Circus Parade Wagons

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Royal Hanneford Carriage/Bandwagon

The Royal Hanneford Carriage/Bandwagon

The Royal Hanneford Carriage/Bandwagon and the Hanneford Circus of Ireland 1903-1911

Edwin “Ned” Hanneford (ca. 1867-1913), a fifth generation circus performer within the Hanneford family of England, married Elizabeth Scott (1870-1953) on Sept. 15, 1890. For the next 12 years, they performed together on various circuses throughout England. The Hannefords had three children—Edwin “Poodles,” Elizabeth “Lizzie,” and William “George.” With their children, the Hannefords developed an outstanding comedy riding act as well as other circus skills.

Around the turn of the century, Ned and Elizabeth decided to save as much of their pay as possible for a show of their own. They were ready to debut their circus in 1903, and they decided to open and tour in Ireland. Knowing that the Irish had a distaste for the English, they titled their new circus The Royal Hanneford Canadian Circus. For nine years the Hanneford Circus toured Ireland during the spring, summer, and fall. A winter quarters was maintained in Belfast.

The Hanneford Circus of Ireland was a small one-ring enterprise that, in its peak years of existence, traveled with about 30 wagons, 125 horses, one elephant, two camels, and ten lions.

It is thought that The Royal Hanneford Carriage was used to promote the appearance of the circus as early as 1904. It is unknown where the carriage was built, and whether the Hannefords had it constructed or purchased it from another showman. There are photographs of the wagon fully prepared for the daily street march showing an eight-horse hitch with horse blankets and plumes. There were corner banners decorating the top of the carriage and costumed outriders. In one photograph, a small band of seven musicians is seen on top of the wagon. Thus it is clear that the wagon was used as a bandwagon in one or more of the years in Ireland.

Beginning about 1907, the Hannefords began playing winter engagements in England. In 1912, the circus itself left Ireland for good and began touring in England and Scotland in association with E. H. Bostock. A daily “grand free street cavalcade” was presented. The Royal Hanneford Carriage/Bandwagon was thought to have been used in these parades. In England, advertising referred to “Hanneford’s Royal Genuine Canadian Circus.” Further newspaper advertising stated that the show was making its initial appearance “after many years successfully touring Canada’s vast provinces.” Of course the Hanneford Circus had never appeared in Canada, as it was strictly an Irish enterprise. Apparently the Hannefords thought that the English would not be particularly fond of a circus originating in Ireland, the reverse perspective of their thinking of nine years earlier.

Mid season during the Royal Hanneford Circus’s second year in Great Britain, Ned Hanneford died. Following his death in June of 1913, the circus lost direction and did poorly according to family accounts. In December of 1913, the Hanneford riding act appeared in the Christmas circus at London’s Agricultural Hall, presented by Sir Robert Fossett. It was here that John Ringling saw the Hannefords perform for the first time.

The Hannefords were contracted by John Ringling to appear in the United States for the 1915 season. In March, they opened with Barnum & Bailey Circus, owned by the Ringling Bros., in Madison Square Garden in New York with their comedy trick riding. Poodles Hanneford electrified the audience with consecutive running leaps on and off a horse circling the ring. During the New York engagement, Poodles achieved a record 26 successive running leaps on and off of a galloping horse, an accomplishment noted in the Guinness Book of Records.

The Royal Hanneford Carriage/Bandwagon is particularly significant as it is the only circus parade wagon from Ireland known to exist. It obviously has a special connection with the Hanneford family. Poodles Hanneford’s nephew, Tommy Hanneford, began The Royal Hanneford Circus in America in 1970. This is the same show that Circus World Museum contracted to present performances at the Great Circus Parade Showgrounds in Milwaukee for several years. Various editions of The Royal Hanneford circus have now appeared in Ireland, England, Scotland, and the United States.

Presumably the Hanneford Carriage/Bandwagon was acquired by Sir Robert Fossett of Northampton, England, at some point prior to the end of World War I. It allegedly was stored from 1919 to the present with only minimal use by the Fossett Circus. The ownership of the wagon has transferred through four generations of Fossetts: Sir Robert Fossett, Bob Fossett, Bailey and Mary Fossett (brother and sister), and Robert and Nikki Fossett.

Circus World Museum acquired The Royal Hanneford Carriage/Bandwagon from Robert and Nikki Fossett and restored it in time for its inclusion in a grand international section of the 1999 Great Circus Parade. The wagon was among the first to be restored in the newly constructed
C. P. Fox Wagon Restoration in Baraboo.

For more information about the Hannefords and their circus in Ireland, see A Ring, A Horse, and a Clown, by John H. McConnell (Astley & Ricketts, 1992), pp. 23-71).

France Tableau WagonCole Brothers “France” Tableau No. 80

In 1918, the Bode Wagon Co. of Cincinnati constructed panels for sixteen tableau wagons, each representing a different country. These elaborate carved sides were mounted on truck bodies for Frank Spellman’s new United States Motorized Circus. Due to a variety of problems, the show delayed opening, finally going out in August 1919, but failed after showing only three days. The trucks were repossessed by the Kelly-Springfield Company who built them. The carved sides were returned to the Bode Wagon Co.

In 1922, Bode sold fifteen sets of the tableau panels to Robert Schiller, a long-time showman who planned to put out a new circus. When this never materialized, Schiller sold the panels, attaching them to wagon undergears. The France Tableau went to Robbins Bros. Circus, where it was used 1923-1931. When that show folded, the wagon was sent to William P. Hall’s Lancaster, Missouri, farm as repayment of a loan. The deteriorating wagon was purchased by Jess Adkins and Zack Terrell in 1935, but not used on their Cole Bros. Circus until 1937. They restored the wagon, replacing the original painted scenes of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe with scenes from the life of Joan of Arc. The following year, they used it on their Robbins Bros. Circus.

France was purchased in 1946 by the Block & Kuhl department store of Peoria for use in their Christmas parade. Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co. acquired the wagon when they bought Block & Kuhl, then presented it to Circus World Museum in 1962. It has been restored to its 1937 appearance.

Overall: Length 19’ 4” – Width 8’ 8” – Height 10’ 2” – Weight 7840 lbs.
Body: Length 18’ 3” – Width 5’ 11” – Height 6’ – Weight 7840 lbs.

2019
Parade Wagon Line-Up

Al Ringling Wagon
B&B Golden Age of Chivalry
Beck Calliope
Mother Goose Pony Float
Old Woman in Shoe

Our Country Tableau
Royal Hanneford Band Chariot
Ringling Lion & Mirror Bandwagon
Sparks Sea Serpent Tableau
Ringling Bros. Snake Den
Gollmar Bros. Mirror Bandwagon

Ringling Bros. U.S. Bandwagon
Ringling Cage Wagon
America Steam Calliope
France Tableau
Ringling Bros. Giraffe Wagon