Monday 14 November 2016

Pablo Fanque Catherine Johnson

Pablo Fanque and his trained Steed

This is another of those - why didn't I know that already? - posts. Pablo Fanque Victorian Impresario, Equestrian walker par exellence. He is massively famous, featuring in the Beatle's song - For The Benefit of Mr Kite - inspired by this poster John Lennon bought in an antique shop in Sevenoaks in the late sixties. And look at him on that fabulous horse! It is me in another body, one of my dreams come true. I never got as far as vaulting lessons sadly and now I think my body wouldn't could with the many many fallings off.

You all know the song Lennon wrote inspired by the poster, of course you do! If I type the first few lines no doubt you'll get the tune in your head....

For the benefit of Mr Kite
There will be a show tonight...

I just thought it was a tune. one of those late sixties faux Victorian psychedlicy nonsensey things like Maxwells' Silver Hammer or I am The Walrus....

But no, here's a man who was the best rider, a man who could make horses dance, who could breed as well as train and wh was the best circus rider of his day.

Pablo was born plain William Darby in Norwich in 1810, his father was a butler, and he was apprenticed to William Batty, who owned a small travelling circus aged 11.

He performed as Young Derby to begin with, eventually choosing the name Pablo Fanque and becoming renowned as a horseman. He didn't set up his own touring Circus until the 1840s, but he was also famous for horse breeding and training. His horses were known for their ability to dance and much prized.

The Illustrated London News said of his London debut in 1847;

Mr. Pablo Fanque is an artiste of colour, and his steed ... we have not only never seen surpassed, but never equalled ... Mr. Pablo Fanque was the hit of the evening. The steed in question was Beda, the black mare that Fanque had bought from Batty. That the horse attracted so much attention was testament to Fanque's extraordinary horse training skills.

Pablo Fanque's Circus toured all over the United Kingdom and Ireland, but his circus was especially popular in the North in Yorkshire and Lancashire. But a showman's life was always precarious and he endured bankruptcy and personal disaster too, when the arena in Leeds they were performing in collapsed, leading to the death of his first wife, Susannah.

In 1869 a near tragedy was avoided when the tightrope walker, Madame Caroline lost her footing on a high wire 60 foot in the air fell. She held onto the rope with her hands and the riggers managed to lower the rope a few feet, then Caroline jumped and was caught by the crowd.

Fanque died in 1871 in Stockport, and there was a procession with his favourite horse following the mourners and brass band.

I'd always known the song, but never about Pablo, a man who out dressaged most and was respected and massively successful, his circus being one of the top troupes of the arts' golden age. 

After his death the Showmen's Guild chaplain said; "In the great brotherhood of the equestrian world there is no colour line, for although Pablo was of African extraction, he speedily made his way to the top of his profession. The camaraderie of the Ring has but one test, ability."

William Darby aka Pablo Fanque

Catherine's latest book is Blade and Bone published by Walker Books


Carol Drinkwater said...

I had no idea the Lennon song was based on a real man. Fascinating, thank you

Joan Lennon said...

Me neither! What an interesting character!

Leslie Wilson said...

Thanks! I did enjoy that. I never knew Pablo Fanque was a real person either.