The Hendersons Were Not There (neither was Mr Kite) - Sheffield 1848

In 1837, the Adelphi Theatre was built on the corner of Furnival Street and Blonk Street in Sheffield, opposite the main cattle market. Designed by a Mr Egan, the building was based on the Astley's famous amphitheatre in Westminster Bridge Road, London. Boasting a 42 foot diameter ring, the theatre could be transformed into an arena capable of hosting a variety of circus acts. In fact the building was originally known as The Circus (or Adelphi Circus). To the rear was a stable capable of accommodating 14 horses. The building was unusual inasmuch as the rear of the premises jutted out over the River Sheaf and was supported by a series of columns and girders

The above photograph shows the Theatre circa 1905. As you can see the the front of the building had an imposing facade.  However its days as primarily a venue for circus and equestrian acts were numbered. In 1865 it was bought by Thomas Youdan, and converted into the Alexandra Music Hall. I am not quite sure as to the exact reason for this change. There is a claim for damage caused by the Great Sheffield Flood of 1864 but I think that this is unlikely to be the main reason. I think a more likely explanation is economic. The costs associated with such productions that were produced by the Adelphi were high. If they suffered a decline in popularity which seems to be the case by 1860 - 70, they would have become unviable in a very short period of time.   

To facilitate a different approach, the stage area was enlarged and it reopened as the Alexandra Theatre and Opera House on 12 October 1865. The Theatre continued for nearly another fifty years but the last performance was on 28 March 1914 - The Bonnie Pit Lad was the production - and the building was soon demolished after that date.

But what caught my eye was the following performance that occurred on 31st January 1848. On the bill was

Pablo Fanque,  began as a famous circus performer in his youth but became the proprietor of his own circus company. Details of Pablo Fanque’s early life are scant. Church records suggest that his parents were John Darby and Mary, née Stamp, that they lived in St. Stephen’s parish and that he was one of a family of four or five children. On his first marriage certificate, in 1848, 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 earliest known appearance in the sawdust 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 Pablo, aged forty-five and living in Oxford, left William Batty to begin business on his own account, with two horses. The towns of Lancashire, Yorkshire and adjacent counties became Pablo’s favourite venues. Pablo’s visit to Rochdale on the evening of February 14th 1843 produced the poster which inspired John Lennon’s lyric ‘For the Benefit of Mr Kite’.  

But by 1848, both Mr Kite and the Henderson's had left Pablo Fanque by then and so did not apppear on the Sheffield bill that night in 1848. But there is still a Sheffield connection.

Barely two months after the performance in Sheffield, Pablo's wife met with a tragic accident. Susannah Darby, nee Marlaw, was the daughter of a Birmingham button-maker. She was appearing at her husband Pablo’s circus at the Amphitheatre at King Charles Croft, in the Headrow in Leeds on the night of Saturday March 18, 1848. Pablo’s son was entertaining a large crowd with his tightrope act when a
wooden gallery collapsed. There were 600 people seated on it, and they fell with the timbers. There were a few bruises and the odd broken bone, but only one fatality - Pablo’s wife. She had been hit on the back of the head by two heavy planks. Pablo pulled her from the wreckage himself and carried her to the King Charles Hotel, but a surgeon pronounced her dead. In the confusion, one of the locals pinched a cashbox with the £50 night ’s takings in it.
Pablo mourned, but not for long. In June of that year he married 22 year old Elizabeth Corker in Sheffield. She was a circus rider and a daughter of a licensee George Corker who may have been living in Bradfield near Sheffield. Pablo, who gave his age as 30, was actually 30 years older than his bride! With her he had two more sons, George (1854–1881) and Ted (1855–1937), who also went into the circus as equestrian clowns; all three of Fanque's sons took the surname Pablo. (he had a son Lionel by his first marriage)

Fanque continued to travel with his circus until his death at The Britannia inn, Stockport, on 4 May 1871.


1. The poster that gave rise to the song can be seen on one of the many Beatles websites

Grandest Night of the Season!
On TUESDAY Evening, February 14, 1843.

Mssrs. KITE and HENDERSON, in announcing the following Entertainments ensure the Public that this Night's Production will be one of the most splendid ever produced in this Town, having been some days in preparation.
Mr. Kite will, for this night only,
introduce the
Well known to be one of the
best Broke Horses

Mr. HENDERSON will undertake the arduous Task of
Mr. KITE will appear, for the
first time this season,
On The Tight Rope,
When Two Gentlemen Amateurs
of this Town will
perform with him. Mr. HENDERSON will, for the first time
in Rochdale,
introduce his extraordinary
Over Men & Horses, through Hoops,
over Garters and lastly through a
Hogshead of REAL FIRE!
In this branch of the profession Mr. H challenges THE WORLD!
For particulars see Bills of the day.

Pablo Fanque, Mr. Kite and the Hendersons were never more than colourful names to John Lennon, but they were real stars in the circus world. Mr. Kite was William Kite, son of circus proprietor James Kite, and an all-round performer. He is believed to have worked in Pablo Fanque's Circus from 1843 to 1845. The Henderson's were wire-walker, equestrian, tramplinist and clown John Henderson and his wife Agnes, the daughter of circus owner Henry Hengler. The Hendersons travelled all over Europe and Russia during the 1840's and 1850's. The 'somersets' which Mr. Henderson performed on 'solid ground' were somersaults, 'garters' were were banners held between two people and a 'trampoline' in those days was a wooden springboard rather than stretched canvas.

