Circus poster

A contemporary account of the late 19th century reads:

‘Gradually, as the years went by the street took on a new shape. I should think more than half of it was pulled down and rebuilt in its present form. My father was always talking about it but I never realised what was taking place. All I know is that we were lucky and that my father’s little house was one of the few houses left. I saw the Lyceum Theatre built. I saw the site cleared and a large hole dug out for its pit and after its short life I saw it demolished…

L.J. Tibbenham whose father’s house was 34 Carr Street: John Tibbenham, carver and gilder – the timber-framed building is still there between the Co-op store and the former Woolworth’s.

The Lyceum opened in 1891, but was converted to a department store in 1936. The 1890 Kelly’s directory lists the addresses to the east of the East Anglian Daily Times offices as ‘Building sites’. It is therefore likely that the Olympic Circus took place on Mr Harmer’s ‘eligible ground’ at this location in mid to late-19th century, presumably under a big top marquee. This would have been ‘nearly opposite’ the Cross Keys Inn at 24-26 Carr Street.

The packed typography of the poster is typical of the ‘Being for the benefit of Mr Kite’-era circus advertising which inspired John Lennon. The covert racism of ‘Mr Mumbo-Jumbo, the African’ is also typical at a time when the exotic was seen as a draw to the crowd. The language shows that the verbiage indulged in by Leonard Sachs in television’s The good old days wasn’t an exaggeration:

‘Battout vaulting by the whole troop of flying voltigeurs, in which they will throw some lofty somersets 6 feet high from the ground.’

It quite takes the breath away.

R.G.

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