Ian Scott: Greatest shows on earth were truly unforgettable when they came to Falkirk

A week or so ago I was walking in Victoria Park and spotted the ‘big top’ rising up on the ground behind the old Ice Rink.

By Ian Scott
Thursday, 2nd December 2021, 12:30 pm
A few days before the arrival of the performers the riggers would appear to erect the big top.
A few days before the arrival of the performers the riggers would appear to erect the big top.

The Big Kids Circus arrived quietly and departed in the same way and I have no idea how many Falkirk bairns, young or old, were drawn into the tent to watch the clowns and acrobats perform and enjoy the special atmosphere that still exists around the circus ring.

What I do know is that today’s version of the circus is as nothing compared to the experiences of my childhood when almost every year brought the greatest show on earth to Bells Meadow or Camelon ‘new’ Park and hundreds of performers, and an amazing array of animals, drew crowds of thousands.

The first one I can remember was in 1950 when I was taken along as an eight year-old to see Barratt’s Big Canadian Circus where I saw my first lions as well as fancy horses, clever dogs and high-wire trapeze artists.

Sign up to our daily The Falkirk Herald Today newsletter

The circus included lions, tigers, elephants (above), monkeys, sealions, polar bears, camels, zebras and llamas as well as a giraffe.

In the following years the scale of the entertainment on offer was astonishing with Chipperfields, Billy Smart and Bertram Mills troupes regularly descending on the town.

One example of what was on offer is all I have room for here, but all the shows followed the same pattern.

It was the visit by Billy Smart’s in June 1954. It was an experience I will never forget.

Read More

Read More
Ian Scott: Whatever happened to Falkirk’s fairground attractions?

A few days before the arrival of the performers the riggers appeared in Camelon to erect the big top which had seating for an amazing 6000 people.

Adverts appeared all over the district and the newspapers announced the time of the great parade.

On the day, a special circus train arrived at Grahamston Station and the animals, trainers, acrobats and clowns set off slowly through the town greeted by hundreds of spectators.

There were lions, tigers, elephants, monkeys, sealions, polar bears, camels, zebras and llamas as well as a giraffe.

A baby elephant cycled along the road and the whole mile long parade was led by the ICI silver band and local pipes and drums.

Arriving at the park, where 150 trucks (including the circus fire brigade and mobile power station) were already in place, the animals were installed in a big menagerie which was open for the duration of the visit.

For a sixpence you could see and smell the great beasts at close range

Tickets for the show itself cost anything from 2/6 (12.5p) to 10/6 (52.5p) and spectators packed the seats as the circus band struck up the familiar music, Entry of the Gladiators, and the red-coated Ring Master with top hat and whip set the show in motion.

From that moment it was a rapid fire programme of thrills and spills with over 150 performers and 1000 costume changes.

The lion tamer and high-wire walkers were the big stars but the clowns dismantling a car in Keystone Cops style was hilarious to us children.

I know it is highly undesirable these days to make great animals balance beach balls on their noses, and to train mighty elephants to stand up on their back legs, but at the time we had no so such thoughts.

I believe it now but can’t help but wonder if our determination to respect the animals means we have lost something important.

Few kids today ever get that close and video images can only offer so much.

Thank you for reading this article on our free-to-read website. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by Coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

Please consider purchasing a subscription to our print newspaper to help fund our trusted, fact-checked journalism.