Circuses have been a popular form of entertainment for centuries, but their acts have changed greatly over time. The Museum holds in its collection a large number of objects that reveal the history of a night at the circus – from clowning and high wire, to menageries and sideshows.
El Niño Farini
Born in 1855, El Niño Farini first performed at the age of 10 on stage at the Alhambra theatre in London with his father who was an acrobat and tightrope walker. El Niño was known as the ‘Infant Prodigy’. His act included hanging from a trapeze by his neck whilst playing a drum.
Tom Thumb was born of short stature and became a well-known circus performer after being hired by American impresario Phineas Taylor Barnum to be an ‘exhibit’ at his American Museum on Broadway. Thumb's routine contained comic patter and songs, the most famous being the hornpipe dance and song ‘Yankee Doodle Dandee’.
Theatre & Performance
The Theatre and Performance collection was founded in the 1920s when a private collector, Gabrielle Enthoven, donated her extensive collection of theatrical designs, memorabilia, books and photographs to the Museum. Since then the collection has continued to grow and has provided a home for many other significant objects and archives. All areas of the live performing arts are represented in the collections, documenting both current practice and the history of the performing arts in the UK.