Bostock and Wombwell’s circus.

 

When I was a kid, around 4 or 5, I used to have a sheepskin rug by my bed.
My Pa used to josh me and say it was a lion skin, and that he’d caught it when he visited Africa. He said because he was very strong he’d caught the Lion by the tail, and with some amazing sleight of hand he’d turned the critter inside out! Whereby he’d grabbed it’s skin, turned it inside out again, and sent the no doubt highly bemused animal on it’s way, unharmed, to grow another coat!
Of Course there’d be lots of laughs involved, and it was never wicked or cruel, but a show of his amazing strength and bravery, and how all the Ruffle family were so good with animals.
As I got older, I remember asking my Pa if he’d ever been to Africa, which of course he had, though only the south, and nowhere near as frequently as Australia, or Hawaii, or India, or America.
And I had to ask him if the rug really was a Lion’s skin, at which point he laughed and said no, BUT my great, great grand Father was a lion tamer, he said, although at that time he never really elaborated on the story.

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After my Nan Moore  ( my Father’s Mother ) died, in the late 70’s, aside from the Princely sum of £100, she left me all the old photos that she’d had passed to her, of Bostock and Wombwell’s Circus. This was probably the first time my Pa properly talked about the circus to me, though his recollections were still sketchy,  he did say he’d seen the circus as a young lad, and was greeted at the entrance to the Maldon prom by a midget lady with a very long beard!
Unfortunately, so my Father had it, his Sister’s son Clive had got into Nan’s house prior to our clearance of the place, and had taken most of these precious snaps(and a good deal of other antiques and bric a brac, including a Queen Anne kidney shaped dressing table) and whatever else he’d fancied.
The snaps you see on this blog are the best of what remains, and these photos were restored by Ken Linge, a good friend of my family and I, and Father to 2 of my closest friends, Ian and Neil.

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As it turned out  George Wombwell was the owner of the Circus, and one of his Brothers Freddy, was the lion tamer. I remember feeling dreadfully disappointed that I wasn’t a direct descendent of a Lion Tamer, however I did console myself with the fact that George was obviously the brains behind the operation.

I really don’t fully know all the pieces of the jigsaw surrounding the Wombwells and the Ruffles, though obviously Nana Moore was the connection. Her Mother was Eliza Harriet Wombwell. Eliza married Willie Layzell, called by some “The smartest man in Maldon”. Perhaps that’s where Pa and I get it from!?! But he’s another tale for the future……….

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Nan  was an amazing lady, she doted on me and used to make me Lemon Meringue pies, which I loved as a child. She was a renowned psychic, and her idea of a good read was a funny little paper I remember seeing many times at her house, Psychic News.
She’d sometimes  go into “trances” when I visited with my Pa, she’d look seriously vacant, and mumble away in a strange voice, then suddenly snap out of it and smile. I’m pretty sure I asked her once if she was ok, and she told me she’d just been speaking with friends on the other side. But she said it so serenely, with a smile on her face, that it never disturbed me. I’d just think it was my funny old lovely Nan.

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Her second husband, Jim Moore, was a game keeper for Lord and Lady Montague, as a result of reading the cards for her husband’s employers, and apparently giving amazingly accurate readings, other members of the gentry would ask Nan to read the cards for them, to read their future fortunes.

My Pa said she was well loved by many, and was given several lovely gifts of jewellery by various Lords and Ladies who’s fortunes she’d read.
I used to joke that my Nan was so psychic she could read that cat’s hairs on your sofa! ( sorry Nan, just joking! ) But she did indeed read palms, tea leaves, regular cards, and Tarot, and as I say she claimed she could speak to the Spirits.
For me now, I can see that Nan was probably one of the last if not famous then certainly respected Victorian mediums, who indeed could tell people amazing things about themselves, that she couldn’t possibly have figured through mere detective or guess work.
I’m thinking Madame Blavatsky and the Esoterics, which I suppose is really the philosophy my Nan  followed, the roots of the Spiritual and moral attitude which she transmitted to my Family, basically the laws of Karma, do unto others as you would have done to you.

