Pablo Fanque (1810-1871)

Born William Darby, Pablo Fanque was an English circus proprietor and equestrian performer who became the first black British circus owner in Britain. His circus, in which he himself was a performer, was one of the most popular circuses in Victorian Britain for 30 years.


ILN 20 March 1847 Pablo Fanque.png

His year of birth remains contentious, but was recorded as 1796 on both his gravestone and on the plaque on his coffin, and was also the birth year reported to the press by Fanque's manager at the time of the funeral. However, there is compelling evidence that he was born in 1810 and that the William Darby born in 1796 was an older brother who died in infancy.[1]

Although extremely popular in his lifetime, he is now perhaps best known due to the reference to him in The Beatles' song "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!", in which John Lennon's lyrics liberally quoted from an 1843 playbill for Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal:

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

Visits to Huddersfield

Fanque performed in the Huddersfield area several times:

  • Dec 1842-Jan 1843 — From New Years Eve onwards, several performances at the Circus Royal on Temple Street, Huddersfield. This was from the era of the playbill used by John Lennon and it featured Mr. Henderson on horseback and Mr. Kite was billed as the "riding master". Unlike Lennon's song, it was Pablo Fanque who was "throwing summersets" in Huddersfield rather than Mr. Henderson.[2]
  • May 1855 — Fanque's Circus appeared at the May Fair in Huddersfield, and featured "bold feats of the [horse] riders [...] and the agilities and comicalities of the Corelli family". Fanque drew "what must be considered first-rate houses."[3] It was also reported that his performers paraded through the town.[4] The circus then travelled to Meltham where they pitched their tent in the croft of Mr. Bray, the innkeeper of the Rose and Crown Inn. On the evening of Wednesday 23 May, "there was a very large attendance indeed, and the performance gave the upmost satisfaction."[5]
  • June 1856 — Fanque sent a letter to the Board of Guardians "offering to admit the whole of the workhouse children to his circus" for free at the mid-week performance. The Board votes on the proposal but the result was tied — the chairman, M. Sykes, cast the deciding vote in favour of accepting the offer, noting that "he had once been a child himself."[6][7] After performing in Huddersfield, the circus moved on to the Piece Hall in Halifax.[8]
  • September 1857 — On Friday 4 September, Fanque's Circus performed in Huddersfield free admission was given to "the whole of the inmates of the Huddersfield Workhouse."[9] The next day, they performed twice in Holmfirth, where "the daring feats of the riders were loudly applauded by a crowded house."[10]
  • September 1860 — Pablo's Circus performed at Honley Feast for two days.
  • September 1862 — Performed at Honley Feast, "with a fine stud of horses and troupe of equestrians."[11]
  • April 1865 — The circus performed in Slaithwaite on Monday 10 and Tuesday 11 April, with local school children enjoying "a cheap treat" on the Tuesday afternoon.[12]
  • June 1865 — Fanque's Circus was the "centre of attraction" at the Kirkburton Feast, where "he was largely patronised and enthusiastically applauded by large audiences."[13]
  • September 1865 — At the Lockwood Feast, "among the many attractions was a circus, conducted by the public's old favourite, Pablo Fanque."[14]
  • May 1867 — At the May Fair in Huddersfield, "the only place of amusement, where an evening could be profitably spent, was Pablo Fanque's circus ; and every evening there were at this establishment crowded houses."[15]
  • July 1867 — The circus performed twice on Wednesday 24 July at Slaithwaite.[16]
  • August 1867 — Fanque toured the various rush-bearing ceremonies in the area, including those at Almondbury and Brighouse.[17]
  • September 1867 — Fanque's Circus arrived into Honley on Wednesday 25 September, just in time to round off the 1867 Feast.[18]

Further Reading


Notes and References

  1. Given that both his second wife and his manager seemingly believed him to be aged 75 when he died, despite being widely reported to look anything up to 20 years younger than that, it may be that Fanque (who was reported by the press to be illiterate) accidentally or deliberately adopted the birth details of his deceased older brother.
  2. "Public Notices: Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal" in Leeds Mercury (31/Dec/1842).
  3. "The Fair" in Huddersfield Chronicle (19/May/1855).
  4. "Pablo Fanque's Circus" in (26/May/1855).
  5. "Meltham: Pablo Fanque, and Co." in Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner (26/May/1855).
  6. "Board of Guardians" in Huddersfield Chronicle (07/Jun/1856).
  7. "Board of Guardians" in Huddersfield and Holmfirth Examiner (07/Jun/1856).
  8. "Public Notices: Five Grand Fetes!" in Huddersfield Chronicle (21/Jun/1856).
  9. "Board of Guardians" in Huddersfield Chronicle (12/Sep/1857).
  10. "Holmfirth: Pablo Fanque's Circus" in Huddersfield Chronicle (12/Sep/1857).
  11. "Honley: The Village Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (27/Sep/1862).
  12. "Slaithwaite: The Circus" in Huddersfield Chronicle (15/Apr/1865).
  13. "Kirkburton: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (17/Jun/1865).
  14. "Lockwood: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (19/Sep/1865).
  15. "The May Fair" in Huddersfield Chronicle (18/May/1867).
  16. "Slaithwaite: Circus Performances" in Huddersfield Chronicle (27/Jul/1867).
  17. "District Intelligence" in Huddersfield Chronicle (10/Aug/1867).
  18. "Lockwood: The Feast" in Huddersfield Chronicle (28/Sep/1867).