Roll up! Roll up! – 19th century circus and other professional bands in the British Isles

During the 19th century, many travelling entertainment shows criss-crossed the country as they thrilled audiences with their various acts. Circuses, menageries, waxworks and minstrel shows usually had a band attached to them to provide exciting music, drawing in the punters and emphasising the acts themselves. In addition to these bands, other static entertainment venues also engaged professional bands to supply musical entertainment to their clientele – these included pleasure gardens, theatres and museums.

Sanger’s Circus bandwagon

The make up of the bands varied considerably – some were only a few players, usually brass (to make the most noise), others reached numbers of up to twenty. The larger and more established bands were of sufficient quality and ability to deliver complex operatic and classical pieces as well as the “traditional” show music of marches, polkas and waltzes that were associated with such bands. Sadly, at the lower end of the quality spectrum, circus bands tended to get a bad name due to the poor quality of the music of some of them.

The paper below looks at how circus and menageries bands entertained their audiences, and also lists other professional bands that were associated with entertainment venues – e.g. waxworks, pleasure gardens.

Roll up! Roll up! – 19th century circus and other professional bands in the British Isles

Bostock & Wombwell’s Menagerie Band, Hull, 1906
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