A Grand Bostock and Wombwell bandwagon in USA parade at Circus World Museum, Wisconsin where many Victorian Menagerie items are on display/stored. Any B&W items were probably from Frank Bostock’s collection.
Colour printed postcard, verso: This elegant vehicle dates back to 1882 England. A remarkable feature of this wagon are the six-foot diameter rear wheels. The Wombwell name dates back to 1805 when it was used on a travelling menageire. Photo:Jim Morrill
Bostock and Wombwell’s claimed at several times in their history, to possess the smallest horse in the world. Indeed, several competitors made the same claims to draw crowds to their booths.
Where Bostock succeeded was in not quite telling the truth. In this card they show the ‘smallest horse in the world’, but closer examination of the photo-printed card, reveals it is a composite of two photographs. Doctoring photographs for financial gain, is not a new phenomenon and showmen were ‘at it’ here in 1911 (used card, franked Jul 24 11). I doubt anyway, that a horse and a dog would stand still in that position long enough to have their portraits taken!
A 14-year-old girl named Zazel was the first to be shot out of a cannon, in 1877 London.
On the subject of old ‘trains’, I often wonder if there are any of the caravans that Bostock and Wombwell travelled in, languishing somewhere in a farm outbuilding in the UK? It would make a really good project to refurbish one of them, provide young people with skills training, etc. If anyone knows of one please let us know. Where to look? Farm barns, fields, zoos (Whipsnade, etc.), railyards…
The information age has surely killed live perfomances. Young people will never know what it was like to see tigers and lions,etc.
It has been brought to my attention that there will be a feature concerning the Bostock and Wombwell families on The Antiques Roadshow on Sunday 4th September 2016 at 20.00 hours British Summer Time. Heather Payne, E.H. Bostock’s granddaughter, will be ‘grilled’ by the expert and show some of her collection of memorabilia. Worth setting the recorder for that one! Well done Heather for promoting the family business.
UPDATE2: It was produced by the ‘Warwick Trading Company’ and BFI has many of their films.
UPDATE: Just noticed the 1911 date on the film.
I discovered this old film on YouTube. It seems to show the end of an elephant to include its funeral pyre. It has German titles and has been translated as ‘Lights and Shades on the Bostock Circus Farm’. As well as an elephant and a bear performing, the participants are aslo acting throughout the film. I would like to think this film is nothing to do with the Bostock and Wombwell outfit, but I know nothing else on the film. It has a permanent logo showing BFI which is the British Film Institute. I will be contacting them to get a history of the film, but if anyone can shed light then let me know. I wonder if it is a travelling outfit on the continent around the 1920s/30s? The keepers do not seem to be very kind to their animals. Was it a Nazi propaganda stunt? Anything is possible.
UPDATE: The whereabouts of this building has now been solved. It was part of the Franco-British Exhibition at White City in London during 1908. It’s architecture fits with the rest of the site, which went on to hold the Olympic Games and is on the same location where the former BBC Centre still stands. A diary belonging to Kate Frye describes a visit to the Zoo back in 1914. By this date the site had become the Anglo-American Exhibition, which was cut short due to the outbreak of war.
Then John and I by tube to the White City and there we strolled about. I was dead tired and had the rat horribly until we had some dinner when I revived a bit but felt anything but lively and walked about in rather a dead fashion. We did not try many side shows and they were failures. Bostocks Zoo – heaps of performing lions but all very sad. We missed most of it as we went there last but we saw the poor dears fed. We also saw some wonderful racing on a miniature motor track, but John was seized with a panic fear so we came out. Saturday July 11th 1914
There is every reason to believe that Frank Bostock was responsible for its existence during 1914 as he had returned from America and had exhibited his menagerie under the billing ‘Bostock’s Arena’ as in his Coney Island site in New York.
A new addition to the collection gives us a problem as to its location. It is not the Arena in New York’s Coney Island. Nor is it the Arena at Earl’s Court in London. A clue to its whereabouts is in the writing from the sender of the original card:
‘Dear Win this is part of the YMCA It is a big place’, plus a franked impression marked PADDINGTON.
The other places considered are Glasgow and Sheffield, but it does not have the same architecture of either sites. It is certainly a permanent structure though.
I can see it possibly being in London, but there is no record I have found on its location. It had a full uniformed staff as well. Any information is appreciated including the possible architect, etc.
Taken from the Stories page of these scrapbooks about Glasgow entertainments, it contains a wealth of information about E H Bostock and the Glasgow Zoo up to around 1910 -1911. It makes some interesting reading and I thank the University of Glasgow for bringing it to our attention.
The Britannia Music Hall had already been open for half a century on Glasgow’s Trongate by the time A. E. Pickard took it over. Under his management, the Britannia reopened in July 1906, now called “the Britannia Theatre of Varieties and Grand Panopticon” and incorporating a museum, freak-show and zoo. Presenting four shows daily, at 2pm, 4pm, 7pm and 9pm, the Panopticon was a prime music hall venue, at a time when that form was thriving. The scrapbooks give valuable insights into the music hall business in Scotland, as Pickard kept an eye on the competition and documented his own publicity. Acts booked for the Panopticon included singers, dancers and comics, while the Museum, in addition to its permanent displays and topical waxworks, featured novelty acts of a more bizarre nature.
Use the search facility to see the relevant pages on Bostock.
The following have been added to the reseacrh website and collection:
A postcard showing the view of some of the cages with lions and lionesses. Appeared at Earl’s Court and around the UK, especially Sheffield.
Postcard from Frank Bostock’s Arena, Coney Island, New York, USA, showing Polar Bears with unknown, rather camp male trainer. More information is sought.
Lowly Entertainer circa 1900 ‘Poor Billey’ also labelled ‘King of the Ring’. Thought to be Billy[Spell] Bertram, a lowly comedian circa 1890s. Had a reputation for being a ‘Jonah’, whereby he would have a part in a production which immediatley went bust! The dramatist George R Simms wrote an article about Bertram under the title Without the Limplight . Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper (London, England), Sunday, February 5, 1899; Issue 2933. Reproduced here by permission the the British Library under their normal terms of usage. More information is sought regarding the phrase ‘King of the Ring’.
E H Bostock probably with Dixie the elephant around 1932
Prince LawdTanno (Spell) known to have been travelling with a menagerie and circus around 1905. Probably a lion tamer modelled on Montarno the African Lion King. Known to have travelled with Chipperfield’s French Menagerie during the early twentieth century.
Waggon containig two lions and possibly a seated trainer or keeper, also at Selby circa 1930. Not a typical B&W waggon, so it is also probably a Sanger outfit.
The following photographs have been sent to us for dating and for any other information. I have added my comments underneath each photograph, but would welcome further information via the comments section at the bottom of the post or via email: email@example.com
Thank you for your interest in this project about the local history of Selby in Yorkshire. My thanks to Mr Chilvers for providing the original photographs.
Rare view of B&W booth at Selby during 1931. This must have been one of the last times it visited the town or anywhere else, given it disbanded the following year. Shows the poor condition of the booth front.
At Selby, showing a group of Dancing Bears on the left of the picture performing for the local population. Unknown group and date. Information would be welcome.