2. 1871 - By the 1860’s Pablo’s circus was in decline. Pablo died on 4th May 1871 at the Britannia Inn, 22 Churchgate, Stockport, at the ripe age of seventy-five.
Churchgate, Stockport, Cheshire, 1871
(RG10/3664 4 73 19)
Pablo Fanque, lodger, 61, Norwich, Norfolk, equestrian circus proprietor
Elizabeth Fanque, lodger, 40, Sheffield, Yorkshire
George P Fanque, lodger, 17, Liverpool
Edward P Fanque, lodger, 15, Manchester
William Walker, lodger, 15, Luton, Bedfordshire, apprentice? music
Mary Walker, lodger, 13, Glasgow, Scotland, ditto, music
He had been there with his second wife, Elizabeth, and two sons, George and Ted, since at least the beginning of the previous month. Pablo’s funeral took place in Leeds Woodhouse Cemetery and was a spectacular occasion. The hearse was preceded by a band playing the ‘Dead March’, 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.

Pablo's first wife Susannah Darby met a tragic death. The Fanque memorial in St George's Field in Leeds records that in March 1848 Susannah was crushed by timber and died instantly when a grandstand on the circus ground at King Charles' Croft (off the Headrow) collapsed directly onto her.

The Leeds Times dated 13th May 1871

3. The Henderson's did come to Sheffield though. A Circus website and its attached forum contained some marvellous information. In note 1 (see above) I mentioned that John Henderson's wife Agnes was the daughter of circus owner Henry Hengler. A post submitted to the message board gave the following information

"Agnes Selina Hengler (1825-1879) married the famous equestrian John Henderson (1822-1867) in 1843. The story of John Henderson's career was told in 'King Pole', June 1986, pp.4-6.  The literature tells us that the Hendersons had only one child, a daughter, and that when John died unexpctedly and was buried in Ipswich, he was reburied in Highgate Cemetetry, London, respecting his wishes to be in the same grave as his beloved daughter!  But her name does not appear anywhere!  Until now!  Marie, a visitor to website has discovered the family in the 1851 and 1861 censuses.  John and Agnes' daughter was Jane Martha, aged six in 1851, born Maidstone, still alive in 1861 (with her mother in Sheffield, where Hengler's Circus was open from 16th March until 4th May). 

4. A local researcher in 2001 posted the following to a Sheffield Family History site. It is an advertisement from the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent Nov 2nd 1839 and it gives a strong indication of the new owners ambition for the new venue


On MONDAY, Nov. 4, 1839, the grand Equestrian, Dramatic Spectacle, of THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO ; With the Contests of Quatre Bras & Ligny.

Duke of Wellington, Mr. HENGLER; Shaw, the Life Guardsman, Mr. ELLIOTT; Mary Cameron, disguised as a Private Soldier, Mrs. COLLIER; Molly Mallony, Mr. WILD ; General Blucher, Mr. HUGHES; Emperor Napoleon Buonaparte, Mr. HULSE, (from Astley's;) Marshal Ney, Mr. GREEN.
Amongst the Scenery and Incidents will be introduced the advance of the French Army - General Inspection of the Troops, by Napoleon - A post defended by the Prussians, which was considered so important to Napoleon, towards gaining the Battle of Ligny - Blucher's Horse shot under him - Charge of Cavalry - English Bivouac - Grand Review of the British Army, by his
Grace the Duke of Wellington, and Staff - Cavalry Movement - Village of Genappe - THE BATTLE - Splendid Engagement between the English and French - Perilous Situation of the Highlanders, in the Field of Rye - Destruction of the Farm House - Death of the Duke of Brunswick - Quatre Bras, after the Battle, showing the Horrors of War - Removal of the Wounded,
&c. - Death of Shaw, the Life Guardsman - Flight of Napoleon, and Splendid Victory !
RAPID FLIGHTS, never yet attempted by any other Equestrian, by Mr. NORTH - ATHLETIC GAMES - Mr. YOUNG will perform his wonderful Act, entitled the COURIER of ST. PETERSBURG, riding and managing Six Horses at one time.-Mrs. HUGHES's Act of EQUESTRIANISM. -- Champions of Agility will distinguish themselves, combined with the talent of that
most extraordinary American Vaulter, Mr. NORTH. Master ALFRED HENGLER will ride his peculiar Equestrian Act, Called the Union of England, Ireland, and Scotland, personifying the English Sailor, the Irishman at the Wake, and the Highland Chieftain. - Mr.YOUNG, in a laughable Scene on the single Horse.
Front Boxes, 2s. ; Children under Ten, 1s. ; Half price, 9 o'Clock, 1s. - Side Boxes, 1s. 6d ; children under
Ten, 1s. ; Half price, 9 o'Clock, 1s. - Pit, 1s. ; Children under ten, 6d ; No Half price. - Gallery, 6d ; No Half price.
Clowns, Messrs. Brown and Wild. - Riding Master, Mr. Hulse. - Conductor of the Circle, Mr. Hengler. - Superintendant, Mr. Harmston. - Manager, Mr. Hughes.

Doors to open at Half-past Six, and the Performance at half past seven O'Clock

5. In August 2010 I came across another advertisement from The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent dated 20th May 1854 - pony racing with monkeys in Attercliffe seems an interesting spectacle!



The Lost Theatres of Sheffield by Bryan Hillerby

1871 Census

John. M. Turner, 'Pablo Fanque, Black Circus Proprietor' in G. H. Gerzina (ed) Black Victorians - Black Victoriana, 2003.

The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent 20th May 1854

The Leeds Times dated 13th May 1871

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