My Pa would always speak of our Algerian Romany roots, and  of course the Circus and it’s people were travellers. The name Ruffle is I believe French, the name of lacemakers no doubt. I think we started our travels shortly after the Revolution kicked off,(in 1789 to 1799) not wishing to have our heads separated from our bodies! The Ruffle name was apparently first recorded in the 1300’s, and Nan did say she’s traced our name back to the 1600’s.
But I think that the Revolution made us itinerant. And my romantic bent would have us as entertainers and performers, just like my good self! A wandering minstrel, a troubadour……..
Well, at least my ancestors make this conjecture highly feasible, and of course if there’s anyone reading this who knows more, then please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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Photos from top to bottom:

The Circus entrance 1910

The Snake Lady(?) year unknown

Fred Wombwell 1900

George Wombwell

Ada Eveline Layzell (My Nan) 1930

Jim Moore 1912

Anita the Living Doll year unknown

And here’s Pam Malkin’s wonderful photo of her Grandfather, Matthew Johnson:

And here’s the wonderful Pathe newsreel of Bostock and Wombwell’s last road trip to Whipsnade in 1931.

136 Responses to “Bostock and Wombwell’s circus.”

  1. hi, my 2nd great grand aunt was a traveler in 1891 with bostock menagerie, her name was Ellen Shirley.
    does anyone have any photos please.
    from family stories she was extremely over weight possibly having elephantiasis and she was put on show in the menagerie but i cant find any photos anywhere X

  2. Dear All – My Youth Circus and I have been researching the history of the circus in the North East of England. We have published what we have found on a website http://www.labonche.net Bostock’s features in the website as the menagerie was sold off in Newcastle in 1931. The material we have been using as a source has mostly been from the Arthur Fenwick’s collection held in the Then and Wear Museum. It includes a photo of the last set up of the menagerie in Newcastle, plus posters and press cuttings. Fenwick was a friend of Bostock’s so I wondering if any one has any anecdotes about him.
    All Best –
    And coincidently my mothers name we Bostock and (though not a direct line to the circus)
    Helen

  3. Correction to the above the collection is held in the Tyne & Wear Archives, Newcastle

  4. Hello Helen,

    Is there any chance of getting larger images of the mam with elephant in Bostock and Wombwell’s photos/press cuttings collected by Arthur Fenwick please

  5. Hi Terry,
    Just trawling the internet and came across some of your reminiscings, we both like them because we never really want to live in this modern corrupt age. No matter what anyone says the 60’s were the best time to be young.
    Some names from the past came up in your replies, namely Adrian Wombwell who was an apprentce with me at Bentalls and also Barry Anthony who also worked at Bentalls, this would have been 1964-1970, that is where I also met Roy Sayward for the first time who used to tear around on one of the little electric trucks…ah happy days.
    Also Steve Blackwell comes up and says hello, hy ya Bucky long time no see, hows that gorgeous wife of yours Tina.
    Best regards to you all, keep rockin’ and ridin’.

  6. Hi Terry,

    Very interesting website. I am looking for more information about my great uncle John Smith Clarke. He was a Lion Tamer at Bostock and Wombwells amongst others and gave the rousing speech on the last performance of the circus before it closed at Kelvin Hall. He was also an MP for Maryhill in Glasgow and gun runner to Russia! The biographies and information I have read is that he was from a long line of circus folk but I do not know who he was related to in the circus. I wonder whether someone may have more information about him or know of any living relatives like me?
    Regards Samantha Baskerville

  7. I am now 62 years old and was told I was named after my great grandfather and also told of him being a lion tamer with the Bostock and Wombwell circus. Stories of relatives walking lion cubs on a lead in Wolverhampton. If you have any information I would be most grateful.
    There may be a photograph of him in a Hussars uniform which may have been one of his costumes. There were also rumours that he performed in front of Queen Victoria.

