Circuses and Funfairs in Leigh 1920s-1970s

In about 1932, Cyril Seldon was walking home from the school to his home in Killicks Bank. He had been doing a gardening ‘lesson’ and had a trug of vegetables that he had grown. Suddenly, an elephant’s trunk reached over his shoulder for the food. The circus was back in Leigh.

In the late 1920s and early 1930s, and perhaps for longer, the circus set up in the field beyond the railway arch, opposite Paul’s Farm. Jack Lucas seems to remember that the elephants came by train to Hildenborough and were driven down the road to Leigh. There was a biggish tent with all the usual circus acts of the time, as well as the two or three elephants – lions, horses, acrobats and clowns, all presided over by the ring master However the act that Jack particularly remembers was called ‘the bottomless pit’. A box about six foot long by two foot and about two foot deep was placed in the middle of the ring. A man dressed in ceremonial regalia came out and made a long show of hypnotizing himself – including putting his finger behind his ears. Then be became totally rigid and, as he fell, he was caught by two other men who placed him in the box. They then filled the box with sand and screwed on a wooden top. The man and box were then left there for some time. Eventually, the box was reopened and the man inside stepped out, with sand pouring off him – “quite unharmed!”, as Jack says.

After the Second World War, the circus returned to Leigh for a few years and in some years there was also a funfair. It must have been here in the early 1970’s – not least because Juliet Rowley in Oak Cottage, then aged five, complained she did not like a lion on the Green roaring outside her window. On another occasion a llama tried to eat Oak Cottage’s garden and, being thwarted, bit a much respected local lady who tried to be kind to it. (The 999 emergency operator asked if the call was genuine).

The circus (or was it the funfair) was run by the family Jump. The leader, Mr Jump, was in his 40s, and he had a mother and a grandmother helping, as well as his older teenage children – one of whom had a baby. So there were five generations. The tent was not large and the circus acts were certainly not sensational. A young daughter had a troupe of dogs; there were clowns and jugglers. The four or five people all did various acts but no one can remember what the lion and the llama did – perhaps they just sat in their cages outside, looking mangy and tired in the case of the lion and bad tempered in the case of the llama?

The funfair was cheerful, not very complex and attracted a good crowd from the village and around. There was no trouble, except one year when a drunk trumpeter sat on the War Memorial and played his instrument late at night. (Although blamed on a Village Green Stomper, all the band were later exonerated! The playing was inferior anyway).

Parish Magazine Article: Oct 2002: by Chris Rowley