freemasons. The Order assisted families in times of illness or death with burial costs and other expenses. For example, an 1845 show in Blackburn benefitted the Blackburn Mechanics Institution and the Independent Order of Odd-fellows, offering a bonus to the Widows and Orphans Fund. Fanque held a similar benefit in Bury the following year.

Pablo Fanque (Friendly Soc.)

Then in 1857 and 1858, Fanque was again active, holding at least two benefits among other performances. In 1857, in Bradford, he held a benefit for the family of the late Tom Barry, a clown. Brenda Assael, in The Circus and Victorian Society, writes that in March 1857:

“Pablo Fanque extended the hand of friendship to Barry’s widow and held a benefit in her husband’s name at his Allied Circus in Bradford. Using the Era offices to transmit the money he earned from this event, Fanque enclosed 10 pounds worth of ‘post office orders…being the profits of the benefit. I should have been better pleased had it been more, but this was the close of a very dull season.” On 24 October 1858, The Herald of Scotland reported: “IN GLASGOW, ‘Pablo Fanque’s Cirrque Nationale’ offered ‘A Masonic Benefit.”

An 1846 a Bolton newspaper story epitomised the public’s high regard for Fanque in the communities he visited on account of his beneficence:

“Several of the members of the “Widows and Orphans Fund” presented to Mr. Pablo Fanque a written testimonial, mounted in an elegant gilt frame……..Mr. Pablo on entering the room was received with due respect. Mr. Fletcher presented an address……..which concluded:……..’and when the hoary hand of age should cease to wave over your head, at a good old age, may you sink into the grave regretted, and your name and acts of benevolence be remembered by future generations.”

Fanque’s Partnership with W. F. Wallett:
During the 1840s and 1850s, Fanque was close friends with the clown W. F. Wallett, who performed in his circus. Wallett also managed Fanque’s circus for a time. Wallett frequently promoted himself as “the Queen’s Jester”, having performed once before Queen Victoria in 1844 at Windsor Castle. He appeared regularly with Fanque’s circus and many towns throughout the north. It was during a ‘benefit’ being held for Wallett in the amphitheatre, Leeds when a balcony collapsed, killing Fanque’s wife; see below.

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W.F. Wallett

Throughout his 1870 autobiography, Wallett shares several amusing anecdotes about his work and friendship with Fanque, including the following about their 1859 engagement in Glasgow:

“ The season was a succession of triumphs. One of the principal attractions was a little Irishman whom I engaged in Dublin, who rejoiced in the name of Vilderini, one of the best posture masters the theatrical world ever produced. I engaged him for three months at a liberal salary, on the express understanding that I should shave his head, and convert him into a Chinaman. For which nationality his small eyes, pug nose, high cheek bones, and heavy mouth admirably adapted him. So his head was shaved, all but a small tuft on the top, to which a saddler with waxed twine firmly attached his celestial pig-tail. His eyebrows were shaved off, and his face, neck, and head dyed after the most admired Chinese complexion. Thus metamorphosed, he was announced on the walls as KI HI CHIN FAN FOO (Man-Spider-leg mortal).”

We had about twenty supernumeraries and the whole equestrian company in Chinese costume. Variegated lanterns, gongs, drums, and cymbals ushered the distinguished Chinaman into the ring, to give his wonderful entertainment. The effect was astonishing, and its success extraordinary. In fact the entire get-up was so well carried out that it occasioned us some annoyance. For there were two rival tea merchants in Glasgow at the time, and each of them had engaged a genuine Chinaman as touter at his door. Every night, as soon as they could escape from their groceries, they came to the circus to solicit an interview with their compatriot. After being denied many nights in succession, they peremptorily demanded to see him. Being again refused, they determined to move for the writ of habeas corpus. That is to say, they applied to the magistrate stating they believed their countryman to be deprived of his liberty except during the time of his performance. We were then compelled to produce our celestial actor, who proved to the satisfaction of the worthy magistrate that he was a free Irishman from Tipperary.”

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W.F. Wallett

Marriage and Family:
Fanque married Susannah Marlaw, the daughter of a Birmingham buttonmaker. They had two sons, one of whom was named Lionel. It was on 18th March 1848 when his wife died in Leeds at a ‘Benefit’ performance for Fanque’s friend, W F Wallett, clown. Their son was performing a tightrope act before a large crowd at the Amphitheatre at King Charles Croft. The 600 people seated in the gallery fell with its collapse, but Susannah Darby was the only fatality when heavy planks hit her on the back of the head. Reportedly, Fanque sought medical attention for his wife at the King Charles Hotel, but a surgeon pronounced her dead. Years later a 4 March 1854 edition of the Leeds Intelligencer recalled the incident, while announcing the return of Pablo Fanque’s Circus to the town:

“His last visit, preceding the present one, was unfortunately attended by a very melancholy accident. On that occasion he occupied a circus in King Charles’s Croft and part of the building gave way during the time it was occupied by a crowded audience. Several persons were more or less injured by the fall of the timbers composing the part that proved too weak, and Mrs Darby, the wife of the proprietor, was killed. This event, which occurred on Saturday the 18th March 1848, excited much sympathy throughout the borough. A neat monument with an impressive inscription is placed above the grave of Mrs Darby, in the Woodhouse Lane Cemetery.”

It is clear that widower Fanque did not waste any time in finding another wife for in June 1848, he married an Elizabeth Corker, a circus rider and daughter of George Corker of Bradford. Elizabeth was 22 years old and was to deliver two more sons to Fanque, George (1854) and Edward Charles “Ted” (1855). Both sons were to join the circus with Ted Pablo achieving acclaim as a boxer, and would tour Australia in that profession. A daughter, Caroline died at the age of 1 year and 4 months and was buried in the same plot as was for Susannah and William.

Pablo Fanque (Grave)4
A tombstone, in Edinburgh’s Warriston Cemetery, dedicated to the memory of two others of Elizabeth and Fanque’s children —William Batty Patrick Darby and Elizabeth Darby .Photo:  via 2edinburgh.

In Warriston Cemetery in Edinburgh there also stands a tombstone dedicated to the memory of two others of Elizabeth and Fanque’s children —William Batty Patrick Darby (13 months) and Elizabeth Darby (3 years). Both died in 1852 but Elizabeth, the younger, died in Tuam, Ireland. This was at a time, in the early 1850’s, when Fanque was performing regularly in Edinburgh. The inscription on the children’s tombstone is thus:

“Sacred to the Memory of
William Batty Patrick Darby son of
William and Elizabeth Darby
Professionally known as Pablo Fanque
who died 1st February 1852, Aged 13 Months
Also of Elizabeth, their Daughter
who died at Tuam Ireland 30th Oct. 1852,
Aged 3 years and 4 months”

 

It is left to the 1861 census records to reveal that Fanque was living with a woman named Sarah, aged 25, who was described as his wife! But there again, the 1871 census records show him living again with his wife Elizabeth and his two sons, in Stockport.

Death:
The successful performance years and the money enjoyed by Fanque were destined not to last beyond the 1860’s. Certainly within a couple of years of his death, Fanque was ‘insolvent’, living in a room in the Britannia Inn, 22 Churchgate, Stockport, with his wife and two sons – George and Ted Pablo. There Fanque died of bronchitis on 4 May 1871. It was a sad end for such an extraordinary man, who rose from humble beginnings in Norwich to reach the top of his profession and in a career that lasted fifty years.

Despite the apparent poor financial circumstances of his last few years, Pablo Fanque’s funeral was a spectacular occasion. One may think that, having been a member of a charitable ‘Order’ and someone who often raised money for others, help came forward to see him on his way. Certainly, his body was brought from Stockport by train and a great procession accompanied him to his resting place, watched by several thousand people.  The hearse was preceded by a band playing the ‘Dead March’ from Saul and was followed by Pablo’s favourite horse, ‘Wallett, – partially draped in mourning trappings and led by a groom’, four mourning coaches, and several cabs and private vehicles.  Pablo was buried with his first wife in Woodhouse Lane Cemetery, Leeds. Ahead of the funeral procession to the cemetery was a band playing the “Dead March”. Fanque’s favourite horse followed, along with four coaches and mourners. Fanque was buried next to his first wife Susannah Darby. The Cemetery is now named St. George’s Field and part of the University of Leeds campus. While the remains of many of the 100,000 graves and monuments have been relocated, the monument that Fanque erected in his wife’s memory, and a smaller modest monument in his memory still stands.

Pablo Fanque (Grave)1

Pablo Fanque (Grave)3

While some contemporary reports did not refer to Fanque’s African ancestry, other reports noted that he was “a man of colour“, or “a coloured gentleman”, or “an artiste of colour.” These suggest he was of mixed race with partial European ancestry as well. Thirty years after Fanque’s death, the chaplain of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, Reverend Thomas Horne, wrote:

“In the great brotherhood of the equestrian world there is no colour line for, although Pablo Fanque was of African extraction, he speedily made his way to the top of his profession. The camaraderie of the ring has but one test – ability.”

Thomas Horne was commenting on Fanque’s success in Victorian England despite being of mixed race.

For all the charitable qualities possessed by Fanque, he was far from perfect. Apart from the apparent eye he seemed to have for the ladies, there was a less savoury side to him that should not be forgotten if a sense of balance is to be maintained.

Pablo Fanque (Portrait)
Pablo Fanque.

Fanque, at best, seemed to have also been an irritable man, if not violent. In 1847, he attacked a James Henderson, not the J. Henderson on the playbill by the way! James Henderson was an employee who, although taking Fanque to court, the matter was settled without full legal recourse. – “He [Henderson] was unable to keep the horse quiet, and thereupon the defendant, after one or two somewhat uncivil expressions of disapprobation, threw the comb and brush at him (complainant), and then (probably from the force of association) began ‘kicking’ at his legs. — John Leach and James Geary confirmed the complainant’s account …” – (Blackburn Standard – 13 October 1847 p.3.).

Another assault took place in 1849. – “CHESTERFIELD PETTY SESSIONS, SATURDAY, JULY 28. Pablo Fanque Darby, the proprietor of a travelling equestrian establishment, was charged with assaulting John Wright, of Walton, at Baslow, on the proceeding day.” – (Derbyshire Courier – 04 August 1849 p.2.)

However, a chronic problem with Fanque was that he was not good at keeping the finances straight. Nelson had a financial dispute over wages with him in April 1858 which went to court but by October 1858 Fanque had been made bankrupt and in June 1859 was refused protection from bankruptcy, owing £2765 with assets of £165. It turned out that Fanque had fooled everyone into thinking he was “the owner of a large equestrian establishment”, but had in fact sold his business to William Batty some years before and hired it back. A creditor claimed that this sale was fraudulent and although the commissioner found that

“the transactions with Battye……..were of a singular character, and calculated to arouse suspicion………nothing fraudulent had been proved before him”. Even the fact that he had kept no books did not in law “call for punishment”.

