Guest Post: Five Things I Never Knew About C19th Circuses (until writing The Girl Who Walked On Air) by Emma Carroll

Today I’m joined by Emma Carroll for a circus-themed post relating to her beautiful book, THE GIRL WHO WALKED ON AIR! The novel released from Faber & Faber last year and today Emma is sharing five things she learned from researching TGWWOA. Over to you, Emma . .

Five Things I Never Knew About C19th Circuses (until writing The Girl Who Walked On Air)

1. In the mid-C19th, the number of circuses in the UK grew dramatically. The ‘tenting season’, where circuses travelled from town to town, ran from April to November. A good circus troupe would include skilled acrobatics and ‘exotics’, meaning wild animals such as tigers or elephants.

2. In the bigger circuses, star acts could earn £10 a night, but for this their performance was expected to show ‘originality and risk.’ Most acrobats did not use safety nets because it ‘rather (took) away the flavour of the affair’, according to an article in The Times.

3. In 1861, Charles Blondin, famous for being the first man to cross Niagara on a tightrope, performed at the Crystal Palace before the Prince of Wales. Blondin’s routine included his 6 year old daughter, who stood in a wheelbarrow balanced on the tightrope some 80 feet in the air, throwing rose petals over the crowd. The Prince of Wales, a big fan of Blondin, was outraged, and made him promise never to repeat the stunt.

4. In 1863, a female performer called Selina Powell, known as ‘The Female Blondin’, fell to her death in front of huge crowds in Birmingham’s Aston Park, when her tightrope snapped. She was eight months pregnant. Her death sparked a national outcry against dangerous performances. From this point on, the public mood towards circuses began to change.

5. In 1879, the Dangerous Performances act was passed meaning children under 14 could no longer perform risky routines in the ring. Even so, circus children were not viewed as sympathetically as factory children because their culture was seen as ‘gypsy-like’ and ‘other’.

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Emma Carroll writes MG fiction. Her debut ‘Frost Hollow Hall’, a Victorian ghost story, won the North East Book Award 2013 and was longlisted for the Branford Boase. Her second novel ‘The Girl Who Walked On Air’ has been nominated for the CILIP medal. Her latest book ‘In Darkling Wood’ is inspired by the Cottingley Fairies photographs, and publishes with Faber in July 2015. In another life she wishes she’d written ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. Emma lives in the Somerset hills with her husband and two terriers.