    Many thanks

    Michael Banks

  8. My Father Roy Banks (now deceased) told the family about his Great GrandFather Charles Frederick Michael Hind(e)s whom he remembered seeing pictures of lions in cages at his Aunt’s house and we have a picture of Charles with his family and in his circus uniform. It is believed he performed with the Bostock and Wombwells circus last century. Stories were told of him performing in front of Queen Victoria and also putting his head in a lions mouth (of course these could have been elaborated on over the years). My Father recalled seeing his headstone in Wednesfield Cemetary which in later years disappeared possibly due to lack of maintenance. We are led to believe he was mentioned on a show called Blue Peter in 1993 but have not been able to confirm this. Any more information would be appreciated.
    Many Thanks
    Pauline Walker-Shelton

  9. Hi Terence.
    I’m the ggg/grandson of a lion tamer named Captain Billy Strand AKA The Gingerbread King. He began his career with George Hilton’s Menagerie at Manchester in the early 1850s when whilst attending his gingerbread stall which he travelled around with, offered himself as a last-minute replacement of the incumbent tamer, name of Newsome, who’d quit without notice. He was the original Martini Maccomo eventually to be replaced by the more famous one.
    His latter years were as Fair Superintendent at The Pamona Palace, Manchester and he lived into his nineties and described himself as the oldest living lion tamer in an interview with The Manchester Gazette (I think) in a Workhouse. He married a Jewess named Sarah Levi and some of their descendants are still in the business.
    I’ve searched all over for photos of him but to no avail and so I was hoping that someone may be able to help in this regard.
    Yours, Billy.

  10. Hello Terence, I’ve always been too nervous to start on my ‘ancestry search’ journey because I knew I would get so engrossed that everything else would go straight out the window, which it has, of course!! You have a great site here and really I’m so glad I came upon it. My grandma was Caroline Strand, William Strand’s Daughter and his wife Sarah Williams. She married Joe Smith and they travelled mainly Scotland with side shows. My dad was Stanley Smith, and mam was Noreen Sheeran, daughter of Percy Sheeran Snr who had a set of Gallopers. Anyway, If Billy Strand (comment 19th Jan 2015) sees this he’s welcome to contact me, I don’t have a picture of William but seen something on Ancestry that might be one. I think my great great grandmother was Elizabeth Crecraft but having problem finding out. Thanks Terence, I’ll keep checking in the site.
    Yours Deborah

  11. Hello Terence,

    I have heard tell of a family in Barrow in Furness with fairground connections by the name of Hoadley. Do you know anything about them or if there are any living representatives? Thank you for your very interesting blog.

    Yours
    Michael Hoadley

  12. Hi Geoffrey Younger,
    Tried to send you an email re. images, but it failed. Looking for an image of my GGG Grandfather; Lion tamer Billy Strand aka The Gingerbread King ?

    Cheers, Billy.

    strandbilly@yahoo.co.uk

  13. Hi Deborah.
    Please email me

    strandbilly@yahoo.co.uk

    Cheers, Billy.

  14. Like many of you I’m looking into family history and my great great grandmother known as Nellie, was apparently born to a John Bostock in around 1887 in Calne, Wiltshire, but I can find no mention of her birth in official records so started to investigate name on net and found the Bostock menagerie. Would so love there to be a connection but not sure how I can possibly find out for sure! Fascinating website anyway. Thanks.

  15. Well, as you probably know, EH Bostock aquired the menagerie from the Wombwells, after GW’s death, so there won’t be a direct connection. Does anybody have any info for Sara?

  16. help required family tree gggg was Samuel Chittock birth 1812 Mitford Norfolk,catherine daughter married John smith his son was James chittock the family have links to Chipperfields and Hannaford circus,john smith/Catherine had two sons Albert Lawrence Smith and James smith. Albert Lawrence married, Sarah Andrews who died child birth had a son Charles William smith albert remarried Nelly Hornby of Sangars circus dealt with the white horses many of my relation are still fair ground showman. Samuel Chittock was with Bostock Wombwells

  17. I nearly deleted your comment, as it’s so badly punctuated I thought it was spam! If anyone can understand your comment I’m sure they’ll be happy to help 😉

  18. terence Samuel chittock was with bostock and wombwells for 20years as a trainer,does any one have any information his son james had his own small circus show.