However, a charge of perjury was more serious for it was claimed that Fanque had sworn an affidavit that the circus was worth £1000 when it had been previously purchased by Batty for £500. “Unfortunately for the bankrupt’s character, it was too clear that the the affidavit was intended to deceive. The statement that the establishment was worth £1000, and was his property, was entirely untrue … the bankrupt had shown that no reliance could be placed on his word”. – (Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser – 4 June 1859)

Even after his death in May 1871, his propensity not to be honest with regard to the way he handled his debts caused problems for others. John Walker, a juggler in his circus had lent him £5, which he required to be repaid, but Pablo had died suddenly. As a result he sued Elizabeth Darby, his widow and administratrix of the estate. As a result, Elizabeth’s barrister in the case, “asserted that the defendant had not a rag, her husband having died hopelessly insolvent. Sometime before his death, the deceased assigned every particle of his property, in consideration of a sum of £150 lent to him by a Mr. Knight, of Manchester, who had now taken possession of everything”.  – (Huddersfield Chronicle – 13 May 1871 p.8.) In order to settle the case, her barrister paid the £5 out of his own pocket.

Legacy:
There you have it! – the ‘not so complete tale’ of Pablo Fanque’s life. However, like with most lives and events legacies remain. In Pablo Fanque’s case, his name was almost forgotten, that is until it became immortalised in the mid part of the 20th century, on the Beatles’ album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – in the song, ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’.  The words of that song had been lifted by John Lennon from an advertising poster for Fanque’s Royal Circus in Rochdale, in 1843, which Lennon had spotted in an antique shop in Sevenoaks, Kent:

img_3003
John Lennon with that Poster!

“For the benefit of Mr. Kite/There will be a show tonight on trampoline/ The Hendersons will all be there/ Late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair – what a scene/ Over men and horses, hoops and garters/ Lastly through a hogshead of real fire!/ In this way Mr. K will challenge the world!”

Lennon bought the poster while shooting a promotional film for the song, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, in Knole Park. Tony Bramwell, a former Apple Records employee, recalled:

“There was an antique shop close to the hotel we were using in Sevenoaks. John and I wandered in and John spotted this Victorian circus poster and bought it.” The poster advertises a performance in Rochdale and announces the appearance of “Mr. J. Henderson, the celebrated somerset thrower” and “Mr. Kite” who is described as “late of Wells’s Circus.” Lennon modifies the language, singing instead, “The Hendersons will all be there/Late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair/What a scene!”

The title “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” is taken verbatim from the poster. The Mr. Kite referenced in the poster was William Kite, who is believed to have performed in Fanque’s circus from 1843 to 1845. As for “Mr. J. Henderson”, he was John Henderson, a wire-walker, equestrian, trampoline artist, and clown. While the poster made no mention of “Hendersons” plural, as Lennon sings, John Henderson did perform with his wife Agnes, the daughter of circus owner Henry Hengler. The Hendersons performed throughout Europe and Russia during the 1840s and 1850s.

img_2977
The Beatles. Pic: AP Photo/Robert Freeman- Copyright Apple Corps Ltd

 THE END

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Fanque
William Darby in Norwich and Leeds: Life and Death
Davies, Gareth HH, Pablo Fanque and the Victorian Circus, Poppyland Publishing, 2017.
William Darby and the Ghosts of the Past
https://peterowensteward.weebly.com/pablo-fanque.html
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-31/being-for-the-benefit-of-mr-kite-story-behind-beatles-song/8204080
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/pablo-fanques-fair-71575787/

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The Actress With ‘Lustre and Effect’!

We are in the centre of Norwich, in that part of St Peter Mancroft’s churchyard that sits on the north side the Church. This half the whole churchyard, which extends on both sides of the church, is the larger and does not seem to suffer the unfavourable associations that the northern side of church graveyards usually have to put up with. It is the side which is the nearest to the market place and divided by a path which allows visitors to enter the church through the northern side door.

sophia ann goddard (st peter mancroft)1
St Peter Mancroft Church, Norwich, Norfolk. The tomb on which the following inscription appears is to the left of the church, behind the railings and under the trees. Photo: Haydn Brown 2019.

Here is an ‘altar’ styled tomb – in fact the only tomb in the whole of the Church’s churchyard still standing upright and proud; most other headstones have long been laid flat at ground level. This particular tomb is a finely carved family sort of tomb, one of those big box-shaped ones now, in the present-day, being slowly destroyed by moss and the constant weathering from the trees that overhang it. At one end, facing full on to the path that takes visitors into the church, is an inscription which refers to the main family member, that of John Harrison Yallop. At the other end of the tomb, facing the Forum, is an oval cartouche, within which is the following inscription:

This Stone
is dedicated to the
Talents and Virtues of
Sophia Ann Goddard
who died
15th March 1801 aged 25
The Former shone with superior
Lustre and Effect
in the great School of Morals,
THE THEATRE,
while the Latter
inform’d the private Circle of Life
with Sentiment, Taste, and Manners
that still live in the memory
Of Friendship and
Affection.

(Photos above: Haydn Brown 2019.)

This inscription is intriguing, it suggests that there is a real story hereabouts; maybe there are several stories, all interlinked one would assume. In the absence of any facts to the contrary, it must be assumed that Miss Goddard’s remains found their way into this Yallop family tomb shortly after her funeral in 1801; John Yallop followed thirty-four years later when it might have been previously arranged that he would rejoin Sophia there. As to answering the question as to why she, a Goddard, would join these family members; well, at the time of her death she had been betrothed to John Harrison Yallop.

sophia ann goddard (mary yallop)
Mrs Nathaniel Bolingbroke (nee Mary Yallop) (1760-1833) by Joseph Clover. Norfolk Museums Service; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/mrs-nathaniel-bolingbroke-nee-mary-yallop-17601833-1174

One thing needs to be agreed between writers on the subject of whether this is a Yallop or Bolingbroke tomb! This article favours it being a Yallop family tomb, despite references to the Bolingbroke name. Mary Yallop, John’s sister married Nathaniel Bolingbroke and both are there – John does speak of ‘his brother-in-law Nathaniel Bolingbroke’ at some later date. The other references to the Bolingbroke name are two older members – so, the matter is debateable! The other point is, that with the exception of John Yallop, nowhere does it say that the others are ‘buried’ in the tomb; the inscriptions are headed simply ‘In Memory’; the exception to this heading is, of course, the notable inscription dedicated to the young actress with whom John Harrison Yallop fell in love.

Strange therefore that there is no reference on the tomb to John Yallop’s wife of some fourteen years, Mary Ann Yallop (nee’ Watts) who died in 1833 – two years before her husband. Not so strange when we discover that, their marriage, in 1819, became an empty relationship. In 1820 John completed building his fine house at Eaton Grange but he did not live much there. More oddly still, his wife did not live there either. In the words of R.H. Mottram, in his book The Speaking Likeness:

“He bought a neighbouring property and installed her in it, either from some deep emptiness that she, good if ordinary woman as she must have been – or why did he marry her? – could never fill. She died while he was in his sixties, so that her separate establishment cannot have been a mere provision made for her widowhood. He himself migrated to Brighton where he died in June 1835……”

From this, we could reach the understandable assumption that the information detailed on her husband’s grave, in St Peter Mancroft’s churchyard, shows that John Harrison Yallop never lost the love he had for Sophia Ann Goddard. Also, it would seem to indicate that he preferred to be accompanied in the afterlife with those he felt the most closest to on earth. Sophia Ann Goddard was the strongest contender for this distinction since the inscription dedicated to her is an affectionate reminder of his love for this actress – the wording would clearly suggest so!

sophia ann goddard 1776-1801(photo. john seymour)
Sophia Ann Goddard (1776-1801) by John Thirtle. Photo: John Seymour

Sophia Ann Goddard was born in 1776, her parents were Florimond and Sophia Goddard, of whom nothing more is known. It may not be safe to suggest that Miss Goddard was educated and brought up in south eastern area of England but she did make her first stage appearance at Margate, Kent in July 1797 at twenty-one years of age. Within a month of her debut, the Monthly Mirror reported from Margate that:

“A Miss Goddard, about whom the papers have been very busy, has played several characters with some promise; but her friends have certainly over-rated here talents”

sophia ann goddard (theatre royal_margate 1787)
The Theatre Royal, Margate which opened in 1787. This was where Sophia Ann Goddard made her stage debute. Photo: (c) Ian Gardy? – see photograph.

By the 10th November 1797 it had been announced from Margate that Miss Goddard had made her first appearance in London as Laetitia Hardy in Mrs Centlivre’s ‘The Belle’s Stratagem’ at Dury Lane Theatre, a role which she was to repeat with much success in Norwich in a later year. London was enthusiastic, the critics less so according to the Monthly Mirror of November of that year, declaring:

“This young lady has fallen sacrifice to the art of puffing. She has been placed at the head of the school before she has imbibed the rudiments of knowledge………….[her talents were] “not of a primary nature”

sophia ann goddard (drury lane)

Evidently, the Dury Lane Theatre management agreed with the newspaper, for her next performance of Letitia Hardy, on the 14th November 1797, was her last appearance in a London theatre. Undaunted, according to a much later provincial newspaper, Sophia Ann returned to Margate to continue her desire for success with determination. She appeared to be nothing, if not, a trier and was soon making progress – all be it the hard way:

“Puppy teeth were cut, experience gained while her talents pointed for the first tune, with certainty, at a capability that extended far beyond mere good looks and a pleasing personality”.

Within the year, the Monthly Mirror itself was forced to admit that “Miss Goddard, about whom the papers have been very busy, played several characters with promise”. By December 1798 she had chosen Norwich where she first secured lodgings with a Mrs Curtis of St Gregory’s parish; the same lodgings which had been used by another famous actress, Mrs Sarah Siddons (nee’ Kemble) in 1788. Sophia Ann then joined the ‘stock company’ of actors and actresses at the Theatre Royal; and it was here where she soon became a popular and favourite actress, particulary amongst the County’s gentry. It was also said at the time that she was ‘a particularly graceful dancer’ as well. But it was for her acting that Miss Goddard received most admiration. Her acting of Portia in ‘The Merchant of Venice‘ was particularly well received, whilst it was reported of her performance in Jane Shore by the Norwich Mercury on 12th January, 1799:

“Miss Goddard to greater advantage that we ever remember to have seen her. The last scene was given to such effect that she loses nothing by comparison with Mrs Siddons, whom we recollect in the same character.”

sophia ann goddard (theatre royal)3

For the next sixteen months, or so, life appeared to be full for Sophia Ann. She the leading feminine ‘box-office draw’ and playing all the stock leads of the day, often opposite John Brunton, the celebrated actor-manager who, incidently, was a Norwich born man who was to create a family acting dynasty of his own. Sophia Ann also combined her career at the Norwich Theatre Royal with other theatres included on the East Anglia Circuit; all this along with socialising with her many friends and admirers, one of whom was the 38 year-old John Harrison Yallop.

sophia ann goddard (the walk)
In the Georgian era these were some of the shops that were located from the corner of London Street (then Cockey Lane) along Gentlemans’s Walk. John Harrison Yallop was in partnership in the firm of Dunham & Yallop, goldsmiths which was placed to the right of this picture, on the the corner of Davey Place.

