Yesteryear: When Bertram Mills Circus brought daring acts to Luton

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Luton Yesteryear by Carly Smith, Luton Heritage Forum

When Bertram Mills first brought his show from Olympia to tour the UK in 1930, he chose Stockwood Park in Luton as the venue for the opening performance.

Newspapers of the time noted it created something of a sensation locally, with the Beds and Herts Pictorial observing that, “Nothing to equal its magnificence had ever been seen in these parts”.

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This photograph, taken during one of the circus’s visits to Luton in the 1930s, shows a daring knife thrower and his brave assistant.

Bertram Mills Circus at Stockwood ParkBertram Mills Circus at Stockwood Park
Bertram Mills Circus at Stockwood Park

Their fellow performers, including a face-painted clown, can be seen in the background looking on.

Lutonians visiting the show enjoyed other acts including tigers, dancing elephants, horses, mules and zebras and high wire act.

In 1932, Mills advertised an appearance from Zaro Agna, the ‘oldest living man’, who the circus claimed was 156 years old.

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Bertram Mills died of pneumonia on the 16th of April 1938: the date on which his tenting circus was due to open in Luton for its 1938 tour.

One national newspaper announced the ‘Death of Britain’s No.1 Showman’ and the ‘King of the Modern Circus’.

Despite the figurehead’s sudden death, the show went ahead that day under the watchful eye of Bertram’s sons Cyril and Bernard. His family continued to manage the family business until the circus’s last performance in the 1960s.

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