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Aguzzi, Elizabeth Clarice [Lizzie] (1856–1938), equestrian performer, was born at 3 Felix Street, Lambeth, London, on 4 February 1856, the daughter of Antoni Aguzzi (1809/10-1880), an equestrian performer, and his wife Helen, née Schmidt (1824-1903). Her circus performances, as a bareback and trick act rider, were first noted in the 1870s. Playbills for her performances at ...

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See Astley, Philip

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Astley, Philip (1742–1814), equestrian performer and circus proprietor, was born on 8 January 1742 at Newcastle under Lyme, one of three children of Edward Astley (fl. 1725–1772), cabinet-maker and veneer cutter. Apprenticed to the family trade at nine, the forthright Astley had a traumatic relationship with his father and when he was seventeen left to join the ...

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Philip Astley (1742–1814) by unknown engraver © National Portrait Gallery, London

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Banks, William [Richard] (fl. 1591–1637), showman, the exhibitor of a famous performing horse called Morocco or Marocco, is hard to identify precisely. This is perhaps because of the kind of cultural phenomenon the horse and his trainer represent. It is the horse's activities that are described in detail in the literature of ...

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Bannister, James (1758/9–1836), circus proprietor, is of unknown parentage and upbringing. He was one of the earliest circus owners to take his show, Bannister's Equestrian Troupe, on tour. In 1804 they were at Stamford in Lincolnshire for the mid-Lent fair and soon afterwards performed at ...

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See Bannister, James

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See Bannister, James

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Barnes [Barns], Arthur (1828–1908), acrobat, was born at Birchall Street, Birmingham, the son of Henry Barns, an iron-founder, and his wife, Jane, née Williams. He was first noted performing with Edwin Hughes's circus for the 1845–6 season, then with William Cooke's circus in 1846, and with ...

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Barry, Thomas (c. 1810–1857), clown, was born in Ireland about 1810. He was noted with Samwell's circus in Swansea in 1842, and as a white-faced ring clown at Astley's circus for long periods between 1843 and 1856. In 1844 he sailed the Thames...

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Batty, Thomas (c. 1832–1903), animal trainer and circus proprietor, was a nephew of William Batty, the lessee of Astley's Amphitheatre, London. Celebrated as a lion tamer, he is also said to have been the first to train an elephant to stand on its head. He had many life-threatening struggles with the lions he ‘tamed’: he had so many scars on one side of his body that, it was said, a half-crown could not be placed between them. He would enter the ring, clad in Lincoln green and long leather boots, with a short whip in his hand. The lions would spring at the bars of their cage with fierce snarls, and he would strike at their paws with his whip, provoking their fury. Someone in the audience would always entreat him not to enter the cage, but he would slip in and have a lively ten minutes or so. From about 1859 he performed on the continent. On one occasion, in ...

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W. P. Courtney

revised by S. J. Skedd

Berenger, Richard (bap. 1719, d. 1782), courtier and equestrian, was baptized on 17 December 1719 at St Martin-in-the-Fields, Westminster, the eldest of the three sons of Moses Berenger, a wealthy London merchant, and Penelope, youngest daughter of Sir Richard Temple, third baronet (1634–1697)...

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Blight [Bright], Ellen Eliza [Helen] (1833/4–1850), lion tamer, was the daughter of John Blight (or Bright), a bugle player and bandleader with George Wombwell's menagerie, and his wife, Elizabeth, the daughter of Samuel Wombwell and so George Wombwell's sister. As a young child ...

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Boswell [married name Cattle], Nellie [Ellen Clara] (1858/9–1938), equestrian performer, was born in Paris, one of the three daughters of James Clements Boswell (1826–1859), an acrobatic circus clown, and his wife, Rebecca (1814–1898), the daughter of the circus proprietor Thomas Taplin Cooke...

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Sir William Heygate Edmund Colborne Butlin (1899–1980) by Elliott & Fry, 1961 © National Portrait Gallery, London

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Butlin, Sir William Heygate Edmund Colborne [Billy] (1899–1980), fairground proprietor and founder of holiday camps, was born in Cape Town, Cape Colony, where his parents had emigrated, on 29 September 1899, the elder child of William Butlin and Bertha Hill (d. 1933)...

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Cadman [Kidman], Robert (1711/12–1740), ropeslider, was born between 3 February 1711 and 2 February 1712, perhaps at or near Shrewsbury, Shropshire. A Robertus Cadman, son of Thomas Cadman, was baptized at Cannock, Staffordshire, on 9 September 1711. Nothing is known of his life until the 1730s, when ...

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Cairoli, (Humbert Jean) Charles [performing name Charlie Cairoli] (1910–1980), clown, was born in Affori, near Milan, Italy, on 15 February 1910, the son of Jean Marie Cairoli, who was Italian, and his wife, Eugenie Ricono, who was French. His parents, who were circus performers, were descendants of circus families with a solid background in circus skills and music. As the youngest child (he had a brother ten years his senior) ...

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Chapman [married name Sanger], Ellen (1830/31–1899), lion tamer, was the daughter of Harry Chapman, a peep-show proprietor. As a child she was brought up by the Manders family, at that time associated with George Wombwell's menagerie. She had no formal education: at her marriage, neither she nor her husband could sign their names. She performed at ...

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Ellen Chapman (1830/3131–1899) by George Christopher Horner photograph by courtesy Sotheby's Picture Library, London