NOSTALGIA: Roll up, roll up! Elephants on parade as circus visits Portsmouth

Elephants from either Billy Smarts or Chipperfields circus parade along Commercial Road, Portsmouth.
Elephants from either Billy Smarts or Chipperfields circus parade along Commercial Road, Portsmouth.
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The three photographs on this page come from Kevin Monks and show scenes in Commercial Road, Portsmouth, when the circus came to town. Kevin believes the year is either 1956 or 1963. Looking at the women’s clothes, I would say it’s more likely to be 1956.

Kevin also thinks it is Billy Smart’s circus although it might also be Chipperfield’s as both appeared on Southsea Common.

The human cannonball gun in Commercial Road.

The human cannonball gun in Commercial Road.

The animals would arrive on a circus train and be unloaded at Portsmouth & Southsea to parade to the common. As a boy I saw them march along the Terraces several times. My favourite was always the cowboys wearing full gear with six guns and riding horses with light chestnut coats. No wonder I love westerns to this day. 

In these shots the circus is heading north along Commercial Road so what route they took after that I do not know. Mind you, the show could have been at Alexandra Park so heading north would have been right.

The picture of the elephants shows Marks & Spencer and Meakers in the background. The circus train arrived in the fishyard of Portsmouth & Southsea station where the animals were unloaded. I remember them parading through Guildhall Square then south along the Terraces to the common. 

One of the most thrilling sights in the show was when 10 showgirls lay flat in the ring and an elephant stepped between and over them. You could hear a pin drop.

Looking south along Commercial Road in either 1956 or 1960. The crowd was drawn by the circus parade.

Looking south along Commercial Road in either 1956 or 1960. The crowd was drawn by the circus parade.

In the human cannonball picture perhaps the girl at the rail is who was fired out of the barrel. This was another heart-stopping moment in the big top, usually the show’s finale. A large net was suspended on one side of the tent with the cannon on the other. There was a loud bang and the human cannonball was discharged from the muzzle and flew as high as the tent roof before landing in the net. 

The photo of the crowd was taken the same day when everybody’s attention was drawn to the parade. The photographer has captured the moment when everyone is moving off. Does anyone recognise the woman on the right holding the toddler? Farther down the road is Dunn & Co on the corner of Meadow Street. 

• Although South Parade Pier can be seen in all its former glory it is the boats on the beach I am interested in as well as the hut and the mast flying what looks like a White Ensign. In later years during children’s week boats from this beach took boys out on fishing trips and the lad with the biggest catch received a prize.

This scene is long before that of course and I wonder if anyone has more information please? There appears to be  someone dressed in naval rig with white duck suit trousers and jacket with a naval collar. 

Although South Parade Pier, Southsea, is prominent, can anyone tell me about the boats on the beach and the mast flying the White Ensign?

Although South Parade Pier, Southsea, is prominent, can anyone tell me about the boats on the beach and the mast flying the White Ensign?