Embark on a captivating journey through the 1930’s. Witnessing the evolution of the Chessington Circus from its modest debut in 1933 to the spectacle it became by 1939. Directed by the charismatic showman Hans Brick, the circus initially unfolded in a fenced-off area by Burnt Stub Manor. Showcasing awe-inspiring acts such as a bear’s tea party, a black pony at liberty, and the legendary lion, Habibi.
In 1934, the Chessington Circus welcomed showman Ernest Engler, who continued to dazzle audiences with familiar acts. Including the High School Pony Rajah, the mischievous Elephant Rosie, and Monkey Josie’s tightrope antics. The addition of the Yeltoney Trio of Acrobats elevated the circus’s allure during the summer months.
1935 marked a pivotal moment as Chessington Circus relocated to a new site, providing room for growth. Despite the absence of cage acts. The circus adapted under Ernest Engler’s guidance, becoming a free attraction with donation buckets ensuring the well-being of the animals.
The year 1936 saw Chessington Circus thriving in its new abode. It featured a diverse lineup, including Clown Jimmy’s comedic brilliance and the versatile Astris the Pony. The Christmas season brought a delightful surprise as Chessington’s animals graced the Ice Circus at Empress Hall in Earls Court.
Continuity prevailed in 1937, with Ernest Engler directing and the open-air arena accommodating 2000 guests per show. The lineup, including Teddy Bear’s Tea Party and the acrobatic Joey the Monkey, showcased the enduring charm of the circus.
1938 maintained the circus’s enchantment, with familiar acts enthralling audiences. Chessington’s animals took centre stage at the Ice Circus during Christmas, adding a festive touch to the year-end celebrations.
The last year of the decade, 1939, witnessed the return of Hans Brick with new attractions like the elephant, Comet. However, it also marked farewells, as both Hans and Ernest departed Chessington Circus.
The 1930s concluded, leaving behind a legacy of wonder, resilience, and camaraderie at the Chessington Circus. Explore this chapter of history.
On April 8th, 1933, Chessington Zoo witnessed the grand inauguration of its very first circus. A spectacle woven with the extraordinary animal training skills of the legendary Hans Bricks. The circus was nestled beside Burnt Stub Manor, enclosed with fences, and adorned with protective awnings over the seating areas. The ring, where mesmerizing acts unfolded, bravely embraced the whims of the weather.
Hans Bricks curated a captivating lineup, featuring acts that would become the talk of the town. Among them were a whimsical bear's tea party, the elegant liberty of a black pony, and the awe-inspiring performance of a lion named Habibi. Han's Bricks' daring encounters with a tiger named Beauty, serving as the show's finale, left audiences on the edge of their seats.
Notably, the circus also showcased the notorious Elephant Rosie. Transferred from another circus, Rosie arrived with a reputation for unruliness. Hans, undeterred, embarked on the challenging task of taming Rosie. Ensuring she played a pivotal role in the upcoming circus performances. Hans faced the daunting task of taming Rosie, a challenge he eagerly embraced upon his arrival at Chessington Zoo.
In his book, "Jungle Be Gentle," Hans Bricks chronicled his extraordinary experiences with these creatures. Delving into the intricate languages he mastered to communicate with Elephant Rosie and others. The narrative provided insights into the deep bond between man and animal.
In a headline-grabbing incident in December 1933, Rosie, Habibi, and Beauty stirred public intrigue. When Rosie resisted boarding a train from Surbiton to Bristol for a staggering two hours. This escapade only heightened the allure of Chessington Zoo's burgeoning circus. Setting the stage for the captivating chapters that would continue to unfold under the big top at Chessington Circus.
In 1934, Hans Bricks reprised his role as the ringmaster. Captivating audiences at Chessington Zoo with an even more exhilarating lineup of acts. The ring buzzed with anticipation. Spectators took their seats for a spectacle that included the High School Pony Rajah, the notorious Elephant Rosie, and the acrobatic Monkey Josie, showcasing her daring skills on the tightrope.
