This week I’m going to take the liberty of my first diversion away from “pure” juggling.
My wife has been affected by the recent malaise sweeping across Britain and has been researching her family’s history (to be fair, I’ve succumbed too). She’s got fairly deep roots in this area, and she bought an Alan Godfrey Maps reprint of the Ordnance Survey’s 1894 map of Newcastle and Gateshead. I love maps, so I pored over it, and then read the (modern) blurb on the back describing some of the interesting features. It happens to mention a “new circus is shown in Sunderland Road, but this and other nearby theatres were always shortlived”. A permanent circus building, a short walk from my house!? That raised images of the Moscow State Circus or the Cirque d’Hiver – how could I not know about this magnificent edifice?
At first I headed off to Gateshead Library to see what could be found there, but all the building records have been passed over to the Tyne & Wear Archives.
It was another week before I could get to the Archives.
Finally I got my hands on the “Gateshead Register of Street and Building Plans”, and this is what I saw:
“W. Tudor” has applied to build “Intended Circus” at “Sunderland Road, Part of Back Sunderland St.” This is it! His application was approved on 7th March 1894, just in time for his building to be included on my wife’s 1894 map. The remarks say “Also Standard Theatre, see also plan no. 217 1897 for improvements” – sure enough the comments on the back of the map hold true, this building didn’t last long in its original form, but was converted to a full theatre in 1897.
So, I filled in my request slip for the plans that W. Tudor had submitted to get permission for his building, and sent it off into the bowels of the archive. Apparently some have been lost over the years, but these are still there in all their glory:
These were the days were circuses were still focused on trick horse riding, so there are stables and tack rooms on the ground floor, as well as the ring and seating for the audience. There’s also a second storey with a gallery for more spectators. The body of the building is timber, with a corrugated iron roof.
The real gem for this story is the letter enclosed with the plan though:
TUDOR’S NEW CIRCUS
Sole Proprietor: MR. W. TUDOR
Feb 1st 1894
To The Borough Surveyor Gateshead
My manager will be at your office at the Town Hall about 12 o’clock on Friday morning Feby 2nd with plans of building I propose erecting at Sunderland Road Gateshead as a Circus. It is the same building I have used for 2 seasons at South Shields, passed by Mr Hall, Surveyor. I intend to take down at the termination of the present season, and remove it to Gateshead, provided permission is granted by the Authorities. I shall be glad if you can make it convenient to meet him at that hour
Just three documents manage to give us a pretty clear picture of the events here; Mr Tudor had been operating his circus by the coast at South Shields for two years, and he decided that he needed to move on. He takes his existing building apart, and ships it piece by piece to be re-erected 8 miles inland at Gateshead. The local authorities give him permission, and he gets it erected just in time for the Ordnance Survey surveyors making their map. After three years of trick riding and clowning around he decides not to move it, but it is converted to a permanent theatre instead.
So there we go, a short-lived but “permanent” circus building existed in the UK, right on my doorstep. I’m not sure a wooden hut with a corrugated iron roof can’t really compare with the Cirque d’Hiver though!