Big top was blown down with tragic consequences

Pier Road, Southsea, 1900
Pier Road, Southsea, 1900
Eastoke beach today in much the same condition as when the Edith first hit the beach. Picture: Ray Stanton

NOSTALGIA: Three dead, 17 children left without dads in freak storm

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The trams gather in the August sun as the crowds flock to ‘Lord’ John Sanger’s circus in Pier Road, Southsea, in 1900.

On Monday, August 11, a strong wind was blowing along the seafront and the circus proprietors decided to end the afternoon show in case of an accident.

The 2,000-seat big top was evacuated, but a little after 5pm a fierce squall suddenly developed and the entire tent blew up like a balloon and collapsed, the poles tearing the canvas to pieces.

It fell on a number of people outside and some were badly injured. Two boys were severely hurt and one, 14-year-old George Lee, died soon afterwards.

Sanger was not a real lord. His elevation to the peerage came in 1887 when he was being sued in court by Buffalo Bill Cody.

Throughout the trial the American was correctly referred to as ‘the honourable William Cody’ a title accorded to him as a member of the Nebraska legislature.

Sanger was said to have growled: ‘If he’s an Honourable, then I’m a Lord.’