It could well be assumed, from the inscription that ultimately appeared on John Yallop’s grave, that he became besotted with Miss Goddard. One can imagine him rushing round to the stage door after one particular and early performance by Sophia Ann, in an attempt to persuade the person in charge of the Stage Door to allow him admission so that he could ‘introduce’ himself. The ploy must have worked because the two were soon engaged with plans to marry. Unfortunately, time would reveal all too soon that Miss Goddard was not only ill, but her health was deteriorating fast. She died of consumption on the 15th March 1801 at the age of only 25 years. This brought an abrupt end to the couple’s relationship and she would miss out on a marriage to someone who was an ‘up and  coming’ man of distinction in Norwich; someone who would become rich and, in some ways, a powerful influence in local and national politics.

sophia ann goddard (yallop)3
Sir John Harrison Yallop (1763–1835), Kt Joseph Clover (1779–1853)
Norfolk Museums Service

Unlike Miss Goddard, John Harrison Yallop had been born in the City of Norwich, the son of William Yallop who was a ‘Glover’. It is unclear, whether it was before or after Miss Goddard’s death, when John Yallop became a partner in the firm of Dunham & Yallop, goldsmiths which was situated on the corner of Davey Place and The Walk. Sir John had a house in Willow Lane, just off St Giles and a short walk from the shop opposite the market place where the business traded in jewellery, precious metals and stones. Having been appointed an agent for the Government Lottery of that day, the shop also sold its tickets to subscribers. On one occasion, so the story goes, John Yallop had two tickets left, one he returned, the other he bought – and won! With the proceeds, which was considerable, he built himself the fine country house, Eaton Grange, on the Newmaket Road in 1820 – the same house mentioned above and where he seldom lived. It is now a Girl’s High School.

sophia ann goddard (yallop home 1820)
95 Eaton Grove, Newmarket Rd, Norwich; built in 1820 for Sir John Harrison Yallop. Photo: 1989 George Plunkett.

John Yallop and his partner were to branch out into selling tea, coffee and cocoa and advertised these and every other commodity which they held on their premises – they called them ‘comestibles’. From their well positioned shop, on the Gentleman’s Walk, they formed a good connection with the public that purchased for the household. It was also on the ‘Walk’ where the gentlemen would rather pass up and down on the shop side so as to avoid the clamour and soiled pavements of the market stalls. JohnYallop also became an important money lender in Norwich; one of his debtors included his brother-in-law Nathaniel Bolingbroke, the very one who married Mary, his sister. It is interesting to note that when debtors were imprisoned at the suit of a money lender, that creditor was responsible for paying for the upkeep of the debtor. Records show that John Yallop paid for the upkeep of an unnamed imprisoned debtor. One wonders who that was?

Four years after Miss Goddard’s death, John Yallop was elected to the position of Sheriff of Norwich in 1805 and again in 1809, so he was on his way up both socially and professionally and politically. Then in 1815 he attained the public office of Mayor; it was also around this time that he met a Mary Ann Watts and married her in 1819 before he was again elected as Mayor in 1831. While he was Mayor, back in 1815, he travelled to London with his ‘brother-in-law Nathaniel Bolingbroke’ to present the City’s petition in favour of Parliamentary Reform to King William IV; this resulted in John Yallop being awarded a Knighthood. At the time it was said to have been quite an event which resulted in an amusing ditty being written which began:

“To the King, the Blues wished to present an address
By the Mayor – and their sense of reform to express”

The ditty goes on to describe how the Mayor and “Old Natty” coached to London, each hoping for a knighthood – but only one received it!

sophia ann goddard (yallop)1
An inscription on John Harrison’s memorial which is on the inside northern wall of St Peter Mancroft Church, Norwich.

sophia ann goddard (yallop)2

As for Sophia Ann Goddard, she died on the 15th March 1801 and was buried on 20th in the churchyard of St Peter Mancroft Church, which was very close to the theatre. in Norwich. The burial register identified her as a single woman from the Parish of St Stephens. Her Obituary in the Gentleman’s Magazine of March 1801 reported that:

“15th March: Died in St Stephen’s Parish, Norwich, Miss Sophia Ann Goddard, who came forward with so much success at Dury Lane Theatre a few years ago. This lady obtained a considerable reputation on the Norwich stage, and was so much improved in theatrical merit that her talents would doubless have soon made their way to a secure establishment on the London boards. Her figure was elegant, her understanding excellent, her manners were amiable and her character in all respects was highly meritorious. She was in the prime of life, and promised more than any other performer now on the stage to suceed to that line of character which was so admirably sustained by the present Countess of Derby [Elizabeth Farren]“. “

The officiating Vicar of Miss Goddard’s funeral was the Reverend Peele who, pronounced the last sad but dignified sentences of her burial service before the slow, muted procession emerged on its short journey to the chosen plot on the northern edge of the church where she would be put to rest. There doesn’t appear to have been any definite mention of John Harrison Yallop being present at the time, but surely, as the main mourner it would have been inconceivable that he would be absent. It could also be imagined that he would have walked in procession alongside Mr Hindes, the theatre manager now that John Brunton was no longer in charge. They would have been joined by the actors of the day, such as Mr and Mrs Chestnut, Mrs Rivett, Mr George Bennett and his wife Harriet Morland, the daughter of an ancient family in Westmorland (parents: Jacob Morland of Killington, Dorothy Brisco of Kendal, and sister, Lady Shackerley of Somerford Hall). Both were actors in the Norwich Company of Comedians. Then there may have been Mr Lindoe.

sophia ann goddard 1776-1801(photo. john seymour)
A final reminder of Sophia Ann Goddard, Actress (1776-1801) and said to be painted by John Thirtle. Photo: John Seymour

FOOTNOTE: The small portrait of Miss Sophia Ann Goddard, said to be by John Thirtle, was reproduced in a St Peter Mancroft publication in the 1950’s, namely the St Peter Mancroft Celebratory Programme for 1455 to 1955. The present location of that portrait, which perhaps at one time belonged John Harrison Yallop, and the Bolingbroke family, is unknown.

The final words here are left to R H Mottram, a great nephew of John Harrison Yallop. He wrote in his book ‘The Speaking Likeness’:

“But there is something else which has made me want to tell this true story, with such filling-in of the gaps that local history does not scruple to leave in a local record. The story of John Harrison Yallop and his Sophia might well be dismissed as an ordinary, pretty tragedy making its limited appeal, too usual in its features to be noteworthy. But, it is not like that at all, and Sophia’s very pathetic demise happens to make all the difference”.

What was it that took place, once the brief [burial] ceremony just outside the porch of the Church of St Peter Mancroft was concluded? John Harrison Yallop turned away, sorrowful enough, heartbroken one may well believe, when one gazes at the miniature of a beautiful young woman, her appearance enhanced by the training in presentation she had received. Some friend, or member of the family that surrounded him, one hopes took his arm and led him home”.

When next you are near St Peter Mancroft in Norwich, go to that tomb on the northern side of the church. Pause, look and imagine as to what really transpired during the all too brief relationship between a provincial businessman come politician and a young, beautiful actress.

THE END

Sources:
St Peter Mancroft Celebratory Programme 1455-1955 which includes an article on Sophia Ann Goddard from the Eastern Daily Press and reproduced “by kind permission of the Editor and the Author” – supplied by Mrs Barbara Miller of St Peter Mancroft.
A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers & Other Stage Personnel in London 1660-1800, Volume 6: Garrick to Gyngell,
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=gNMcx7IQvSUC&pg=PA245&lpg=PA245&dq=Florimond+and+Sophia+Goddard&source=bl&ots=eJMYorU7cQ&sig=xJ3EJXmTidJ6Bkyh8GSo5n46zGg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjUtYW9odffAhUoURUIHbybBtAQ6AEwC3oECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=Florimond%20and%20Sophia%20Goddard&f=false
http://www.norwich-heritage.co.uk/monuments/John%20Harrison%20Yallop/John%20Yallop.shtm
https://billiongraves.com/grave/John-Harrison-Yallop/2056815
https://secure.theatreroyalnorwich.co.uk/Online/default.asp?doWork::WScontent::loadArticle=Load&BOparam::WScontent::loadArticle::article_id=F1DCA31C-5488-47B3-9480-99AF0226DD18
Mottram, R.H., The Speaking Likeness, Hutchinson & Co Ltd, 1967.
http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/5F7qT1K38vHKSnYjTLr7kjn/sarah-siddons-visits-the-norwich-theatre-royal
Photo: Feature Heading: John Sell Cotman’s evocative painting of Norwich Market-place (c.1809) © Tate Gallery no 5636.
George Plunkett photograph by kind permission of Jonathan Plunkett.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE2

A Norfolk Lad’s Rise From Soap To Stage!

John Brunton was born in Norwich, Norfolk on the 10th Norwich 1741. He was the son of John Brunton, a soap maker said to have come from a Scottish family which claimed to have descended from James II of Scotland!

The baby joined 30,000 other inhabitants, the number of which contributed to making Norwich of that time England’s largest inland town and, after London, its second city. Some people in the City were prospering from the relatively new textile industry which was expanding, only to reach its zenith of prosperity before the end of the 18th century, at which point it increasingly declined. Before then, however, the vast majority of Norwich’s population continued to be housed inside Norwich’s medieval walls, despite this prosperity and that of other supporting industries and trades. This meant that a great deal of renovation of old properties was going on around John’s unfamiliar home, his father’s business and Norwich at large.

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Norwich Marketplace (Robert Dighton, 1799). Photo: Public Domain.

The number of wealthy merchants with the finances to do this, and particularly to build their grand homes, was continuing to grow in tandum with the ready money available; other industries emerged and developed on the back of this wealth. Examples were the well-established quarries in the areas of Ber Street, Rosary Road and Earlham prospered in support of the building boom. Several breweries were established to satisfy demand; one such name was to be the Anchor Brewery in Coslany Square. Norwich society also embarked upon a programme of civic building. This included the construction of everything from Bethel Hospital, founded in 1713, to pleasure gardens like ‘The Wilderness’ which was just inside the city walls east of Bracondale and overlooking King Street. The Gardens was said to have had a ‘grand piece of machinery’…….splendid clockwork sheep! As one local historian reported proudly about the textile industry:

“By their Industry and ready Invention, the Norwich Manufacturers have acquired prodigious Wealth in the Art of Weaving, by making such variety of Worsted Stuffs, in which they have excelled all other Parts of the Kingdom; which Trade is now in a flourishing Condition.”