The daring feats escalated as Hans Bricks himself stepped into the ring. Wrestling the formidable tigress Beauty, a breathtaking display of man versus beast. Hans seamlessly blended comedy into his routine, sharing laughs with the audience during his interactions with the famed lion Habibi.
Adding a touch of the exotic, Hans introduced leopards Fitz and Barbette to the repertoire. The Chessington Circus became a stage for these magnificent creatures. To showcase their grace and power under Hans Bricks' expert guidance.
In a landmark event, the Circus Friends Association made their inaugural visit to Chessington in 1934. Hans Bricks treated the group to a special show, demonstrating his unparalleled connection with animals. The highlight was a heartwarming display as he entered the cage of leopard Barbette and her three cubs. Showcasing an extraordinary rapport that left the Circus Friends in awe.
However, September brought an unexpected twist. A parachutist named Ben Turner descended onto the cage of two lions. In a feat of courage, Hans Bricks entered the cage to entertain the lions. Ensuring the safety of both the animals and the intrepid parachutist as he freed himself from his parachute. The incident showcased not only the thrill of the circus but also the deep trust between Hans Bricks and his wild companions.
As the 1935 Circus season dawned upon Chessington Zoo. A noticeable shift occurred with the departure of the renowned Hans Bricks. Who had been the heart of the circus since its inception. Stepping into his shoes was showman Ernest Engler, a seasoned performer with experience gained from his time at Chapman's Circus.
Despite the change in leadership, the core lineup of the circus remained largely intact. The High School Pony Rajah, Elephant Rosie, and Monkey Josie continued to dazzle audiences under Ernest Engler's guidance. However, the departure of Hans Bricks marked the end of cage acts. Signalling a shift in the dynamics of the show.
A significant transformation took place in 1935 as the Chessington Circus evolved into a free attraction. After each show, donation buckets were circulated. Allowing spectators to contribute to the upkeep of the circus and the well-being of its animal performers. This change in format aimed to make the circus accessible to a broader audience while ensuring the continued care and support for the beloved animals.
Tragedy struck in September when a nearby stable caught fire, claiming the lives of a zebra and five ponies. The swift response of local fire crews averted damage to the circus itself, highlighting the community's dedication to the safety of Chessington Zoo. The fallen animals were laid to rest on-site. A sombre reminder of the unpredictable challenges that come with caring for animals. Despite the loss, the circus endured, demonstrating resilience in the face of adversity as Chessington Zoo continued to enchant and entertain visitors with its evolving spectacle.
In 1936, Chessington Zoo embarked on a transformative journey. The decision was made to relocate the circus to a new site, providing ample space for growth and innovation. This marked the beginning of a prolonged residency that would extend until the end of 1981. Offering the circus, a canvas on which to evolve and captivate audiences.
Ernest Engler continued to steer the ship as the director, bringing forth a dazzling array of acts. The Burnt Stub-born pony Daisy, accompanied by the whimsical George the Clown, added a local flair to the spectacle. Monkey Joey traversed the tightrope with unmatched agility. While Rajah the black pony, Rosie the elephant, and the enchanting Teddy bear tea party contributed to the diverse lineup. Astris the pony pranced into the hearts of spectators, adding an extra touch of magic to the show.
During the summer months, Chessington Circus welcomed the Yeltoney Trio of Acrobats. Enhancing the entertainment quotient and drawing crowds with their breathtaking feats. The synergy of these talented performers ensured that the circus maintained its status as a must-see attraction.
Despite the absence of cage acts, the circus navigated its new direction under Ernest Engler's leadership. The season proved to be bustling, with over 200,000 visitors gracing Chessington Zoo. While facing the challenges of adapting to change. The circus showcased resilience and creativity. Laying the foundation for a vibrant future that would see Chessington Circus continue to enthral audiences for decades to come.
Welcome to 1937. As Chessington Circus settled into its new home. Now occupying the space that would later become Scorpion Express, the captivating legacy under Ernest Engler's guidance continued to unfold. The relocation marked a pivotal moment, offering the circus ample room to flourish in its evolving grandeur.
