037: Mr Sargent of Thurston’s fair, 1906

Sargent's message was clear although grammar, punctuation and spelling were idiosyncratic.

Henry Thurston was a leading showman: working the fairs of the south Midlands in the autumn of 1906
Henry Thurston was a leading showman: working the fairs of the south Midlands in the autumn of 1906

Evidence of the black presence in Britain is both widespread and scattered. The survival of a postcard mailed in October 1906 seems to place a J. Sargent in the travelling show of Henry Thurston, a showman who had recently introduced moving films to attract crowds. Sargent – obviously of African descent – seems to have arranged for his boots to be repaired in Luton, had moved on with the show to Wellingborough, and was about to go to Northampton where he wanted “them boots” to be sent to him.

Blacks are known to have worked as lion tamers in British circuses, and the American Eph Thompson was an elephant trainer whose show was at the London Hippodrome in the 1900s. His son was also an elephant trainer. Other blacks worked in boxing booths. See pages 084 and 128.

Disputes and fights, leading to newspaper reports, supply details of this marginal travelling community. In the summer of 1891 Lord John Sanger’s circus (well established and reputable since early Victorian times) was at Bexhill on the south coast, where there was a “quarrel between circus men” which ended in Hastings court. Robert James of Demerara (British Guiana) was charged with wounding “another coloured man” John Henry Hicks. Jones was a tentman (erecting the canvas tent of the show). But for this report in the Hastings and St. Leonard’s Observer of 22 August 1891 the two men would have remained anonymous [paragraph added 31 July 2020].

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