But the Brunton family were only to be involved on the fringes of the textile industry, supplying soap. John (junior) less so, but he came from strong stock and was able to withstand the City’s smallpox plague of 1747. He was also fortunate enough to be born into a home supported by income from a soap-making business, making for at least a comfortable existence – thanks to the numerous wealthy families in and around Norwich who own the textile businesses and could afford to wash and bathe using Mr John Brunton’s product. In providing this valuable service to the rich it would be incumbent on him to be an ‘upright citizen’, one who would pay his taxes, taxes which probably had been legislated for or supported by Norfolk’s aristocracy and landed gentry – the very people served by Mr John Brunton!

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Mid 18th Century Soap Making: Photo: Public Domain.

John Brunton (senior), like all the other soap makers in Norwich, of which there were several, paid a very high tax levy on the soap they manufactured for the silk, woollen, linen, and cotton manufacturers, as well as for domestic purposes, and the way in which the law was worded effectively meant that soap production had to be in batches of no less than one ton. The annals say that the pans used to make soap had to be locked at night by the tax collector to ensure that no illegal production could take place ‘after hours’.  Soap was, apart from servicing other types of manufacturing, regarded as a luxury item and wasn’t in common use until the mid-1800’s, long after John Brunton junior had himself died!

Young Brunton’s formative years were not documented, but it is known that when he was ‘of age’ he attended a grammar school – which one, we can only guess! However, given the family’s apparent situation and its location within Norwich, it is reasonable to suppose that young John Brunton received his early schooling at the Norwich Grammar School ( as it was known at the time); this school was situated next to Norwich Cathedral. It was the one school, at that time, which offered free places to ‘Norwich citizens’. The only other schools which offered similar standards, some with boarding facilities, were outside the city walls, at Hingham and Wymondham; much further away were schools at Holt, Swaffam and North Walsham – all probably too far to travel to. Yet, the Norwich Grammar School had connections with the Cathedral and we are told that, as time went on and as part of his education, John was placed into the care of a Reverend James Wilton, Prebendary of Bristol Cathedral until his formal education was completed. Importantly, in the context of this story, nothing is known about Brunton’s personal interests outside of family and education, certainly nothing specific about any interest he may have had in acting. Well, it seems a safe bet that, given the path that he did take from the moment he completed an apprenticeship and set up a business in London’s Dury Lane thereafter, his thoughts and heart may well have been in the theatre whilst he was growing up in Norwich.

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The White Swan Inn, Norwich, first home of the Norwich Company of Comedians and headquarters of all their circuit activities. Norfolk County Libraries.

The seeds of this interest could well have been planted during the course of his formal education and if so, would have been strengthen by him visiting whatever theatrical venues and events took place in Norwich at the time. Venues such as the White Swan Inn, known as the White Swan Playhouse since 1731 and refurbished in 1747 due to its popularity. There was the Norwich Company of Comedians who were based at the White Swan, but also toured other towns in East Anglia. The Assembly Rooms opened in 1755 and the City’s ‘New Theatre’, near Chapel Field in 1757/58. In the same year, the Norwich Company of Comedians moved into the New Theatre from The White Swan Playhouse and made it new headquarters from where they continued touring. The New Theatre’s opening play in 1758 was “The Way of the World” (by William Congreve) which young Brunton could well have seen. Surely, all that was on offer in Norwich at that time would have been enough to ‘wet the appetite’ of any aspiring actor?

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A Sketch of the Norwich New Theatre which opened in 1758. The Norwich Company of Comedians moved there from The White Swan Playhouse, making it their new headquarters from where they toured towns in the Eastern Counties. The theatre’s name changed to the Theatre Royal in 1768. Norfolk County Libraries.

As it was, no sooner had John Brunton completed his formal education at Norwich, than his father directed him into a seven-year apprenticeship with a wholesale grocer; some say this was in Norwich, others suggest that it was with a wholesale grocer based in Drury Lane, London! Whatever was the case, given the possiblity that he already held an interest in acting, then the lure of the theatre on his future London doorstep would have been the real turning point in his ambitions. Once his apprenticeship was finished, he did set himself up as a tea-dealer and grocer in Drury Lane, London.

” The Drama had long floated in his imagination, superior to the produce of the East and West Indies”
(Annonymous – ‘Green Room Book)

It was during his early years as a grocer in Drury Lane when he met and soon married a young lady by the name of Miss Elizabeth Friend. Whilst some have said that she was the daughter of a Norwich mercer, or cloth merchant another, by the name of William Dunlap, was quoted as saying that Miss Friend came from Bristol! No matter, this story is about young John Brunton who, after his marriage, continued nurturing his plan to enter the acting professtion; this ran alongside the arrival of his children, the first of whom was William, born in 1767 at his parent’s home in Dury Lane. 

The next arrival was daughter Anne in 1769, also at Drury Lane; a time when John was regulary visiting the London theatres with the aim, not only to enjoy the performances, but probably to promote his acting talents in the hope that eventually he would be given the opportunity to enter the profession. Certainly, within a very short time, he had made friends with a Mr. J. Younger who was the prompter at the Covent Garden Theatre. This friendship encouraged Brunton to present to Younger a ‘specimen of his skills’ which resulted in the prompter also encouraging him to grab the first opportunity. Brunton, undoubtedly took note and had to work hard but in April 1774, he was persuaded to appear in a performance of Cyrus for Younger’s ‘Benefit’, Brunton taking the title role for which he was announced only as “A Gentleman”. Several weeks later, on the 3rd May 1774, he played ‘Hamlet’ at the same theatre for a ‘Benefit’ performance for Mr and Mrs Kniverton; on that occasion, Brunton was announced as “the young gentleman who played Cyrus”. It was at this point in his life, when he had achieved his first taste of real success, that he gave up his business as a tea-dealer and grocer in Drury Lane.

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Old Drury Lane. Photo: Public Domain.

Further children came along at the time when Brunton was being considered as a talented actor of Shakespearean roles. They were Elizabeth in 1771, Sophia in 1773 and John Robert in 1775 – all born at the Brunton’s new address at St Martins-in-the- Fields, Westminster. But, no sooner had the most recent baby John arrived when, in 1775, father decided to return to to his home city of Norwich to live and to perform. Here, Harriet was born – on the 23rd December 1778. By 1780 John Brunton was the father of six children and established as one of Richard Griffith’s (the manager) leading actors; also, a popular man with his fellow actors. John Bernard said of him “our leading tragedian and one of the best Shylocks I have ever seen” . Then, at the pinacle of his Norwich acting career in 1780, Brunton and his family decided to pack their posessions and move to Bath for the next five years. It was at Bath where Louisa was born in the February of 1785.

It was also whilst the Brunton family was living in Bath that another story found its roots – the beginings to Anne Brunton’s own acting career. She, as the reader will remember, was John Brunton’s first daughter and made her 1785 stage debut at Bristol, at the tender age of 16 years. According to “The Secret History of the Green Room (1790)”, Anne Brunton was regarded “as a slutish, indolent girl” by members of the Bath Theatre who thought that she, at her stage debut in Bristol in Febuary 1785, would be “humbled“. Instead, she acted with “unqualified success”. Soon after, on the 17th February 1785, she made her Bath debut where John Brunton went on before her to speak. He expressed his “trepidation at offering his daughter to the stage” and promised:

“If your applause give sanction to my aim
And this night’s effort promise future fame,
She shall proceed – but if some bar you find,
And that my fondness made my judgement blind,
Discern no voice, no feeling, she possess,
Nor fire that can the passion well express;
Then, then for ever, shall she quit this scene,
Be the plain housewife, not the Tragic Queen.”

Anne Brunton must have been somewhat burdened with those words and the fact that ‘gossip’ had circulated beforehand regarding what some at Bath thought were Anne’s shortcomings. Her response was to perform with a show of “self-confidence and grace that one would expect from a more experienced performer”. Anne drew “thunderous applause” – and was to go on to greater things in both London and later in America.

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This depicts Anne Brunton in her role of Euphrasia in Murphy’s sentimental tragedy “The Grecian Daughter”. Photo: (c) British Museum.

The following year, the Brunton family returned to Norwich and in 1788, John Brunton took over the Norwich Company of Comedians, leading it through its most stable and profitable years. The reason for his appointment was that his predecessor, Giles Barrett, approached the Theatre Royal’s proprietors in 1788, asking for the remaining five years of the lease to be transferred to Brunton. Apparently, the formal hand-over of the Norwich, Colchester, Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds and Yarmouth theatre’s took place on the 1st November – on the road between Colchester and Ipswich. Brunton then returned to Norwich and when he addressed the audience, at the opening of his first season as the theatre’s manager on News Year’s day 1789, he received almost raptuous applause.

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The Pit Door. Photo: © Trustees of the British Museum

This marked the start of the most succesful decade in the history of the East Anglian theatre, when Brunton’s personal standing was high. He was also fortunate in having good quality actors and he, in return, had their interests at heart. He instituted the Norwich Theatrical Fund in 1791 “for the relief of sick and decayed actors who have been members of the Norwich Company” and gave them an annual benefit. This scheme replaced a similar one which was set up by the previous manager, Richard Griffin, in 1772. By 1799, Brunton’s company, included Sophia Ann Goddard, Joseph Inchbald, Blanchard, Bennett, Beachem, Dwyer, Wordsworth, Taylor, Lindoe and Seymour. It was a prosperous time and benefits were paid out to his actors. It was also Brunton’s last year as manager; having decided not to renew his lease.

Brunton relinquished his position in 1800, the same year when the Theatre Royal was remodelled by William Wilkins, a local builder and architect who entirely rebuilt the theatre’s interior, leaving only the outer walls unchanged. The refurbished theatre reopened barely seven months before its Sophia Ann Goddard, an apparently charming lady and a most promising actress, died on 15th March 1801, at the age of 25 years. Her body was buried in a tomb in the St. Peter Mancroft graveyard. At the time of her death she was betrothed to a relative of the Bolingbrokes – John Harrison Yallop of Norwich. The inscription on the tomb still reads, “The former shone with superior lustre and effect in the Great School of Morals, the Theatre, while the latter inform’d the private circle of Life with Sentiment, Taste, and Manners that still live in the Memory of Friendship and Affection.” No mention was made of John Brunton being at her funeral, but his replacement manager John Clayton Hindes was, along with members of the Theatre Royal. It was in 1811, when John Brunton and his wife moved to Berkshire to be near Louisa their daughter. John Brunton died in July of 1825 at the age of eighty-four years.

