Plans were submitted by Ohmy for a circus building to be erected on Jubilee Street, approximately where the Palace Theatre was built in 1899. I cannot find any record saying that a circus was built on the site, however it does throw up a mystery. In an advertisement which appeared in the Blackburn Times for the 8th of May 1897 the address of the circus is shown as Mill Lane, yet on the 4th December 1897 again in the Blackburn Times it seems to have moved to Jubilee Street. Was this just a temporary move? I don’t know. What ever the explanation may be for this it is certain that for at least three years Ohmy’s circus stood on the corner of Mincing Lane and Mill Lane, in a wooden building. As far as I know there are no photographs remaining to tell us what it might have looked like. The circus on Mill Lane was demolished in September 1900 and a roller skating rink named Central Hall was built in its place, this lasted until November 1909 when the rink closed and reopened as a picture place.
It is hard to say when Ohmy’s circus first `came to town` but it is thought to have been in Blackburn in 1896, however, I cannot find any mention of the circus or any advertisements for it until May 1897. Although the date may be forgotten the artistes who appeared on that first night are not;
The Ring Master was Mr. Ohmy himself he was also known as King Ohmy.
The other artists were;
The Steins—Second sight artists;
Lochart and his Elephants;
Aguste and September—Clowns;
Padley Brothers—Clowns and Acrobats;
Sirins and Maud—Musical act.
Where the elephants were kept is not mentioned. How these acts were received no one now knows, but I can picture the children of Blackburn seeing elephants, clowns and acrobats, maybe perhaps, for the first time in their lives, it is not hard to imagine the atmosphere and the noise in the building.
What of the artist who appeared in the ring? The only permanent members of Ohmy’s circus were said to be Ohmy himself, Claude, and Minnie, (his son and daughter), Cruikshank (the clown) and an acrobat called Silent Joe who also did knock about comedy. The other acts were changed weekly or fortnightly and were a varied lot which included such wonderful names as Paganini Redivivus the demon violinist, Madam Rose St. Clare gymnast and high wire, Jack Higgins the famous Blackburn Standing Jumper .The Padleys who, I think, also came from Blackburn appeared in the circus. ‘Pa’ Padley, the father, was a clown and two of his sons followed in his footsteps when they became clowns, and appeared as the Padley brothers all over the world. One act appearing at the circus was Prof. Norton B. Smith who was billed as the `Emperor of all Horse Educators` and had taken his act all round the World. On the bill he asks the people of Blackburn to `bring or send your kickers, runaways, jibers, shyer’s, plungers, strikers fighters, nervous horses, horses afraid of streets and other objects, biters, halter-breakers, young colts wild mustangs, wild horses and man eating stallions`. He goes on to say that he will `handle and subdue these free of charge`. this well before the `Horse Whisperer` was thought of. Click here for more information on Norton B. Smith
Another world famous act was Rivalli the `Fire Proof` man. He would go into an iron cage taking a raw steak with him, the bars of the cage would then be wrapped in inflammable material soaked in oil and set alight. When the fire went out Rivalli would exit the cage carrying the steak which was burnt to a crisp. He of course would be unharmed.
Other acts included musical turns, water carnivals, acrobatics, clowns and all kinds of wild animals.
The elder Ohmy performed an act called `Dick Turpins ride to York with Black Bess`. The scene was set at a toll gate, and the gate being shut Ohmy’s horse, would have to jump it. They would then leave the ring, when they returned the horse would be limping and covered in lather. Ohmy would dismount, talking to the horse to encourage it on for the last few miles but the horse could go no further, it would lay down on the floor with Ohmy still trying to encourage it on. The horse would die. Then the circus hands would come on, cover the horse with a sheet and carry it off. This act had the audience in tears. Claude Ohmy was also a very good rider and would finish his act by being blind folded. He would then get his horse to run around the ring. As the horse passed him he would run across the ring and leap onto its back.
Ohmy also held benefit nights for various good causes. Below is an advertisement for one that was held for the benefit of the Blackburn Infirmary, half the gross receipts from the night were donated to the cause. It must have been a grand occasion, with the Mayor and Mayoress in attendance and no doubt many other dignitaries. It can only imagined as to what the atmosphere was like on that night. There were 160 performers taking part in the show with a 100 Blackburn children also playing their part.
Another benefit night held at the circus was for a much sadder cause. It was held on Wednesday the 8th Of December 1897 and was for funds for recovering the body of a young boy named George Hacking from the coal-pit at Little Harwood. The night after this was to be a benefit night for Ohmy’s son Claude Ohmy.
The cost of going to the circus varied depending on where you sat and when you went. The prices were 3d (1¼), 6d (2½p), 1s 6d (7½p), and 2s (10p).
Saturdays had two performances at 2.30 and 7.30. It would cost 2d (just under 1p) extra if you attended the early performance. There would be no performance on Sundays.
There were other circuses which lived permanently in Blackburn, dates for them are hard to come by but perhaps some one out there can enlighten me as to when they were. Culeen’s circus was one; this was situated in a wooden building on Blakey Moor. Part of the Technical school was built on the site and it is now occupied by Blackburn College. The acts included Thomas Henry Culeen who was a bare back rider, Little Peter on the high trapeze and Funny Fernd the clown. The Culeen family eventually gave up the circus and went over to Burnley to run the Gaiety theatre. Others who had circuses on this site were the Newsomes and the Boswells. Another circus located in the Town was Transfield’s, which was on the corner of Weir Street.
There are no permanent circuses in Blackburn any more but they still regularly visit the town. In this day and age animal acts are frowned on and the turns usually consist of acrobats, high wire, and trapeze artists and jugglers. But the clowns are still there throwing their custard pies, doing their best to wet each other and the audience and yes, I suppose the kids love it just as much today as they did over 100 years ago.