The Most Famous Circus Poster of All

With 4500 original circus posters, the Circus Museum’s Tibbals Learning Center houses one of the largest circus poster collection in the world. Ranging in size from window to barn sized, these colorful posters were plastered on buildings, walls and fences all across America and broadcasted in no uncertain terms that the circus was coming to town.

I wish the whole world could see them. All of them.

There is however one poster, that over a billion people have heard of, but never seen.

What am I talking about?

It is a world famous song that John Lennon wrote after he bought an antique poster in 1967, announcing a circus performance in Rochdale England.

The poster was printed in 1843, and it announced that Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal would be presenting the "grandest night of the season" and that the production was to be "for the benefit of Mr Kite" and would feature "Mr J Henderson, the celebrated somerset (sic) thrower" who would "introduce his extra ordinary trampoline leaps and somersets over men and horses, through hoops, over garters and lastly through a hogshead of real fire. In this branch of the profession Mr H challenges the world."

Lennon said that "Everything in the song is from that poster, except the horse wasn't called Henry." (The poster identifies the horse as "Zanthus".)

How crazy can you get? Make a world famous song by just reading out the words on a poster? And inject music from the circus? John Asked George Martin, the genius Beatles producer, to make the record feel like being in a real circus. "I want to smell the sawdust" John said. Martin used historic sound clips from a real steam caliope.

OK. Enough talk. Listen to the lyrics and music now. Click here .

Below is the original poster and the lyrics undereath. All the lyrics' words are there.


Further down the page is more information, who these people on the poster were.

For the benefit of Mr. Kite
There will be a show tonight on trampoline
The Hendersons will all be there
Late of Pablo Fanques Fair-what a scene
Over men and horses hoops and garters
Lastly through a hogshead of real fire!
In this way Mr. K. will challenge the world!
The celebrated Mr. K.
Performs his feat on Saturday at Bishopsgate
The Hendersons will dance and sing
As Mr. Kite flys through the ring don't be late
Messrs. K and H. assure the public
Their production will be second to none
And of course Henry The Horse dances the waltz!
The band begins at ten to six
When Mr. K. performs his tricks without a sound
And Mr. H. will demonstrate
Ten summersets he'll undertake on solid ground
Having been some days in preparation
A splendid time is guaranteed for all
And tonight Mr. Kite is topping the bill


Who were the people in the poster?

Mr. Kite
Mr. Kite was William Kite, son of circus proprietor James Kite, and an all-round performer. The poster shows Mr. Kite balancing, head down, on top of a pole, playing a trumpet. In 1810 he had founded Kite's Pavilion Circus and later moved to Wells' Circus. It is thought that he worked in Pablo Fanques' fair between 1843 and 1845.

The Hendersons
John Henderson and his wife Agnes were wire-walker, equestrian, tramplinist and clowns. The Hendersons traveled all over Europe and Russia during the 1840’s and 1850’s.
The 'somersets' which Mr. Henderson performed on 'solid ground' were somersaults, 'garters' were were banners held between two people and a 'trampoline' in those days was a wooden springboard rather than stretched canvas. A 'hogshead' was a wooden barrel.

The poster is from 1843, but in January 1848, both Mr Kite and the Henderson's had left Pablo Fanque by then and so did not appear on a Sheffield bill that night in 1848.

Pablo Fanque
Pablo Fanque (born William Darby in 1796 (or 1811) in Norwich - died May 4, 1871 in Stockport) was the first black circus proprietor in Britain and a famous showman in his time.
He began as a circus performer in his youth but became the proprietor of his own circus company. Details of Pablo Fanque’s early life are scant. Church records suggest that his parents were John Darby and Mary, née Stamp, a Caucasian woman. They married in 1791 and lived in St. Stephen’s parish in Norwwich, Norfolf, England. William was one of their four or five children.
On William's first marriage certificate, in 1848, he declared his late father’s occupation as "butler". It is possible that his father was African born and had been brought to the port of Norwich and trained as a house servant.
Pablo’s earliest known appearance in the sawdust ring was in Norwich on 26th December 1821, as ‘Young Darby’, with William Batty’s company. His circus acts included horsemanship, rope walking, leaping and rope vaulting.

In 1841 Pablo, aged forty-five and living in Oxford, left William Batty to begin business on his own account, with two horses. The towns of Lancashire, Yorkshire and adjacent counties became Pablo’s favourite venues.

Pablo Fanque. Expert equestrian, tightrope walker, acrobat, showman and Britain's 1st black circus owner

Pablo married Susannah Darby, née Marlaw and had two children with her: William (1831-1869 †in Balmain, Australia) and Lionel. Susannah died in a tragic accident. She was at her husband Pablo's circus in Leeds on the night of Saturday March 18, 1848. Pablo’s son was entertaining a large crowd with his tightrope act when a wooden gallery collapsed. There were 600 people seated on it, and they fell with the timbers. There were a few bruises and the odd broken bone, but only one fatality - Pablo’s wife. She had been hit on the back of the head by two heavy planks. She was dead.
Pablo mourned, but not for long. In June of that year he married 22 year old Elizabeth Corker in Sheffield. She was a circus rider and a daughter of a licensee George Corker who may have been living in Bradfield near Sheffield. Pablo, who gave his age as 30, was actually 30 years older than his bride! With her he had two more sons, George (1854–1881) and Ted (Edward) (1855–1937), who also went into the circus as equestrian clowns.

By the 1860’s Pablo’s circus was in decline. He continued to travel with his circus until his death in Stockport in 1871, at the ripe age of seventy-five.
Pablo’s funeral took place in Leeds Woodhouse Cemetery and was a spectacular occasion. The hearse was preceded by a band playing the ‘Dead March’, followed by Pablo’s favourite horse, Wallett, and four mourning coaches. The deceased and his horse were brought from Stockport by train, and were met by throngs of well-dressed spectators. He was buried alongside his first wife.

His son William, who emigrated to Australia has his own webpage here.