Big top tale at history fair

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He was the trailblazing circus superstar whose daredevil exploits captivated audiences and even inspired a Beatles hit.

Visitors to Leeds City Museum can learn more about the story of big top pioneer Pablo Fanque at a free local history fair on Sunday.

Joe Williams and Deborah Sanderson will entertain people with a production about Fanque and his life and local history buffs will share their research and stories.

Originally an equestrian performer in the 1840s, Fanque was the first non-white circus owner in Britain. His attraction was the most popular in the country for 30 years during the golden age of Victorian circuses.

In 1848, during one of several performances in Leeds, his wife Susannah Marlaw was killed in a tragic accident and was buried at Woodhouse Lane Cemetery, now St George’s Field on the University of Leeds campus. Fanque died almost 20 years later in Stockport, but was buried in Leeds alongside his wife.

John Lennon used an 1843 playbill for Fanque’s Circus Royal, which he’d bought in an antique shop, to compose the lyrics for Beatles hit ‘Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite!’ The song featured on the band’s iconic album, ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.’

Patrick Bourne, Leeds Museums and Galleries’ assistant community curator, said: “Pablo Fanque’s tale is one of the many beguiling chapters in the incredible story of Leeds which have had a lasting impact on the city and its people.

“Bringing those who have a passion for local heritage together emphasises just how absorbing and rich that story is.”

A performance of Irish music will open the event, which runs from 11am until 3pm, with talks until 5pm.

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