Pablo Fanque in Warrington

Pablo Fanque (alias William Darby), was born in Norwich in 1810 and died at Stockport in 1871.

During his lifetime Fanque became one of Britain’s most famous circus proprietors and a highly skilled horseman. He is remembered today as the country’s first recorded non-white circus owner, but also because of his mention in the Beatles hit song “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”. The lyrics of this Beatles hit were taken largely from a poster advertising an upcoming performance of Pablo Fanque’s Circus at Rochdale in 1843.

Pablo Fanque’s Circus travelled from town to town across the UK, though particularly favouring Lancashire, transported by a series of horse drawn wagons. At each town a series of hugely popular shows of horsemanship and acrobatics were performed.

Fanque’s circus visited Warrington in 1842, and possibly at other times during its existence.

Pablo’s first wife, Susannah, died in March 1848 when a wooden seating gallery collapsed at Fanque’s circus. In June that year Fanque married his second wife Elizabeth Corker, a 22 year old circus rider. The two had several children who followed them into the circus world.

By the census of 1861 Fanque is recorded staying at the London Hotel in Bradford with a 25 year old woman named Sarah, who is described as his wife, and their 11 month old daughter named Eliza.

In 1862 at Warrington, magistrates ordered Pablo Fanque to pay half a crown (25p) a week to his companion, sometimes listed as his wife, Sarah for the maintenance their illegitimate daughter Eliza. Sarah is recorded as “formerly attached to his circus”. The birth of an Eliza Smith Darby is registered in Warrington in 1860, perhaps explaining why the case was tried at Warrington’s Magistrates Court.

In Fanque died in poverty living in a rented room at a Stockport inn. A major part in his financial decline is likely to have been the downturn in popularity of the circus in favour of the newly popular Music Hall.