Pablo Fanque (1796–1871)
Pablo Fanque (real name William Darby), Britain’s only Black circus proprietor, was born in 1796 in Norwich. details of his early life are scant. Church records suggest that his parents were John Darby and Mary Stamp of St Stephens Parish and that he was one of five children. On his first marriage certificate he declared his late father’s occupation as
butler. It is possible that his father was African-born and had been brought to the port of Norwich and trained as a house servant.
Pablo’s first known appearance in the ring was in Norwich on 26th December 1821 as Young Darby with William Batty’s company. His circus acts included horsemanship, rope-walking, leaping and rope-vaulting.
In 1841, the 45-year-old Fanque left William Batty to found his own circus. He toured extensively throughout Yorkshire and Lancashire. His visit to Rochdale in 1843 produced the poster which later inspired John Lennon’s lyric for the song For the Benefit of Mr Kite.
In 1848, Fanque’s Amphitheatre opened in the Victoria Gardens, Norwich for the winter season. Arthur Barns achieved 50 consecutive somersaults there, and the clown Tom Matthews was presented with a silver snuff-box by his admirers.
By the 1860s, Pablo’s circus was in decline. He died in Stockport in May 1871, aged 75. He had been there with his second wife, Elizabeth, and two sons, George and Ted, since the previous month. Pablo’s funeral took place in Leeds and was a spectacular occasion. The hearse was preceded by a band playing the Dead March and followed by Pablo’s favourite horse, Wallett, and four mourning coaches. The deceased and his horse were brought from Stockport by train and were met by throngs of well-dressed spectators.
- NNREC’s Roots of the Future exhibition