Circus tragedy remembered

St Robert's First School is involved in street theatre for Heritage Open Days, with pupils re-enacting the tale of an elephant on the run from a Victorian circus. ' 'St Robert's School's Josh Cook whose drawing of the elephant Miss D'Jeck'was judged the best by his class-mates
St Robert's First School is involved in street theatre for Heritage Open Days, with pupils re-enacting the tale of an elephant on the run from a Victorian circus. ' 'St Robert's School's Josh Cook whose drawing of the elephant Miss D'Jeck'was judged the best by his class-mates

SHOPPERS will be asked to look out for an elephant in Morpeth next week in an unusual take on Heritage Open Days.

Pupils from St Robert’s RC First School have teamed up with performing arts company November Club to take people back to the time of Victorian travelling circuses.

The unique street performance will look back to the day when an elephant went on the run in the town after killing its handler.

The bizarre incident made headlines around the world in 1861 when an elephant in the Franconis Olympic Circus wreaked its terrible revenge on keeper Bernard Baptiste.

The animal, named Miss d’Jeck, was stabled in the long-gone Phoenix Inn, off Bridge Street, when, after being plied with ale, it fatally crushed Baptiste in its trunk before wandering off.

The story goes that it had been roughly prodded with a pitchfork by Baptiste three years earlier.

Youngsters have studied archive material about the incident to prepare for the event and before the summer break they worked with the November Club’s Cinzia Hardy, Maurice O’Connell and Katie Doherty, exploring the town centre to map the route the elephant may have taken.

On Thursday and Friday next week pupils will take people on a journey from a Big Top marquee in Carlisle Park to retrace the steps of the elephant to Oldgate Bridge, with singing and dancing along the way.

They will also stop to ask shoppers if they happen to have seen an elephant passing by.

Mr O’Connell said: “The children have engaged with the whole project in a remarkable way.

“In its day, the story was big news not only in the Morpeth Herald, but it was also reported in the New York Times.”

Morpeth was a popular destination for travelling circuses due to its location on the road from Newcastle to Edinburgh.

The most illustrious was that of ‘Lord’ George Sangers, who was one of the great showmen of the 19th Century. He grew up working in travelling peep shows, before running circuses with his brother John.

His circus would visit more than 200 towns in a nine-month season, with his trail of wagons transporting tents, lions, tigers, bears and elephants stretching more than two miles long.

The Morpeth event has been funded by Arts Council England and the Greater Morpeth Development Trust through a Heritage Lottery Fund Living History grant.

The children’s trail will begin at 10.30am each day, but must be booked in advance as places are limited.

To reserve a place call 01670 503866. For special instructions about the circus visit www.sangerscircustrail.org.uk

l Heritage Open Days, P10