Back to the Past with Ed Grimsdale: Remembering when the circus came to town

Sadlers Marshall and Herring use to be based where Bartletts Tearooms are now. 130704M-C683 ENGPNL00120130407115834
Sadlers Marshall and Herring use to be based where Bartletts Tearooms are now. 130704M-C683 ENGPNL00120130407115834

Buckingham was an important destination for travelling circuses and many of them brought menageries and performing animals.

North Bucks has a bridge name after a polar bear that escaped and terrorised Water Stratford in the 1820s. Bostock and Wombwell’s Circus became a regular visitor. This is the story of one of its employees, Jerome Tronson, and one of its elephants.

James Tronson worked as an “advance agent”. He’d arrive in a town two weeks before the circus accompanied by his ticketman, Arthur.

Tronson’s mission was to ensure all necessary arrangements were in place including food and drink for the circus’ artistes and the extensive menageries of birds and beasts.

Tronson was key to “keeping the show on the road”, while Arthur attempted to sell enough tickets to fill the Big Top. Jerome and Arthur established their HQ in Buckingham’s Whale PH in 1915. It wasn’t long before Arthur’s billboards outside Buckingham Town Hall ensured a steady queue for tickets in The Whale’s bar.

Jerome, normally a fine and trusted employee was more lethargic. Arthur has noticed that he had a persistent cough for some weeks – the truth was that Jerome was suffering from advanced TB.

Buckingham was a vital stop because opposite The Whale was the old-established firm of Marshall and Herring, saddlers extraordinaire. The firm’s premises are now Bartlett’s Tea Rooms. These talented men of leather were probably the only people capable of making bespoke boots for elephants (and local bulls).

Just imagine for a moment being a big elephant: your immense weight bears down at every step on your “plates of meat”. Actually, elephants rely on large slabs of fat between their feet and their leg bones. These fatty deposits act as shock absorbers protecting leg bones from stress fractures. Bostock and Wombwell harnessed four elephants to the wagons that carried the Big Top. Unfortunately, metalled roads played havoc with elephants’ soles. Cuts became infected and all too soon the fat absorbers were breaking down leading to leg and hip fractures. The poorly elephants couldn’t be immobilised in plaster and neither could bone specialists implant a steel hip joint.

Back to our Buckingham story, Jerome Tronson soon took to his bed, and Arthur found the next morning that his 40-year-old boss was dead.

One elephant was due for new “Buckingham Boots”, but Jerome had been too tired to order them so the beast staggered on, first to Stony Stratford and then further afield. His boots became holed and it wasn’t long before this elephant broke down and had to be put out of its misery.

Jerome Tronson has a fine memorial: his gravestone is on the eastern side of Buckingham cemetery. His boss, Mr Bostock paid for it and the unusual inscription tells of Jerome’s work as advance agent and names the circus.

What of the elephant? Sore soles had let him down but his soul, it’s said, still roams around Buckingham’s bull-ring. Pop down after midnight and hear him bellow (in elephant-speak):”Ouch, how my feet ache. Where are my new Buckingham Boots?”