Regularly topping the list of all time greatest albums, The Beatles “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” changed the face of the British and worldwide music scene upon its release in 1967. Amongst the tracks on the album is one which has an interesting connection to the city of Norwich.
The closing track on side one was the John Lennon penned whimsical ditty “Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite” which introduced the characters of Mr Kite, The Hendersons and Henry the Horse, set to a backdrop of swirling, psychedelic circus organs. The song was famously inspired by an antique circus poster which Lennon had purchased and, in fact, quoted almost word for word in the lyrics. The line “The Hendersons will all be there, late of Pablo Fanque’s fair” is where the local connection comes into the equation, as Pablo Fanque was actually born as William Darby in Norwich in 1796 and is noted for being the first black circus proprietor in England. William Darby was the son of John Derby and Mary Stamp who are believed to have resided in Ber Street in Norwich. It is thought that John Darby was African born and would probably have come into the city as part of the slave trade in the 18th century, but was listed as being a “butler” by William on his marriage certificate. At an early age, William began training with a circus troupe which belonged to William Batty where he became a highly proficient horseman, rope man and acrobat. Having changed his name to Pablo Fanque, he formed his own circus in 1841 and toured heavily around the north of England where he became widely famed. The poster which had captured Lennon’s imagination had advertised the visit of Pablo’s “Circus Royal” to Rochdale, Lancashire in 1843.
In the autumn of 1861, one of the acts touring in Fanque’s circus was the Norfolk born prize-fighter Jem Mace who is considered by some to be one of the greatest English boxers of all time and who became the champion of both England and the world, travelling the globe during his long career. Pablo Fanque died in Stockport in 1871 aged 75 years. During his lifetime he had gained great respect and fame as a showman, part of that career encompassing a time when slavery was still ongoing. In England, an act of parliament abolishing the trading of slaves was passed in 1807, but it was to be another 26 years before a further act finally prohibited slavery altogether and granted freedom to all those who were still in the captivity of British citizens around the Empire. At the forefront of the campaign to abolish slavery during the early years of the 19th century was another Norfolk resident – Thomas Foxwell Buxton. More details of his role in the campaign can be found in this article on the BBC Norfolk website