Old Times Memory
One night, I saw a picture in the Evening Post and the photo reminded me of the old days. I was born in the year 1867, so you see, I have had a decent run up to now and looking back to my young days, a great many incidents come to mind. I can remember when about 17 years of age Ginnetts Circus came to Bristol and with this show was Jem Mace giving a boxing exhibition with his cousin Pullin Mace.
Then, about 45 years ago, I used to get about the town to those 'free and easy's' but that is all stopped now. One place I was very fond of going was the Three Horseshoes - a sporty house kept by Jack Sales in Old Market Street. He had a very large room with a piano complete for singing. There you could listen to a good song and sometimes see a dance. Beside this room was a regular art gallery; how I used to wander round and look at all them photos of old time fighters with their records printed underneath. Then there was another Bristolian I knew well, Tom Wood; he was a caterer for fêtes and galas who rented a big empty warehouse in Castle Street and named it 'The Gaiety'. It was a place too - this is about 40 years or more ago, where each floor ran a different show. On the bottom floor was Colonel Boome and his performing lions. His wife used to put her head in one of the lion's mouths and I heard some years after that she done it once too often for a hairpin caught in the roof of the lion jaw and he took her head off. On one floor, they had a French woman walking 4000 miles in 4000 hours or she was supposed to. This Tom Wood the proprietor was a great sporting man in his way as all showmen are and we used to have a lot of boxing contests.
Bristol has always been known for producing scrappers and I will mention a few champion boxers we had at different times:- Peter Jackson, Frank Slavin, Charlie Mitchell, Jake Kibrain who came over from America and fought Jem Smith with the knuckles in France for the championship. Jem Smith and brother Tom boxed here, Toff Wall - Jem Mace and all of them champion at their different weights. We had step dancing and clog dancing contests besides singing, some of the showmen were naturally witty too.
I had a lad for a striker when I worked as a smith for Fullers and my word, he was strong. I never saw a chap so strong outside a showman's tent. One night he went to Castle Street and in a twopenny show was a strong man lifting iron bars etc. and after giving his exhibition asked anyone in the show if they would like to try their skill. George (my mate) got hold of the bar of iron and done what he saw the showman do. My word, you can bet there was a look amongst the chaps there. After, the showman got in touch with him and wanted him to travel with the show but he would not take that on. In those days, showman were travellers, they seldom stayed in a town more than a few days or a week.
Now I remember a couple of Bristol worthies of about 45 years ago. One man was Benny Bright and would look a queer character if not in the dark, for he had a face as big as a frying pan. He could be seen walking to and fro in the gutter between Wine Street, Castle Street or Old Market Street vending his wares of the latest novelties of the day such as monkey on a stick. But the best known character of all was old Joe Baker - I have spent many a penny to see his show, his dramas were good and his show was well patronised by the boys of his day.
The there was Billy the Tinker, a short stocky man clad in fustian (?) and his clothes were plentifully covered with old lion shillings instead of buttons and he was as strong as a lion but his strength did not avail him at the finish for a man from one of the lodging houses murdered him at Bishopsworth beyond Bedminster Down. This man tried to change some of these lion shillings in Gloucester Lane and he was arrested and whilst on remand at Lawford Gate Prison hanged himself with his braces - all for the sake of a few shillings.
I remember him well for one Sunday, I made to the Elm Tree Inn where he was waiting for the inquest in one of the stables but the police had it locked so I did not see him. My uncle took me with a brother of the landlord and the landlord was a brother of Tom Wood, we were shown where they found poor old Billy the Tinker
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