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Hengler's Cirques in Liverpool

Dale Street 1857 - Cropper Street 1861 - West Derby Road 1876

Liverpool Theatres Index

Dale Street 1857

On Dale Street there stood for many years a celebrated hostelry called the “Saracen's Head” however it was demolished in approximately 1855. The ground remained empty until Charles Hengler chose the site for his circus.

Before the opening of the Circus in Dale Street, on March the 16th 1857, the following notice was published:

Hengler's Grand Cirque Variete Dale Street, Liverpool

Mr Charles Hengler, in announcing his intention of (for the first time) catering for the amusement of the inhabitants of Liverpool and its vicinity, respectfully informs them that he has been honoured by the especial patronage of Her Most Gracious Majesty the Queen, Prince Albert, and the Royal Family and suite, at Windsor Castle, February, 1845, and in 1849, also by the nobility, clergy, and gentry of every town he has hitherto visited — a sufficient guarantee that his establishment stands pre-eminent for producing entertainment of the highest order.

The talented Artistes engaged are the first in the equestrian profession. These combined with a matchless stud of fifty horses and ponies, costly wardrobe and appointments, cannot fail to render the Cirque worthy of the inhabitants of Liverpool.

The splendid building, erected regardless of expense by Messrs. Holme and Nicol (after the style of the Cirque Napoleon, Paris), will be found replete with every possible arrangement for the comfort of the vast audience it is constructed to accommodate in its several spacious and distinct apartments. The first and second class boxes are carpeted throughout, and furnished with cushioned seats. The spacious Promenade, 200 feet in length, encircles three quarters of the building, from every part of which an uninterrupted view of the arena is commanded. A magnificent canopy will cover the interior of the building, which will be interspersed with flags of all nations and emblem designs, red, white, and blue being the characteristics of the decoration. The whole brilliantly illuminated with gas.

The bands will be found full and efficient, and the entertainments will consist of Scenes of Riding, Studs of the Menage, Brilliant Spectacles, Equestrian Pageants, etc., etc., enlivened by the witticisms and grotesque achievements of the four best clowns of the day.

Reserved Seats or Stalls (select), 3s. half price 1s 6d.; Boxes (select), 2s., half price 1s; Second Seats 1s. half price 6d. ; Gallery 6d., no half price ; Promenade 1s, no half price.

In 1861 the ground upon which the Cirque was erected was acquired by the Liverpool Hotel Company, and on Thursday, March the 14th, 1861, the final equestrian performance took place.

Cropper Street 1861

Hengler lost no time in establishing another circus, and on Monday, October the 21st, 1861, he opened, in Newington, a second Cirque Variete, erected for him by Messrs. Holme and Nicol. The ' first and second-class entrance ' was in Newington, and the gallery entrance in Cropper Street. Prices here were the same as at the Dale Street Circus, and ranged from sixpence to three shillings.

West Derby Road 1876

Later - The Royal Hippodrome

A Sketch of Hengler's Grand Cirque, Liverpool - Courtesy Alfred Mason

Above - A Sketch of Hengler's Grand Cirque, Liverpool - Courtesy Alfred Mason

After the Newington Circus was demolished, and after success in the establishment of equestrian arenas in London, Glasgow, Dublin, and elsewhere, Charles Hengler once more cast his eyes upon the scene of his early triumphs, and in fulfillment of a long made promise, to “erect a Cirque worthy of this large and appreciative community”, he decided to build in West Derby Road a large hippodrome.

Mr J. T. Robinson, the surveyor of Theatres to the Lord Chamberlain, was the architect, and Mr Samuel Campbell of Liverpool, the contractor, the ceiling and general decorations being carried out by Mr Thomas Rogers, the well known scenic artist of London.

There was considerable interest in the opening of “Hengler's Grand Cirque” which took place on Monday, November the 13th, 1876, before a large and brilliant assembly. The principal attraction of the entertainment was the performance of the Jackley Troupe, eleven in number. The clowns were Astley, Le Quips and Willie Templeton.

The Cirque occupied an area of 20,000 square feet, and was built of red brick. The front elevation, abutting on West Derby Road, was built of the best pressed red brick, relieved by ornamental drawings of a classical design. The floor of the principal entrance in West Derby Road had a handsome tessellated pavement, and glazed folding doors were placed at the end of the entrance hall, whilst the entrance itself had iron ornamental gates of a bold chaste design.

In all there were five private boxes, 200 reserved stalls, 600 seats in the parterre, 2,000 in the pit, and 1,600 in the gallery, making a total accommodation of 4,500 persons.

On Saturday evening, February the 9th, 1901 when Mr Albert M. Hengler was proprietor and director, the last performance took place and that was the end of a long and brilliant chapter in the history of equestrianism.

Charles Hengler's Grave Stone - Courtesy Alfred Mason. After this the Cirque remained unoccupied for some months until Mr Thomas Barrasford acquired the property on behalf of a syndicate and a new Theatre was constructed within the walls of the old Circus, the Royal Hippodrome, which opened on the 4th of August 1902.

Charles Hengler died on 28 September 1887 and he was buried in Hampstead cemetery, Fortune Green Road, London. He was aged 66.

Right - Charles Hengler's Grave Stone - Courtesy Alfred Mason.

The above article on Hengler's Cirques in Liverpool was compiled for this site by Alfred Mason in June 2015.

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