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John Brunton (1741-1822) Painted circa. 1780, apparently, by an artist of the Reynolds school. Norwich Theatre Royal.

FOOTNOTE:
So far, we have told as much as we know about the theatre actor and manager John Brunton. All that is now left to do is to round off his story by giving a particular mention to his wife, Elizabeth, who seems not to have acted and was blessed with fourteen children – her last child, Richard, was born on the 26th June 1789. Some of her children evidently died young. Certainly, William the first child died and was buried at St Pauls Church, Covent Garden on 17th November 1778. From those that did survive, six had stage careers of varying success and lengths. Initially, John Brunton did not intend for any of them to perform on the stage. Then, at the time when the family lived in Bath, his wife took on the responsibility of educating their children with John also spending many hours reading stories to them. He also taught his eldest daughter Anne, (1769 – 1808) to read Shakespeare aloud as part of her preparation for becoming a Governess. It was whilst doing this that he identified her talent for acting and arranged for her to go on stage at the tender age of fifteen years.

Hopefully, more can be said later about the acting dynasty nurtured by John Burton, a dynasty which graced the stage in the 18th and 19th centuries in both England and also the United State of America.

TO BE CONTINUED

Sources so far:
http://www.penelopejcorfield.co.uk/PDF’s/CorfieldPdf26_Norwich-on-the-Cusp.pdf
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=5A4EHRa1dfcC&pg=PA64&lpg=PA64&dq=%22john+Brunton%22++actor&source=bl&ots=IUhDIw474P&sig=SQz0zhxhk0MIgtyT080v9K1FRNw&hl=en&sa=X&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=%22john%20Brunton%22&f=false
http://www.oxforddnb.com/search?q=john+brunton&searchBtn=Search&isQuickSearch=true https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=cS6x-tsbNZEC&pg=PA376&lpg=PA376&dq=brunton+18th+century+soap+maker+norwich&source=bl&ots=6zpLr1ojgO&sig=ONW0yc7WtR4rBPWVBIPKMa7xSnU&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi11PHy9ejfAhU6UxUIHaA_AaAQ6AEwC3oECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=brunton%2018th%20century%20soap%20maker%20norwich&f=false
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=zdpUAAAAcAAJ&pg=PT35&lpg=PT35&dq=brunton+18th+century+soap+maker+norwich&source=bl&ots=k5IqJ9hZOZ&sig=mJD3RfEdmOXfEDg5A1yL9i5Ftj8&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi11PHy9ejfAhU6UxUIHaA_AaAQ6AEwDnoECAcQAQ#v=onepage&q=brunton%2018th%20century%20soap%20maker%20norwich&f=false
https://digital.library.illinois.edu/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&q=anne+brunton
https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/5F7qT1K38vHKSnYjTLr7kjn/sarah-siddons-visits-the-norwich-theatre-royal

COPYRIGHT NOTICE2

A Victorian Circus Star from Norwich!

The first fact to reveal about Pablo Fanque is that he was born in Norwich in the County of Norfolk. The second, and probably the more important, is the fact that he not only became a brilliant equestrian performer, but famous as the first non-white British circus owner in Britain and the most popular circus proprietor in Victorian Britain during a 30-year golden period of circus entertainment. His life’s story starts where all life stories begin; it is this beginning on which the City of Norwich lays its own claim to this showman’s name and fame.

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A Blue Plaque unveiled in Norwich on 16th February 2010.

Norwich boasts the fact that Pablo Fanque, baptised William Darby, was born in the City; the date of his birth was 30th March 1810. He was to die on 4th May 1871 in Stockport, Lancashire, having left Norwich as a teenager, never to return. Fast forward to 2010; this was the year when Norwich first expressed its pride in being associated with the gentleman in the form of a commemorative blue plaque placed on the wall of the John Lewis department store on All Saints Green. Its position was the nearest the authorities could get to the house in Ber Street where Fanque lived his earlier years. Then, in 2018 a student accommodation block was opened in the Norwich, opposite the John Lewis Store and named ‘Pablo Fanque House’.

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A view of the new flats, built on the former Mecca Bingo site. Photo: Alumno Developments.

Much of Pablo Fanque’s early life in Norwich is unknown and speculative. What is known comes from the City’s church records which state, quite clearly, that he was born in 1810. He was one of at least five children born to John and Mary Darby (née Stamp) in Norwich. When Fanque married in 1848, he entered on his marriage certificate “butler” for his late father’s occupation. A Dr. John Turner, in a biography, speculated that Fanque’s father “was Indian-born and had been brought to Norwich and trained as a house servant.” Other accounts have also speculated that Fanque was orphaned at a young age, and even born in a workhouse to a family with seven children.

Over the years, biographers have also disputed Fanque’s date of birth and it was Dr John Turner, again, who popularised the belief that Fanque was born in 1796, presumably based on the 14 May 1871 ‘Era’ newspaper which recorded that Fanque’s coffin bore the inscription; “AGED 75 YEARS”. Dr Turner may also have been influenced by the detail on Fanque’s gravestone, located at the base of his late wife Susannah Darby’s grave in Woodhouse Cemetery, Leeds (now St George’s Field) which reads; “Also the above named William Darby Pablo Fanque who died May 4th 1871 Aged 75 Years“.

But those who support the belief that Fanque was born earlier than 1810 should maybe take note of certain facts. Firstly, his age was recorded in the 1841, 1851 and 1871 Census’s of England as being born in 1810 – surely, not all three would be incorrect! Then, a birth register at St. Andrews Workhouse in Norwich also records the birth of a ‘William’ to John Darby and Mary Stamp at the workhouse on 1 April 1810. This is the same birth year as that on Norwich’s blue plaque. There also follows the marriage record of a John Darby to Mary Stamp on 27 March 1791 at St. Stephen’s, Norwich, by records of their children; these include a John Richard on 4 Jul 1792, Robert on 27 Jul 1794, William on 28 Feb 1796, Mary Elizabeth on 18 Mar 1798, and William on 30 March 1810. Crucially, the family also had two burial records, a William on 30 April 1797 and Mary Elizabeth on 10 Feb 1801. Genealogists worth their salt would know that it was quite common in families that suffered infant mortalities in the past for a later child to be given the same name as a sibling who had previously died. This was particularly true where parents wished to maintain a family name in perpetuity. These facts strongly indicate that William, our subject was born in 1810, following the earlier William who had died in 1797.

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William Darby became apprenticed to the circus proprietor, William Batty, around 1820, when he was about ten years old and in circumstances that biographers can only dream up. Certainly, Darby picked up the ‘bug’ of being a circus entertainer in Norwich and made his first known appearance in a sawdust ring there on December 26, 1821. He was billed as “Young Darby”; his acts including equestrian stunts and rope walking. Then, as soon as he had grown and developed into a young adult with the full range of skills that he was to became famous for, William Darby left Norwich for good and toured extensively. It was also around this period when he changed his name to his professional “Pablo Fanque” identity. Eventually, and maybe inevitably, Fanque was to make a highly successful London debut; that was in 1847 under his professional name. Describing Fanque and his performance at that debut, The Illustrated London News wrote:

“Mr. Pablo Fanque is an artiste of colour, and his steed … we have not only never seen surpassed, but never equalled … Mr. Pablo Fanque was the hit of the evening. The steed in question was Beda, the black mare that Fanque had bought from Batty. That the horse attracted so much attention was testament to Fanque’s extraordinary horse training skills.”

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This same edition of The Illustrated London News also provided an example of how contemporaries regarded Fanque’s performance:

“This extraordinary feat of the manège has proved very attractive, as we anticipated in our Journal of last week; and we have judged the success worthy of graphic commemoration. As we have already described, the steed dances to the air, and the band has not to accommodate itself to the action of the horse, as in previous performances of this kind. The grace and facility in shifting time and paces with change of the air, is truly surprising.” – Fanque was also described as a “skilful rider” and “a very good equestrian. It was the same newspaper, reporting on another performance at London’s Astleys Amphitheater, that filled in many more biographical details of Fanque:

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“… Mr. William Darby, or, as he is professionally known, Mr. Pablo Fanque, is a native of Norwich, and is about 35 years of age. He was apprenticed to Mr. Batty, the present proprietor of “Astleys Amphitheater” and remained in his company several years. He is proficient in rope-dancing, posturing, tumbling etc; and is also considered a very good equestrian. After leaving Mr. Batty, he joined the establishment of the late Mr. Ducrow, and remained with him for some time before rejoining Mr. Batty.”

In 1841, he began business on his own account, with two horses, and has assembled a fine stud of horses and ponies at his establishment at Wigan, in Lancashire…. “in which county Mr. Pablo is well known, and a great favourite.” Thus started the 30 year period when Fanque ran his own successful circus, only sometimes involving partnerships with others where these were necessary. During this time he toured England, Scotland, and Ireland, but performed mostly in the Midlands and the Northern England counties of Yorkshire, Lancashire, and what is now “Greater Manchester.”

Families flocked to his shows in their thousands, lured by exciting poster and newspaper advertisements, street parades and the stories told by those who had been held spellbound by what they had experienced. Fanque was extremely adept at conjuring together new ‘exotic’ names, acts and historical extravaganzas, which could transport poor people out of what many experienced as drab, hardworking lives into a world of imagination, colour, dangerous feats of courage, expertise and sheer fun!  His shows appealed equally to those of the higher classes.

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One reason for Fanque’s success, one that often goes unremarked in circus histories, was his keen appreciation of the importance of  advertising. Among the advantages that his circus enjoyed over its numerous rivals was that it enjoyed the services of Edward Sheldon, a pioneer in the art of billposting whose family would go on to build the biggest advertising business in Britain by 1900. Fanque seems to have been among the first to recognise Sheldon’s genius, hiring him when he was just 17.  Sheldon spent the next three years as Fanque’s advance man, advertising the imminent arrival of the circus as it moved from town to town.

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In addition to such advertising, Fanque would organise a spectacular parade to announce his arrival in town.  In some towns he would drive ‘Twelve of his most beautiful Hanoverian and Arabian Steeds’ through the principal streets, accompanied by his ‘celebrated Brass Band’.  He was also known to drive fourteen horses in hand through the streets in some places.

Even serious churchgoers sought enjoyment from a Fanque circus, whilst risking chastisement from some quarters. It was in1843, when clergy in Burnley were criticised in the Blackburn Mercury for attending performances of Fanque’s circus. This prompted one reader to respond thus:

“Ministers of religion, of all denominations, in other towns, have attended Mr. Pablo Fanque’s circus. Such is his character for probity and respectability, that wherever he has been once he can go again; aye and receive the countenance and support of the wise and virtuous of all classes of society. I am sure that the friends of temperance and morality are deeply indebted to him for the perfectly innocent recreation which he has afforded to our population, by which I am sure hundreds have been prevented from spending their money in revelling and drunkenness.”