  19. Hi Terry

    I am the daughter of Arthur Wigg, known in the circus as
    Captain or Professor Luck. He was a lion tamer with Bostocks until it closed. I notice Liam Connolly had a comment stating a gggs of my Father – would be interested to receive any information that you may have.

    Hoping to hear from anyone who may have any information on this.

    Many thanks, Betty

  20. The lion tamer was Frank Wilson and my great uncle Darwin Bartrop who was a wine merchant in Sheffield and a gifted amateur painter. He painted lions, probably using Frank’s lions as models. He painted ‘Frank’s lion’ and I understand it hangs in the offices of Michael Cole Amusements, Great Yarmouth.I have a picture of it but there is no way of attaching it to this email.

  21. Hi Terry

    This is a bit of an aside to your subject. I have just decided to dispose of some old post cards circa 1903 – 1904 which came into my possession in 1961. Six of these may be of some interest. They were posted from the UK and France to Mrs.O.Tatsu San, and Mrs. and Mr Lukushima, The Japanese Troup, Bostock & Wombells (as spelt on the cards). They were sent to addresses in Holland, Paris and Cape Town in South Africa and are written in Japanese apart from the addresses so I have no idea what the message say.
    I did find a short mention of this troupe on a Australian site with a Photograph of them.
    If anyone is interested I would be happy to email copies.

    Regards Paul

  22. Dear Mr Bradley,

    I would like to see copies of the the Bostock and Wombwell postcards please.

    Geoffrey Younger
    gemyounger7@sky.com

  23. I am just searching round for anything about this circus and an escaped bear in 1883. It comes from a newspaper article. If you google for “hunting bears in Grimsby Lincolnshire” you should find it.

  24. I have notes written by my great-grandfather, Teddy King, he was a double drummer with T.C. Bostock’s no 2 Menagerie in February 1891. He mentions seeing a gravestone in Flint Cemetery which had engraved – In loving memory of Benjamin McBain who died April 1st 1859 aged 32 years. A Lion Tamer. A tender friend, A friend sincere. A loving husband lieth here. This stone was erected as a tribute of respect by his fellow servants in the employ of Mrs. Ann Wombwell Royal Collection No 1. The show blew over and killed him.
    In his notes Teddy recounts instances of animals getting loose, accidents, terrible weather and hardships but also about the beautiful scenery the show passed through.
    In later years Teddy became drummer with the Bournemouth Municiple Orchestra.

  25. Sounds fabulous Maxine, any chance of you sharing the notes with our readers?

  26. Pauline Walker Shelton: I wonder if your C F Hinds was a relation to my mothers great uncle Frederick Hinds who i have come across while doing family research. Fred was born 1859 in Wolverhampton but ended up in Halifax and working at a Zoo we had here from 1909 till 1916… with his nephew Stanley Hinds Born 1889. Stanley is noted as head animal keeper here in Halifax and ive read he joined halifax zoo on leaving Bostock Zoo in Glasgow. Id not heard of Bostock Zoo until today! All very interesting. Stanley’s cousin Albert Begley also worked as Halifax zoo. Albert ( my mums uncle) passed in his 100th year but his daughter is still with us, in Howarth. Interesting stuff…

  27. Im looking for information on Charles Harris, an advance representative for Bostocks Circus

  28. My granddad was Arthur Wigg. He was a lion tamer. Betty Mcloud was trying to contact my son Liam. My mum is not with us anymore. She did remember the circus. If anyone wants to contact me it would be OK. kev.lin@btinternet.com

  29. Great to read so many fascinating details about my family history. I am Frank Bostock, grandson of ‘Little’ Frank Bostock. My father John died in 2006. Frank C Bostock (the ‘Lion King’) is buried at Abbey. I visited the grave with my younger son last year. Someone had put a red rose on the magnificent Lion sculpture tomb, which also contains Francis Edward Bostock, Frances Constance Mugliston and Florence Effie Boyes. My elder son, James, is getting married soon. If Heather (daughter of Frances) is reading this and wants to make contact, my email is fbostock@gmail.com. We are distantly related and my father used to be in contact with her lovely mum who was also fascinated by the family history.