Ernest Engler, the stalwart showman, once again took centre stage as the director. The 1937 lineup boasted a diverse array of acts that thrilled and enchanted audiences. Pony Astris took centre stage in a Liberty Act, showcasing the graceful freedom of movement. The dynamic Clown Jimmy, also known as the Great Juggling Clown, added a playful and comedic touch to the proceedings. Notably, Jimmy Bourget, the versatile entertainer, made his debut at Chessington Circus. Bringing with him a wealth of experience from his time at Chapman's Circus.
The circus continued to be a spectacle of wonders, featuring the endearing Teddy Bear's Tea Party. The acrobatic Joey the Monkey on a tightrope, and the charismatic Boxing Kangaroo Aussie. Each act leaving an indelible mark on the hearts of the spectators. The charm extended to the amusing antics of Camels Hump and Humpty, creating a unique and unforgettable experience for attendees.
As the Chessington Circus evolved in its new surroundings, the collaboration between Ernest Engler and Clown Jimmy signalled a new era of creativity and camaraderie. The 1937 season became a testament to the enduring magic of the circus. Where tradition met innovation, and each performance unfolded as a chapter in the ongoing story of Chessington's captivating spectacle.
Under the continued direction of showman Ernest Engler, Chessington Circus in 1938 maintained its allure in the open-air arena. With covered seating areas accommodating up to 2000 eager spectators per show. The circus retained its timeless charm, presenting a selection of familiar acts that had become favourites among the audience.
The enduring performances included the Liberty Act by the graceful pony Astris, and the comedic antics of Clown Jimmy (also known as the Great Juggling Clown). The endearing Teddy Bear's Tea Party, the acrobatic Monkey Joey on a tightrope, and the charismatic Boxing Kangaroo Aussie. The collaboration between Ernest Engler and the versatile Clown Jimmy continued to bring laughter and amazement to the circus.
Chessington Zoo's commitment to animal welfare remained evident as the show schedule allowed ample time for the animals to rest between performances. Ensuring their well-being amidst the excitement of the circus.
A unique highlight of the year unfolded during the Christmas season. When Chessington's beloved animals took centre stage at the Ice Circus in Empress Hall, Earls Court. For two days only. Astris the Pony, Rosie the Elephant, and the enchanting Camels Hump and Humpty captivated audiences in a special holiday performance. This crossover event showcased the versatility of Chessington's animal performers and added a festive touch to the year-end celebrations.
As 1938 drew to a close, Chessington Circus continued to weave its magical tapestry of entertainment. Captivating hearts and creating lasting memories for all who gathered around the ring.
As 1939 unfolded, Chessington Circus, under the continued guidance of director Ernest Engler, maintained its reputation for enchanting performances within the familiar open-air arena. The organizers carefully curated a selection of acts from a repertoire of around 20 different performances, treating the audience to a unique experience in each show.
The lineup included the graceful Liberty Act by the pony Astris, the playful Teddy Bear's Tea Party, the acrobatic Monkey Joey on a tightrope, and the charismatic Boxing Kangaroo Aussie. The dynamic Clown Jimmy, along with the Great Juggling Clown, continued to bring laughter and amazement, while the antics of Camels Hump and Humpty added a touch of whimsy.
A significant development in 1939 was the return of Hans Bricks to Chessington Zoo. Bringing with him the famed lion Habibi, two bears, and a new elephant named Comet. This marked the establishment of a separate sideshow in Pets Corner. Featuring a specially built brick animal house and caged arena. Hans demonstrated his exceptional skills, riding Habibi atop tables. Showcasing Comet's intelligence by removing his coat, serving him food, and having bears walk atop rolling barrels.
The Circus season experienced unprecedented success, fuelled by clever marketing initiatives. However, this year also marked a bittersweet farewell as both Hans Bricks and Ernest Engler bid adieu to Chessington Circus. Ernest departed to join the British Army, responding to the onset of the Second World War. While Hans embarked on a new chapter, joining Wilson's Menagerie in Glasgow. The departure of these key figures marked the end of an era for Chessington Circus. Leaving behind a legacy of wonder and entertainment that would be remembered for years to come.