Thursday, February 14, 2008

Bostock’s Big Liz and other unfortunate animals

At this rate we’re going to be able to create a website devoted entirely to Victorian and Edwardian attractions in Blackpool that wouldn’t be acceptable in today’s political climate. Elephants made to perform for an audience’s amusement, for example, might still be popular with the kids, but not so much fun for conscientious adults. That’s why you’re not likely to see too many postcards, such as the one below, on sale in the kiosks around the town any more.

To be honest, we’re not experts on circus and/or menagerie trivia, so we had a quick scout round the web and soon discovered the following information about Big Liz, courtesy of the New York Times. We reckon the article speaks volumes for itself and the attitude of the time…
Hmm…since then he’s had his entire establishment burned up on three occasions? New York must have smelt like a full English breakfast for weeks.
Apparently Big Liz proved popular amongst college students in America, as the following extract from the Buffalo Evening News of 1901 demonstrates:

“June 4: The royal purple of Williams College was the first to make its appearance for the Intercollegiate games in the Stadium at 1 o'clock this afternoon. Then the bonnie blue of Yale was seen, after which came...blah blah blah…
The fair sex opened up sun umbrellas to the discontent of those behind them. The flags were all aflutter and the seats began to fill rapidly as 2 o'clock approached. The college boys whiled away the wait by whacking the floor with their canes and breaking into snatches of college songs, diversified with references to the Midway. Yale men tried to secure Bostock's elephant, "Big Li
z", with the intention of viewing the sports from her back. Princeton lads tried the same game with "Lil", the elephant of the Streets of Cairo, but the negotiations fell through.”

Big Liz’s life was tinged with more than her fair share of tragedy, however. In fact, most of Bostock’s animals (if they managed to survive being charcoaled) didn’t fare terribly well on the whole, as the following extract reveals:

Dying of blood poisoning…probably not ideal for jumbo sausages then. (Sorry…bad taste joke…not unlike Bostock’s whole menagerie it would seem.)What became of Big Liz in the end, we honestly don’t know. She obviously ended up in Blackpool at one point, being posed for the photograph at the top of this article. And now quite possibly, all matters considered, she’s doing sentry duty (at least in part) as an umbrella stand in one of the Bostock family descendants’ homes. Times have changed for the better perhaps. However, we couldn’t leave this particular posting without one last photograph…not of Big Liz, but of another of Bostock’s little friends:


John said...

Enough of the circus stuff, already!

Show us some skeletons, or something, eh? Or a standing stone, or some pirates, or maybe even a pirate skeleton under a standing stone...

Yeah, that sounds cool!

Anonymous :0)

Brian Hughes said...


Don't worry, there'll be some prehistoric artefacts and stuff coming up soon enough. In the meantime it's a 'mostly elephants and midgets menu' you'll just have to be patient.

Anonymous said...

Great story. Is it possible to have a clearer image of 'Liz' the elephant, as my great grandad, Arthur Feely, was an elephant trainer with Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie. My e-mail is I've got a no of B & W images I can send to you if you would like.


Geoffrey Younger

Brian Hughes said...


The only image we've got of Big Liz is the one on this board. However, I'll drop you a line and put you in touch with Phil Barker, who owns the original photograph. If you ask him nicely he might just scan it in for you at a higher resolution. As for the black and white photographs, they'd be brilliant. Stay tuned to your e-mail box. I'll be in touch directly.

Bwca said...

elephants just break my heart.
I have never been, nor would I go, to a circus, and went to a zoo once, 30 years ago.
the poor things aren't having a good time anywhere at all, particularly in their natural habitat.
Midgets, I can handle.
If velcro had been invented in Blackpool Pier's heyday, Big Liz's managers would have dressed them in it and tossed them at walls.
Don't start shreiking "Non politically correct" at me, as tyke-tossing was a major entertainment in the 17thC - children were plentiful and expendable.

Brian Hughes said...


I'm not going to complain about political correctness. I remember some years ago a group of upstanding citizens in Ireland started a campaign to ban dwarf throwing. (Apparently it's big over seriously...there's competitions and everything.) Unfortunately they forgot to ask the dwarves what they thought about it. When the dwarves were finally questioned on the news, they told the campaigners to keep their noses out of their business, because they actually enjoyed being chucked about.

It's an odd world, and for some unknown reason one that always seem to come back to dwarves and midgets. I'm starting to get worried...

Ozfemme said...

oh update already!

Brian Hughes said...


Strewth! I'm going as fast as I can. I've got stuff to sort out for Wyre Archaeology, the History of Blackpool book to write, and all sorts of other things to organise and see to.

I usually update this board late on Thursday night...sometimes throwing in a mid-week article around Monday morning...which I tried to do this week by posting another midget video, but even the blogger board's starting to reject the damned things now. After an hour of futile struggle to embed the code I gave in.

It's Thursday morning. In a few hours time, I will update. That's not so much a promise as a threat.