How circus elephants made mark
It's funny what subjects appeal to my readers. Some items I think will draw big responses, barely draw a trickle of correspondence. Others, such as my photograph of elephants parading down Leicester's Melton Road, drew a flood of letters: then again, it's not every day you see a troupe of these majestic beasts marching down your local main street.
Readers may recall the photo had been submitted by Philip R French, Leicester City Council's curator of Later Leicester History, who wanted to know more about it. Today, I publish a few of the responses – more will follow next week.
Tony Field, of Leicester, wrote: "The photograph was taken in the early 1950s, when Billy Smart's Circus came to town. The animals were transported from the old Great Northern railway station, on Belgrave Road, where Sainsbury's is now.
"The elephants paraded along Belgrave Road to Melton Turn, up Melton Road, by St Michael's Church, onward past the Checketts Road/Marfitt Street junction and on to a field on the right-hand side of Melton Road, where Billy Smart's big top tent was standing. Rushey Mead School now stands on the site.
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"It was a great occasion and people would line the streets to see all the animals being paraded. As a young boy, I used to hang around the circus people to see if I could scrounge a free ticket."
Mr R Henderson, of Anstey, did manage to "scrounge" a ticket. He says: "I was born in 1945, in Spittlehouse Street, the site of Charles Keene College, almost opposite the Great Northern railway station.
"I remember, on more than one occasion, the circus coming to town. The procession started at the station, as all the animals were unloaded into their cages, and proceeded to Rushey Fields. We, as children, would follow with great excitement and sometimes were invited to help put up the big top. Our reward was either a free ticket or a penny or two."
John Starsmore, of Leicester, recalled "seeing this very unusual and exciting sight" of the elephants "being walked trunk to tail along Melton Road".
He said: "We lived on the next set of houses past the fair ground and, with my sister, used to go and see the animals. Two circuses used the site, Billy Smart's and Chipperfields. The droppings from the elephants made good compost and we fetched it in my dad's wheelbarrow!"
Hmm. It must have been a big wheelbarrow!