Big top tale set to light up museum’s history fayre
He was the trailblazing circus superstar whose daredevil exploits captivated audiences across the UK and even inspired a classic Beatles hit.
And this weekend, visitors to Leeds City Museum can learn more about the thrilling story of big top pioneer Pablo Fanque during a fascinating free local history fayre.
Performers Joe Williams and Deborah Sanderson will be entertaining visitors with a special production all about Fanque and his enthralling life at the event this Sunday, May 14, which will also see local history buffs from across Leeds sharing their research and stories.
Originally an equestrian performer in the 1840s, Fanque was the first non-white circus owner in Britain. His attraction was the most popular in the country for 30 years during the golden age of Victorian circuses.
In 1848, during one of several performances in Leeds, his wife Susannah Marlaw was killed in a tragic accident and was buried Woodhouse Lane Cemetery, now St. George’s Field on the University of Leeds campus.
Fanque himself died almost 20 years later in Stockport, but was buried in Leeds alongside his beloved wife following a memorable funeral procession which included his favourite horse.
More than a century a later, John Lennon, used an 1843 playbill for Fanque’s Circus Royal, which he’d bought in an antique shop, to compose the lyrics for Beatles hit Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite! The song featured on the band’s iconic album Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Patrick Bourne, Leeds Museums and Galleries assistant community curator said:
“Pablo Fanque’s tale is one of the many beguiling chapters in the incredible story of Leeds which have had a lasting impact on the city and its people.
“Bringing those who have a passion for local heritage together emphasises just how absorbing and rich that story is and it’s always inspiring to see more people learning about the places where they live and the characters and events which have made Leeds the place we love today.”
Sunday’s event will include 20 stallholders, comprised of local history societies, family history experts and some selling reproductions of old Leeds maps.
Talks will also be given on subjects including Leeds Civic Trust Blue Plaques and the history of Aireborough.
An exciting performance of Irish music will open the event, which runs from 11am until 3pm, with talks until 5pm.
Councillor Brian Selby, Leeds City Council’s lead member for museums and galleries said:
“Leeds is a city with a huge spectrum of different communities, all of which have played a role in making our city such a vibrant and interesting place.
“It’s fantastic to see Leeds City Museum celebrating the rich history of Leeds with those who know it best and giving others a chance to preserve our heritage by learning more and passing their knowledge on.”