THE BENEFICIAL NATURE OF MR FANQUE

The “Benefit for Mr. Kite”, a title later to be immortalised by the 20th century’s musical Group ‘The Beatles’, was one of many benefit shows that Pablo Fanque held for performers in his own circus, for others in the profession who had no regular retirement or health benefits, and for community organisations. Fanque was, in fact, a member of the Order of Ancient Shepherds, a fraternal organisation affiliated with the Freemasons. The Order assisted families in times of illness or death with burial costs and other expenses. For example, an 1845 show in Blackburn benefitted the Blackburn Mechanics Institution and the Independent Order of Odd-fellows, offering a bonus to the Widows and Orphans Fund. Fanque held a similar benefit in Bury the following year.

Pablo Fanque (Friendly Soc.)

Then in 1857 and 1858, Fanque was again active, holding at least two benefits among other performances. In 1857, in Bradford, he held a benefit for the family of the late Tom Barry, a clown. Brenda Assael, in The Circus and Victorian Society, writes that in March 1857, “Pablo Fanque extended the hand of friendship to Barry’s widow and held a benefit in her husband’s name at his Allied Circus in Bradford. Using the Era offices to transmit the money he earned from this event, Fanque enclosed 10 pounds worth of ‘post office orders…being the profits of the benefit. I should have been better pleased had it been more, but this was the close of a very dull season.” On 24 October 1858, The Herald of Scotland reported: “IN GLASGOW, ‘Pablo Fanque’s Cirrque Nationale’ offered ‘A Masonic Benefit.”

An 1846 a Bolton newspaper story epitomised the public’s high regard for Fanque in the communities he visited on account of his beneficence:

“Several of the members of the “Widows and Orphans Fund” presented to Mr. Pablo Fanque a written testimonial, mounted in an elegant gilt frame…Mr. Pablo on entering the room was received with due respect. Mr. Fletcher presented an address…which concluded:…’and when the hoary hand of age should cease to wave over your head, at a good old age, may you sink into the grave regretted, and your name and acts of benevolence be remembered by future generations.”

PARTNERSHIP WITH W F WALLETT

During the 1840s and 1850s, Fanque was close friends with the clown W. F. Wallett, who performed in his circus. Wallett also managed Fanque’s circus for a time. Wallett frequently promoted himself as “the Queen’s Jester,” having performed once before Queen Victoria in 1844 at Windsor Castle. He appeared regularly with Fanque’s circus and many towns throughout the north. It was during a ‘benefit’ being held for Wallett in the amphitheatre, Leeds when a balcony collapsed, killing Fanque’s wife; see below.

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W.F. Wallett

Throughout his 1870 autobiography, Wallett shares several amusing anecdotes about his work and friendship with Fanque, including the following about their 1859 engagement in Glasgow:

“ The season was a succession of triumphs. One of the principal attractions was a little Irishman whom I engaged in Dublin, who rejoiced in the name of Vilderini, one of the best posture masters the theatrical world ever produced. I engaged him for three months at a liberal salary, on the express understanding that I should shave his head, and convert him into a Chinaman. For which nationality his small eyes, pug nose, high cheek bones, and heavy mouth admirably adapted him. So his head was shaved, all but a small tuft on the top, to which a saddler with waxed twine firmly attached his celestial pig-tail. His eyebrows were shaved off, and his face, neck, and head dyed after the most admired Chinese complexion. Thus metamorphosed, he was announced on the walls as KI HI CHIN FAN FOO (Man-Spider-leg mortal).

We had about twenty supernumeraries and the whole equestrian company in Chinese costume. Variegated lanterns, gongs, drums, and cymbals ushered the distinguished Chinaman into the ring, to give his wonderful entertainment. The effect was astonishing, and its success extraordinary. In fact the entire get-up was so well carried out that it occasioned us some annoyance. For there were two rival tea merchants in Glasgow at the time, and each of them had engaged a genuine Chinaman as touter at his door. Every night, as soon as they could escape from their groceries, they came to the circus to solicit an interview with their compatriot. After being denied many nights in succession, they peremptorily demanded to see him. Being again refused, they determined to move for the writ of habeas corpus. That is to say, they applied to the magistrate stating they believed their countryman to be deprived of his liberty except during the time of his performance. We were then compelled to produce our celestial actor, who proved to the satisfaction of the worthy magistrate that he was a free Irishman from Tipperary.”

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W.F. Wallett

MARRIAGE AND FAMILY

Fanque married Susannah Marlaw, the daughter of a Birmingham buttonmaker. They had two sons, one of whom was named Lionel. It was on 18th March 1848 when his wife died in Leeds at a ‘Benefit’ performance for Fanque’s friend, W F Wallett, clown. Their son was performing a tightrope act before a large crowd at the Amphitheatre at King Charles Croft. The 600 people seated in the gallery fell with its collapse, but Susannah Darby was the only fatality when heavy planks hit her on the back of the head. Reportedly, Fanque sought medical attention for his wife at the King Charles Hotel, but a surgeon pronounced her dead. Years later a 4 March 1854 edition of the Leeds Intelligencer recalled the incident, while announcing the return of Pablo Fanque’s Circus to the town:

“His last visit, preceding the present one, was unfortunately attended by a very melancholy accident. On that occasion he occupied a circus in King Charles’s Croft and part of the building gave way during the time it was occupied by a crowded audience. Several persons were more or less injured by the fall of the timbers composing the part that proved too weak, and Mrs Darby, the wife of the proprietor, was killed. This event, which occurred on Saturday the 18th March 1848, excited much sympathy throughout the borough. A neat monument with an impressive inscription is placed above the grave of Mrs Darby, in the Woodhouse Lane Cemetery.”

It is clear that widower Fanque did not waste any time in finding another wife for in June 1848, he married an Elizabeth Corker, a circus rider and daughter of George Corker of Bradford. Elizabeth was 22 years old and was to deliver two more sons to Fanque, George (1854) and Edward Charles “Ted” (1855). Both sons were to join the circus with Ted Pablo achieving acclaim as a boxer, and would tour Australia in that profession. A daughter, Caroline died at the age of 1 year and 4 months and was buried in the same plot as was for Susannah and William.

In Warriston Cemetery in Edinburgh there also stands a tombstone dedicated to the memory of two others of Elizabeth and Fanque’s children —William Batty Patrick Darby (13 months) and Elizabeth Darby (3 years). Both died in 1852 but Elizabeth, the younger, died in Tuam, Ireland. This was at a time, in the early 1850’s, when Fanque was performing regularly in Edinburgh. The inscription on the children’s tombstone is thus:

“Sacred to the Memory of
William Batty Patrick Darby son of
William and Elizabeth Darby
Professionally known as Pablo Fanque
who died 1st February 1852, Aged 13 Months
Also of
Elizabeth, their Daughter
who died at Tuam Ireland 30th Oct. 1852,
Aged 3 years and 4 months”

It is left to the 1861 census records to reveal that Fanque was living with a woman named Sarah, aged 25, who was described as his wife! But there again, the 1871 census records show him living again with his wife Elizabeth and his two sons, in Stockport.

DEATH
The successful performance years and the money enjoyed by Fanque were destined not to last beyond the 1860’s. Certainly within a couple of years of his death, Fanque was ‘insolvent’, living in a room in the Britannia Inn, 22 Churchgate, Stockport, with his wife and two sons – George and Ted Pablo. There Fanque died of bronchitis on 4 May 1871. It was a sad end for such an extraordinary man, who rose from humble beginnings in Norwich to reach the top of his profession and in a career that lasted fifty years.

Despite the apparent poor financial circumstances of his last few years, Pablo Fanque’s funeral was a spectacular occasion. One may think that, having been a member of a charitable ‘Order’ and someone who often raised money for others, help came forward to see him on his way. Certainly, his body was brought from Stockport by train and a great procession accompanied him to his resting place, watched by several thousand people.  The hearse was preceded by a band playing the ‘Dead March’ from Saul and was followed by Pablo’s favourite horse, Wallett, ‘partially draped in mourning trappings and led by a groom’, four mourning coaches, and several cabs and private vehicles.  Pablo was buried with his first wife in Woodhouse Lane Cemetery, Leeds. Ahead of the funeral procession to the cemetery was a band playing the “Dead March”. Fanque’s favourite horse followed, along with four coaches and mourners. Fanque was buried next to his first wife Susannah Darby. The Cemetery is now named St. George’s Field and part of the University of Leeds campus. While the remains of many of the 100,000 graves and monuments have been relocated, the monument that Fanque erected in his wife’s memory, and a smaller modest monument in his memory still stands.

While some contemporary reports did not refer to Fanque’s African ancestry, other reports noted that he was “a man of colour,” or “a coloured gentleman,” or “an artiste of colour.” These suggest he was of mixed race with partial European ancestry as well. Thirty years after Fanque’s death, the chaplain of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, Reverend Thomas Horne, wrote: “In the great brotherhood of the equestrian world there is no colour line for, although Pablo Fanque was of African extraction, he speedily made his way to the top of his profession. The camaraderie of the ring has but one test – ability.” He was commenting on Fanque’s success in Victorian England despite being of mixed race.

For all the charitable qualities possessed by Fanque, he was far from perfect. Apart from the apparent eye he seemed to have for the ladies, there was a less savoury side to him that should not be forgotten if a sense of balance is to be maintained.

Fanque, at best, seemed to have also been an irritable man, if not violent. In 1847, he attacked a James Henderson, not the J. Henderson on the playbill by the way! James Henderson was an employee who, although taking Fanque to court, the matter was settled without full legal recourse. – “He [Henderson] was unable to keep the horse quiet, and thereupon the defendant, after one or two somewhat uncivil expressions of disapprobation, threw the comb and brush at him (complainant), and then (probably from the force of association) began ‘kicking’ at his legs. — John Leach and James Geary confirmed the complainant’s account …” – (Blackburn Standard – 13 October 1847 p.3.).

Another assault took place in 1849. – “CHESTERFIELD PETTY SESSIONS, SATURDAY, JULY 28. Pablo Fanque Darby, the proprietor of a travelling equestrian establishment, was charged with assaulting John Wright, of Walton, at Baslow, on the proceeding day.” – (Derbyshire Courier – 04 August 1849 p.2.)

