NOSTALGIA: Shows that have long since gone

The Westmorland Gazette: Malcolm Wheatman Malcolm Wheatman

Malcolm Wheatman, 83, recalls attractions in the 1930s

Just before the war, staying with my Grannie Askew and going to Natland School, I used to hear village gossip.

It was once rumoured that a dancing bear travelling local roads would pass through the village. Nothing ever came of it, so it was probably just a farm lads’ joke.

This was one of the traditional live animal street entertainments surviving the Victorian era, bringing to mind other sideshow ‘attractions’ of the time.

On Kendal’s New Road Funfair, a marquee was once bannered ‘freak show’, and the curious, including me, about eight years old, paid to go in.

I remember the ‘six-legged lamb’ with two supernumerary forelegs apparently growing from its front. Looking back, they were probably fake and attached somehow. So-called freak shows have long since disappeared. Also flea circuses, one of which I saw on Blackpool’s Golden Mile.

Formerly a terrace of Victorian houses with long gardens abutting the promenade, they were eventually converted into arcades.

One prominent house became home to a three or four-storey exhibition of ‘catch-penny’ oddities.

One was ‘The Mermaid Who didn’t Get Away’ – a young lady dressed in an obviously home-made long fish tail costume. She lay among green cellophane seaweed in a ‘tank’, merely a glass screen.

People wanted to believe in the bizarre.

Farther along the prom was a sign ‘flea circus’. I paid my 6d and went in. Up some stairs a dozen or so people surrounded a small brightly-lit table-top where several fleas ‘performed’ amazing feats.

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