Pablo Fanque | Performer, Trailblazer & HCL Keystone

Tags: Pablo Fanque
Pablo Fanque

Pablo Fanque (via Smithsonian)

In popular culture, it was Beatle John Lennon who discovered an old bill-poster in an antique shop in Sevenoaks. Inspired by its unusual wording, he wrote Being for The Benefit of Mr. Kite which appeared on the group’s iconic Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The song includes the lines, ‘…The Hendersons will all be there, late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair. What a scene…’

The Leeds Northern Star in 1838 announced a circus on Bank Street (near Boar Lane) which featured acrobat and wire-walker, Pablo Fanque and which would commence with ‘Wonderful Leaps’.

(Also mentioned on the bill of Batty's New Royal Olympic Arena is a Master Pablo Fanque creating some confusion. Were these two in fact father and son? Were they related at all?)

The Star goes on to describe Master Pablo as ‘the youngest Performer in the World; whose precious talents have obtained for him the appellation of the Gem of Africa’.

We all know Africa has gems – human and mineral – but it is rare to hear such positive praise of an African in Britain.

Pablo Fanque Senior (1810-1871) was a trailblazer. The surprising and unexpected twists in his life were like the narratives of many other Africans living in Britain. Born William Darby in Norwich, the orphaned Pablo was mentored by enlightened innovators in the Golden Age of British circus.

His innate skills of ‘patience and perseverance … talent and industry,’ allowed him to stay at the top of his profession for decades. Pablo Fanque's Circus Royal became particularly popular in the north of Britain and ran for 30 years.

Leeds would become Pablo’s final resting place in 1871.

It is fitting then that he is buried on Leeds University's central campus, the most celebrated British born citizen of African descent in his lifetime.

Pablo connects the intricate and powerful narratives of the African diaspora with Yorkshire. Deserving of academic recognition, creative exploration and celebration, he informs our work at Heritage Corner Leeds.

Top ↑