However, a chronic problem with Fanque was that he was not good at keeping the finances straight. Nelson had a financial dispute over wages with him in April 1858 which went to court but by October 1858 Fanque had been made bankrupt and in June 1859 was refused protection from bankruptcy, owing £2765 with assets of £165. It turned out that Fanque had fooled everyone into thinking he was “the owner of a large equestrian establishment”, but had in fact sold his business to William Batty some years before and hired it back. A creditor claimed that this sale was fraudulent and although the commissioner found that “the transactions with Battye … were of a singular character, and calculated to arouse suspicion … nothing fraudulent had been proved before him”. Even the fact that he had kept no books did not in law “call for punishment”.

However, a charge of perjury was more serious for it was claimed that Fanque had sworn an affidavit that the circus was worth £1000 when it had been previously purchased by Batty for £500. “Unfortunately for the bankrupt’s character, it was too clear that the the affidavit was intended to deceive. The statement that the establishment was worth £1000, and was his property, was entirely untrue … the bankrupt had shown that no reliance could be placed on his word”. – (Paisley Herald and Renfrewshire Advertiser – 4 June 1859)

Even after his death in May 1871, his propensity not to be honest with regard to the way he handled his debts caused problems for others. John Walker, a juggler in his circus had lent him £5, which he required to be repaid, but Pablo had died suddenly. As a result he sued Elizabeth Darby, his widow and administratrix of the estate. As a result, Elizabeth’s barrister in the case, “asserted that the defendant had not a rag, her husband having died hopelessly insolvent. Sometime before his death, the deceased assigned every particle of his property, in consideration of a sum of £150 lent to him by a Mr. Knight, of Manchester, who had now taken possession of everything”.  – (Huddersfield Chronicle – 13 May 1871 p.8.) In order to settle the case, her barrister paid the £5 out of his own pocket.

LEGACY
There you have it! – the ‘not so complete tale’ of Pablo Fanque’s life. However, like with most lives and events legacies remain. In Pablo Fanque’s case, his name was almost forgotten, that is until it became immortalised in the mid part of the 20th century, on the Beatles’ album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band – in the song, ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite’.  The words of that song had been lifted by John Lennon from an advertising poster for Fanque’s Royal Circus in Rochdale, in 1843, which Lennon had spotted in an antique shop in Sevenoaks, Kent:

img_3003
John Lennon with that Poster!

“For the benefit of Mr. Kite/There will be a show tonight on trampoline/ The Hendersons will all be there/ Late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair – what a scene/ Over men and horses, hoops and garters/ Lastly through a hogshead of real fire!/ In this way Mr. K will challenge the world!”

Lennon bought the poster while shooting a promotional film for the song, “Strawberry Fields Forever”, in Knole Park. Tony Bramwell, a former Apple Records employee, recalled, “There was an antique shop close to the hotel we were using in Sevenoaks. John and I wandered in and John spotted this Victorian circus poster and bought it.” The poster advertises a performance in Rochdale and announces the appearance of “Mr. J. Henderson, the celebrated somerset thrower” and “Mr. Kite” who is described as “late of Wells’s Circus.” Lennon modifies the language, singing instead, “The Hendersons will all be there/Late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair/What a scene!”

The title “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” is taken verbatim from the poster. The Mr. Kite referenced in the poster was William Kite, who is believed to have performed in Fanque’s circus from 1843 to 1845. As for “Mr. J. Henderson”, he was John Henderson, a wire-walker, equestrian, trampoline artist, and clown. While the poster made no mention of “Hendersons” plural, as Lennon sings, John Henderson did perform with his wife Agnes, the daughter of circus owner Henry Hengler. The Hendersons performed throughout Europe and Russia during the 1840s and 1850s.

img_2977
The Beatles. Pic: AP Photo/Robert Freeman- Copyright Apple Corps Ltd

 THE END

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pablo_Fanque
William Darby in Norwich and Leeds: Life and Death
https://peterowensteward.weebly.com/pablo-fanque.html
https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-01-31/being-for-the-benefit-of-mr-kite-story-behind-beatles-song/8204080
https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/pablo-fanques-fair-71575787/

COPYRIGHT NOTICE2

 

Sam Larner: His Singing and Dancing Community.

Do fishermen sing nowadays?  They used to be great singers when they got together years ago in their favourite pubs or at the annual jollifications of the beachmen’s societies.’  So wrote King Herring in an unidentified news article about northern singers. Perhaps he should have paid a visit to the Norfolk fishing village of Winterton where the old songs connected with the fishing community, those with plenty of salt in them, were sung until relatively recently. It used to be said that “They were all singers at Winterton”,  but foremost among them was Sam Larner, who knew dozens of such songs and whose extrovert performance style proved very influential to more recent singers. His impact was immediate and electrifying … and some thought that it was a privilege to be in the presence of such genuine greatness, a dominant figure due to his personality and extensive repertoire, in an area where singing was still commonplace in much of the first half of the Twentieth Century.

Sam Larner (Portrait)2
Sam Larner. Photo: Mustad

Samuel James Larner, (1878–1965) and known as Sam, was a fisherman because fishing was an almost inevitable occupation for one of nine children of a fisherman father and growing up in a village where, out of a population of 800 people, 300 were fishermen. Larner was once quoted as saying

“Why, for me and my brothers that was either sea or gaol, and that for my sisters that was service or gaol.”

Many Winterton families had been involved with the fishing industry for generations, most notably the Greens, Georges, Goffins, Hayletts and the Larners.  All were inter-related, as was common in close-knit communities, and all had singers amongst them.

Sam Larner (Fishing Fleet)
A Norfolk Fishing Fleet from the past. Photo: Mustad

Sam was born into this community in 1878, into a family of bricklayers and fishermen.  He first went to sea as a cabin boy on a sailing lugger at the age of 13 and in 1894 signed as a deckhand on The Snowflake, another sailing boat. It was a very tough existence as he later recalled, describing the dread when going to sea for the first time and that you’d be “on the knucklebones of your arse when leaving for sea.”  Some of the older fishermen “didn’t care for nothing … cruel old men.  You weren’t allowed to speak” and if you were sleepy they would “chuck a bucket of water on you to wake you up.” From 1899 he worked on steam trawlers and in 1923 married Dorcas Eastick who had hailed from Great Cressingham, near Watton. Sam met her when she was in service at the rectory in Winterton. Sam was to leave fishing due to ill health in 1933 and spent some time unemployed as well as doing whatever jobs he could find, including road mending and forestry.

Sam Larner started singing from an early age, learning the songs his grandfather and others sang in the pubs at Winterton, and earning pennies by singing them to the coach parties that visited the village. As a fisherman he learned the songs fellow crew members sang when pulling in the nets, as well as in singing sessions in pubs in fishing ports the length of Britain. He won a singing competition in Lerwick in the Shetland Islands in 1907.

Sam Larner Winterton Fishermen 1940)
Winterton Fishermen in 1940

Although some trips were ‘home fishing,’ meaning that the fishermen would return the same day, more often than not the trips would take them away for weeks at a time, sailing around the British Isles in search of the herring.  This of course meant stopping for periods in various ports when there was opportunity for musical diversion whilst ashore, as well as the possibility of adding new songs to his repertoire.  Indeed, Sam Larner recalled that he won a singing competition in Lerwick in 1907 with his rendition of Old Bob Ridley-O. As he recalled:

“There was a singing competition in the town hall at Lerwick – all among the fishermen though. And the Lerwick ladies, they had to judge; and the gentlemen had to judge the singin’.  And I got the most encore of the whole lot for that song.  They won’t let me sit down; I had to sing them another song.  That was in 1907.  These people all know it about here; I aren’t tellin’ stories.  And I got the first prize.”

Unfortunately no Winterton singers, other than Sam Larner, were recorded extensively, but his detailed and lively accounts of both fishing and singing do give us a good indication that many of his songs were learned from fellow fishermen, many of whom were close relatives.  One example was Butter and Cheese and All, a popular song in the village; Sam said:

“That’s my old dad’s song.  I heard him sing it when I was a little boy.  Used to sing all them songs, my old father did.  Yeah, old ‘Bredler’ they used to call him; Bredler Larner; Bredler used to call him.  Big man, about fifteen or sixteen stone.  Big man, he was.  Oh, and he could do the step dance.” 

Sam Larner (The Dogger Bank)1

If there was opportunity at times to add to a repertoire of songs whilst on these fishing voyages, the real outlet for performance seems to have been, unsurprisingly, when back home after a long voyage – such as  “The Dogger Bank”:

Now we are the boys to make a noise, when we come home from sea,
We get right drunk, we roll on the floor, and cause a jubilee;
We get right drunk and full of beer, and roll all over the floor,
And when our rent it is all spent, we’ll go to sea for more.

Sam Larner (Fishermans Return Pub)

An exaggeration maybe, but certainly the fishermen did adjourn to the village’s two pubs, The Fisherman’s Return and The Three Mariners, for lengthy bouts of singing and step dancing during which time, complete respect was given to the singers so as to avoid the possibility of violence. Certainly the old songs and the performances were taken very seriously. Ronnie Haylett also remembers:

Sam Larner (The Three Mariners)1

“Now, Boxing Day, the pubs closed at half past two legally, you know, but they’d open here until four or five o’clock.  Policeman’d come in and have a look…….”Boys all right?”  Well, they’re all fishermen, you know…… Yes mister, Boys all right. Do you want a pint, mister?  No, I’ll leave you. He’d just go away and leave them.”

Sam Larner related more than once that “we used to have a rare old, good old time.  We used to get in the old pub, and we used to have a song, a drink and a four-handed reel … That was all there was for our enjoyment.”

Sam Larner (Dick Green)1
Dick Green. Photo Mustrad

Other singers at the time was Dick Green (b1909), another Winterton singer and fisherman; he was Sam Larner’s nephew but eventually turned his back on both the sea and singing to become a policeman, ending his days in Harleston.  In later years, he declined to be recorded singing the old songs as he felt his voice was not good enough to do so, but he was still able to recall such songs as Maid of Australia which he had sung in the village years earlier. Dick’s older brother Bob (1908-99) was another singer and fisherman, known locally by his nickname ‘The Devil’. He went to sea at fourteen as cook, working his way up to become a trawler skipper.  He also served in the Royal Naval Reserve during the Second World War.  He sang such songs as were popular locally such as The Maid of AustraliaCruising Round Yarmouth, and Henry Martin as well as comic songs such as The Hobnail Boots My Father Wore and Paddy McGinty’s Goat.  The father of Bob and Dick Green, also Bob Green, (born 1882), was recalled as having regularly sung The Wild Rover which, apparantly, was his party piece.

