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That’s Entertainment

There is one particular section of our area that has been the site of various highly popular, but different types of entertainment, since the middle of the nineteenth century. The section in question is at the rear of the railway station in Grant Street.

Readers will already know that this site was used since 1912 first by the Royal Kinema, then by the Theatre Royal, followed by a 10 pin Bowling Alley, Bunny’s Night Club, and finally a Bingo Hall.

But what happened on this entertainment site prior to 1912.

One answer is ‘The circus’. Travelling circus had gradually been touring cities and towns since the middle of the nineteenth century. Locally the man with the most experience appeared to be a Mr T. H. Sylvester who started as a trick rider and expanded to running his own travelling circus.

In 1896, Cleethorpes was full to the brim with visitors and one of the main attractions was the Sylvester Circus which was set up in a large marque. This attraction was so much a success, it was decided to have a permanent indoor circus at the resort.

Permission was given to Sylvester and local business man, Malcolm Dowse to erect a wooden building to house a circus and it was up and opened by Whit Monday 1897. One of the main performers was a circus veteran, James Newsome who exhibited his ‘educated horse’ but mainly ran a troupe of ponies and mules.

The venture proved very successful, but in effect only could run profitably during the tourist season. Consequently another more substantial building was obtained in Grimsby ( Railway Street) and this solved the problem for the winter months. The new site was called the ‘Grand Circus’ and opened just prior to Christmas 1899.

The Cleethorpes venture continued to run and operated as the ‘headquarters’. It was run during the season of 1898 by James Newton with a ‘Professor’ Bert Dent as his business manager. Dent was a noted ventriloquist and as well as managing the Cleethorpes circus, acted as the ringmaster to both the Cleethorpes and the Grimsby ventures.

During 1899 there were changes, in that the Cleethorpes business became also known as the ‘Grand Circus’ and due to the success, the owner, Mr Mathhew Dowse took more interest and became fully responsible for running the business.

Also in 1899, a Fred Derrick came into the picture and became the star performer. He had the ability to quickly learn new tricks and consequently could vary his act virtually on a weekly basis, which proved an added attraction. Primarily he was an expert horseman, but was a competent juggler as well as being able to perform other circus tricks.

Derrick was so good a performer, that he received offers from several national circus organisations and eventually accepted one from Barnum and Bailey and toured all around the world with them.

However he kept his local connections, as both he and Bert Dent married two local sisters called ‘ Walker’.

Both local circuses only lasted until 1902, the Grimsby building being renamed,’The Hippodrome’ and becoming a Variety Theatre. This eventually burnt down in 1922 whilst showing a film that ironically was called ‘The Vital Spark’.

At that stage (1902), the Cleethorpes building was open only in the summer and called the ‘Royal Summer Circus’ and run by the Meers family who were other circus performers at both venues.

Unfortunately this new ownership did not prosper and only lasted for a short time.