From tigers on horseback to show pigeons – amazing photos capture 101 years of Belle Vue Circus

For over a century, Belle Vue Circus has been at the heart of Northwest entertainment.

Astonishing photos and ancient images uncovered by the MEN’s archive team trace the long and fascinating history of the circus from its Victorian beginnings to its final and unhappy end in 1985.

Operating out of the famous Belle Vue Zoological Gardens, the circus would become an annual event of international fame, taking place every year.

The zoo itself was designed by the famous Jennison family, which opened in 1836 and, as a quintessentially Victorian attraction, first hosted other zoos and performing arts groups in the 19th century before establishing his own circus.

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Miss Wendy performs her balancing act with a pigeon perched on the end of a sword during rehearsals at the Belle Vue Circus in Manchester. December 1969 Z12263-008

The inaugural Belle Vue Circus event took place in 1922 in the Kings Hall, an arena that would serve as the home of the circus for nearly 60 years.

Unfortunately, the first event was considered a failure and the Belle Vue Circus would not return until 1929.

It was at this point that the Zoological Gardens made a deal with Blackpool Tower Company to provide acts and equipment for what subsequently became a regular Christmas event which took place in Kings Hall. .

Take a look at our superb collection of images relating to the Belle Vue circus over a period of 101 years

As part of their deal with Blackpool Tower, Belle Vue was able to name ringmaster George Lockhart, a man whose exploits have become synonymous with the circus.

Known as “the prince of ringleaders,” Lockhart quickly became the face of the Belle Vue Circus advertising campaign, his face, often accompanied by a large cigar, appearing on several of their posters.

Lockhart was a ringmaster for 41 years, retiring in 1970 at the age of 90.

Around this time, Lockhart oversaw the golden years of the circus when the circus became one of the country’s most popular Christmas events.

Lockhart’s replacement, Nelly Jane, of Danish origin, held the position for two years before being replaced by Norman Barrett, the last course manager.

The last circus to take place in Kings Hall dates back to 1981 before the building was sold and then demolished in 1982.



Gilbert Honch and a pride of tigers perform at the Belle Vue circus in January 1947
Gilbert Honch and a pride of tigers perform at the Belle Vue circus in January 1947

Although the circus limped to various alternative venues, it would stop for good in 1985.


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