Sam Larner (Tome Brown)1
Tom Brown. Photo: Mustrad

Then there was Jack ‘Starchy’ George (1888-1975), another Winterton singer, fisherman and trawler skipper. Caister singer Tom Brown, who was on drifters with Jack George, described him as “a great singer” who would sometimes “lean out of the wheelhouse window and sing, and maybe he’d sing while he’d be on watch.”  All of the male Georges seem to have been known as ‘Starchy,’ apparently from one former family member who favoured starched shirt collars.  As well as the songs popular locally, many connected with the sea, such as Herring on the Griddle-O, to which men would dance as if flames were rearing up, and Jack Johnson which he also sang at weddings

In this fertile environment for song acquisition and performance, Sam Larner certainly stood out as an outstanding singer.  With an extensive repertoire of traditional ballads, sentimental and comic pieces and, most of all, songs connected with the sea and fishing, all performed in a vigorous, exuberant style; it is easy to imagine him being the centre of any singing session in the village or whilst away fishing. As a natural entertainer, Sam would also recite Christmas Day in the Workhouse in the pub, with much histrionics.

Step Dancing:

As well as the singing, another part of the evening’s entertainment in The Fisherman’s Return and The Three Mariners was step dancing.  Sam was a good exponent of this, just like his father, George.  As someone recalled, “The tables in there years ago, they had a bead round like this; a raised bead like that.  They all had pints of two.  Cause, comin’ out the old barrels, they’d all be wet, wouldn’t they?  So they’d stand them there and somebody’d shift the pints and Sam’d come up and do a tap dance on the table.  Beer’d all spilt!” 

Often, there was no musician to play for the step dancing, so it was performed to singing and diddling. Sam Larner remarked, “I could do the Old Bob Ridley-O; that was a song and a dance.  I hadn’t got the wind to do it now.”  Whilst singing the song, he would pause half way through to comment “then they all step” which suggests something of a communal performance. Sam generally seems to have accompanied himself step dancing by diddling tunes such as The Sailor’s Hornpipe.

Cromer (Richard Davies)2
An example of Step Dancing from Richard Davies.

In the early 1960s, writer and broadcaster John Seymour described a visit to the Larners, in company with fiddler Alan Waller: ‘The Larners live in a little semi-detached cottage not far from the sea, and we all sat round the small kitchen while Alan played the fiddle and Sam sang, and Mrs Larner looked on and beamed.  And Sam could hardly restrain himself from jumping up and step dancing.  In fact he failed to restrain himself once or twice, and he is over eighty.  He kept challenging Alan as to whether he knew this jig or that step tune, and was absolutely delighted when he found that Alan knew them all.’

Sam Larner (His Cottage)
Sam Larner’s Cottage at Winterton, Norfolk
Sam Larner (Philip Donellan)1
Philip Donnellan

Sam Larner first came to wider public notice when Philip Donnellan, a radio producer for BBC Birmingham, happened to meet him in a pub in 1956.  Donnellan was making radio documentaries about working people in Britain and Sam was exactly the sort of person he was looking for to provide him with information.  He recorded about twenty five songs and some speech from him in 1957 and 1958.  Sam appeared in two of Donnellan’s radio productions: Coast and Country: The Wash on Sunday 15th September, 1957, for which he was paid £1.1.0. Then there was Down to the Sea which was recorded on Sunday 15th February, 1959 with a rehearsal at a house in Happisburgh known as ‘Thatchers’.  It was broadcast on Friday, 27th February, 1959 and Sam was paid £8.8.0.  These were live performances and the sound recordings made by Donnellan have been deposited in the BBC archives.

Donellan also brought Sam Larner to the attention of Ewan McColl, Peggy Seeger and Charles Parker who were engaged in producing the first of the innovatory “Radio Ballads”, which used songs, sound effects and music combined with the voices of people involved in an industry or common experience. Sam took part in the third program in the series “Singing the Fishing” which was broadcast on 16th August, 1960, to great acclaim. The series was about the East Coast fishing industry.  Ewan McColl’s song The Shoals of Herring,  which describes a fisherman’s progress from cabin boy to deckhand, was largely based on Sam’s life and written for the program. Over a period of time, after editing Sam’s songs and anecdotes about his life, they were left, in MacColl’s words, with “almost thirty hours of magnificent talk and three hours of songs, ballads, stories and miscellaneous rhymes” from this ‘octogenarian’, ex-herring fisherman from Winterton, Norfolk.  What a wonderful person he was!  Short, compact, grizzled, wall-eyed and slightly deaf, but still full of the wonder of life.  His one good eye still sparkled at the sight of a pretty girl.’

Sam Larner (MacColl & Seeger)
Ewan McCall & Peggy Seeger. Photo: The Guardian

McColl and Seeger were to record even more material from Sam who went on to perform in their Ballads and Blues Club in London where, having been introduced by Ewan MacColl, Sam ‘sat and sang and talked to the several hundred young people, who hung on his every word and gesture as through he had been Ulysses newly returned from Troy to Ithaca.  He never forgot it.’  “They liked them old songs, they did.”  Also, in 1960, Peggy Seeger and Ewan MacColl published a book of English and Scottish folk songs called The Singing Island. They included thirteen of Sam’s songs: Maid of Australia, Clear Away the Morning Dew, Maids When You’re Young, The Wild Rover, Henry Martin, Cruising Round Yarmouth, Bold Princess Royal, The Dolphin, The Dogger Bank, The London Steamer, The Ghost Ship, Jack Tar and Butter and Cheese and All.  The copy they presented to Sam was inscribed: ‘Sam: a book in which your songs are not ‘written wrong.’ Many thanks for your songs and your friendship.  Peggy and Ewan.  1960.’ Certainly the songs that Sam had picked up from his community and fishing expeditions and sang so exuberantly were now reaching a much wider audience.

Sam Larner (Record)1This exposure to the world at large, or at least that portion of it interested in traditional song, reached a peak with the release of the LP Now is the Time for Fishing on Folkways Records in 1961.  This featured nineteen tracks of Sam Larner singing and talking about his life and the fishing industry, taken from the recordings made by MacColl and Seeger.  The interspersing of anecdotes amongst the singing put the songs in vivid context, with Sam’s rich dialect and turn of phrase, on what must surely be the first full-length LP issued of an English traditional singer.  A radical approach, perhaps, in 1961, which still stands as a seminal recording today.

In 1962 Charles Parker filmed both Sam Larner and Catfield singer Harry Cox for BBC Birmingham, singing and talking about their lives for a programme entitled The Singer and the Song.  As well as snatches of several old popular and comic songs Sam sang Now is the Time for Fishing, Clear Away the Morning Dew and The Wild Rover.  It was broadcast on BBC Midlands in 1964.

Sam Larner (Sitting Trio)
Sam Larner with two other Villagers at Winterton. Photo: Winterton on Sea.

By this time, Sam was a very old man of eighty six.  He had lived in Winterton all his life, aside from the often lengthy fishing voyages away after the herring, of course.  He had met his wife Dorcas there and had spent all of his working life at sea until ill health caused by the rigours of the fisherman’s life forced him to abandon this at the age of fifty six.  This grand old man of traditional song died on September 11th, 1965. He left £857.

Sam Larner (Neil Lanham)1
Neil Lanham. Photo Mustrad

About a year after Sam Larner’s death, Suffolk agricultural auctioneer and song collector Neil Lanham happened to be in Winterton, trying to find out in the churchyard about a relative who had been lost at sea in the area.  There he met retired fisherman Walter ‘Tuddy’ Rudd (1905-82) and asked him if he knew any of the old songs sung in the village. Rudd certainly did and arranged for several retired fishermen to get together at his house so that Neil could record them.  This happened on 17th December, 1966 when Tuddy Rudd and Johnny Goffin (1909-77) sang a variety of songs. These, unfortunately, are the only recordings made of Winterton singers other than Sam Larner, but they do give a good indication, together with the wealth collected from Sam, of this once-vibrant tradition.  Tuddy also told Neil Lanham that he got An Old Man Came Courting Me (Maids When You’re Young) from a fish-hawker in the village known as ‘Lame Jimma.’ Murray Noyes, once resident in the village, remembered Johnny Goffin’s father Roger, the gamekeeper on Lord Leicester’s Holkham estate, as a singer and learned Cruising Round Yarmouth from him.

Sam Larner (Record)2In 1974, Topic Records released a selection of fifteen of Philip Donnellan’s recordings as LP A Garland for Sam.  About the same time, collector Peter Kennedy issued his own selection of the Donnellan material as a Folktrax cassette (later CD) Sailing Over the Dogger Bank: Sam’s Saucy Salty Sailor Songs. Clearly, interest in Sam Larner’s singing and his songs continued strongly a decade after his death, and has certainly carried on doing so to this day.

  • Peter Kennedy was to claim that the rights to the Philip Donnellan recordings were signed by Sam Larner over to him in 1958.  There’s no evidence that Kennedy ever went to Winterton but he may well have met Sam in London.  Generally speaking, various relatives and others in the village felt that Sam signed away rights to the songs he sang far too easily, to others who may have wished to make financial gain out of them.

By the middle of the Twentieth Century, the fishing industry in the Winterton area of Norfolk was in serious decline and the formerly close-knit community was becoming increasingly less so.  The song sessions also declined as a consequence, as the way of life which fostered them all but disappeared. Ronnie Haylett certainly had very vivid memories of the nights in the pub and could recall parts of songs, but never became a singer himself: ‘Sam, he said to me one day – my father’s name is Jack – “Boy Jack”, he said, – (it was commonplace in the area for somebody to be referred to by their father’s name, together with the word ‘boy.’)  “why don’t you go up and sing like your grandfather?  Your grandfather Larpin.  Your grandfather larnt me a lot of these songs what I sing.”  I say, “I can’t sing, old chap.”  “You can.  You’ve just gotta stand up and get goin’.  Why don’t you come up and sing, boy?”  Of the two village pubs where the fishermen would congregate for such entertainment, The Three Mariners closed in 1955; it reopened for a short while as The Wishing Well but then became a private residence.  The Fisherman’s Return does continue as a public house but sadly is no longer host to such nights of song and step dance of which Ronnie Haylett said, “They were lovely times down the pub when I was a youngster.”

THE END

Reference Sources :
http://www.samfest.co.uk/why.html
https://www.mustrad.org.uk/articles/s_larner.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sam_Larner
https://eatmt.wordpress.com/sam-larner/
http://www.greatyarmouthmercury.co.uk/news/folk-fans-gather-to-remember-sam-larner-1-4257514
http://www.greatyarmouthmercury.co.uk/news/winterton-s-famous-folk-singing-fisherman-to-be-honoured-with-festival-1-4074003
https://wintertononsea.co.uk/village/sam-larner.htm

See also Rig-a-Jig-Jig: Chris Holderness – 19.03.13: A Norfolk Music History Project).

Feature Heading Photo: http://www.tournorfolk.co.uk/winterton.html

 

COPYRIGHT NOTICE2

 

 

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