Past Times: First circus visit for thirty years

From The Shetland Times, Friday 22nd August, 1958

The first circus to visit Shetland for over thirty years was a big attraction in Lerwick’s Gilbertson Park during the past week.

It was brought to the islands by Messrs. Winship & Sons, who had previously toured the Highlands, Skye, and the Hebrides, and who are now in Orkney.

Their initiative in attempting to bring a circus show to the islands, despite high transport costs, deserved to succeed, and the show did play to good audiences all week.

For many Shetlanders it was a chance to see a circus for the first time, and few were disappointed. For those who had seen the bigger circuses on the mainland, it was still not a disappointment. It was obvious that a mammoth show could not be brought here but what we did see was a good, clean, family-type show, in which all the artistes worked very hard, and which was a much more intimate affair than the big circuses.

The two clowns appeared on many occasions to keep the fun going. One of the funniest was when they sought audience co-operation by picking young ‘volunteers’ to act as Arab acrobats. Whether the audience or the youngsters enjoyed the act most is difficult to say.

But the highlight of the whole show was the dog act, which presented six very smart terriers in obedience tests, jumping, rolling, dancing, pony-back riding, etc. The appearance of a monkey and a Shetland pony in the act was an added attraction.

The Vandells provided the promised thrills on the trapeze – although it was not a ‘high’ act in the big top sense, their acrobatic feats deservedly drew loud applause. The young acrobatic contortionist was good, too, and Raymondo drew gasps of astonishment with his fire-eating act.

The ponies and horses were seen quite a lot, and probably the best-liked was Satan, the educated pony, which picked out ‘types’ from the audience at his master’s behest.

According to the programme “it is our policy to bring good circus entertainment to the parts of Scotland and the Isles that never, or seldom, see a circus, and to return as frequently as possible with a different programme.” We think we can safely promise the Winships a cordial welcome if they do decide to pay a return visit sometime in the future.


To mark the occasion, the circus was opened officially last Friday evening by Provost W. K. Conochie, who was accompanied by other councillors and officials.

During the week two clowns have visited the Gilbert Bain Hospital and the Sanatorium to chat with the patients. Their visit brought pleasure to the patients, but all the entertainment wasn’t on one side only. In the Sanatorium, for instance, Mr Charles Leask played the fiddle, while Miss Harriet Clark puzzled the visitors with Shetland recitations.


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