  30. I have a relative Lorenzo Lawrence who was a lion tamer with Wombwells Menagerie .The story is of him walking an elephant to Manchester . there is a book written about this

  31. Hi Everybody my great grandad is Arthur “Jack Luck” John Wigg:
    Burial: July 11, 1946, Glasgow, Scotland..
    Christening: August 21, 1881, Skelbrooke, Yorkshire..
    Occupation: Bet. 1901 – 1934, Trainer of Lions, Tigers and Bears.
    I would like to find any imformation on who my great nan was.
    Mother to Charlotte Wigg who after her mum died young, went to live with an auntie in the Bermondsey London area.
    Charlotte Wigg was born around 1924 and spent some time with Bostock and Wombwell menagerie.
    Thank you.

  32. This is amazing to read. Arthur Feeley was my Great X3 Grandfather, so I have grown up hearing the stories and seeing the wonderful pictures.

  33. Michael Banks, are you related some what to Pauline Walker Shelton? Ive been in touch with Pauline re the Hinds Family and the Banks family. We have Frederick William Hinds ( son of Michael Hinds and Julia Simkins) born 1859 Blackburn. Passed away here in Halifax. He was a Lion Tamer / animal trainer and worked in Halifax zoo c1901 and previously trained with the Bostock folk in Glasgow. He married the widow of Cardono ( aka Thomas Bridgeman) Eliza Bridgeman nee Thompson in 1892 Bristol. Both working with the travelling show. Cardono recently passing away in Plymouth Hospital. Frederick Hinds was my mothers uncle’s cousin! Frederick was with my mothers uncle Albert E V Begley and other nephews working in the Halifax zoo 1911. (Yes i know, im doing some research i can tell you. When stuck going back , go sideways!)
    Albert E V Begley son of William George Begley and Mary Ellen Hinds.
    If i refer back tot he top of this message, we had Julia Hinds marrying Michael Hinds. They had children 5 children one of who was Julia Hannah Hinds who married a Charles Banks. Gertrude Hinds their first daughter out of wedlock but id hazard a guess was given the surname Banks once her parents married. Julia & Charles had 6 children including Gertrude.I believe Pauline follows down the line from son Leonard David Banks.
    Do these names sound familiar to you?
    You can contact me if sound familiar and could help Pauline & I fill in any details / information you may have regarding the Hinds / Banks families. Eliza Hinds- Federicks widow, passed away in Middlesex Hospital. After Fred died here in Halifax, Eliza went to stay with her nephew H A J Begley, brother of Albert, at Ennis Rd Hornsey Middlesex. Frederick Hinds maybe your distant ancestor and he was a Lion Tamer! His father Michael Hinds was a traveller and why most of fred’s siblings born Wolverhampton but fred born Blackburn! So im researching the Begley / Hinds / Banks families.
    My email, hayley.1911@hotmail.com

  34. My great great grandfather was Thomas Dutton who was also known as the Shropshire Giant as he was 7 foot 3 tall. Born in 1853 and died in 1926 I understand he toured with Bostock and Wombwells as the English Soldier Giant: not sure when this was or how long for. I have a picture of him in the uniform somewhere and will try and add it here later. Any further information very gratefully received. Thanks, Terry

  35. I’m trying to contact Deborah Smith who left a message back in 2015. I have some information regarding the Crecraft family, and her Dad Stanley spoke to my Dad a while back regarding our family history which is linked. I can be contacted at acrecraft@me.com.

  36. I would like to contact Terry Hinchley who commented that Thomas Dutton the Shropshire Giant was his great great grandfather. I believe that we have a family connection as he was reputedly my Great great Uncle. I can be contacted on lynettemcdade@gmail.com

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