Mention Belle Vue at an Archives+ event and you get a rush of memories from those of a certain age.
We have some fantastic posters and photographs in our collection. Not only was there a zoo and a circus on site, but the funfair and sideshows added to the attractions. Wrestling and concerts also took place in Kings Hall.
I have my own memories of Belle Vue. One family legend is that my uncle donated a tortoise that grew too big to be a household pet. I wish I had a photo of that!
However one memory that always intrigues me is my visit to the Flea Circus. I’m still not sure whether these were genuine or an urban myth. I know what I saw in that little booth, standing round a table with tiny tightropes,sword fights and miniature chariots that moved. I can recall the lady in charge showing us how she fed the fleas on her arm.The fleas seemed positively pampered. A few years later, around 1971, I saw an appeal in the Manchester Evening News begging for human fleas, in short supply as living conditions improved. It may have been a publicity stunt, but it convinced me that I hadn’t invented my childhood visit.
Was it all an illusion? Why didn’t animal fleas work, harnessed to those little chariots? There would have been no shortage of them among the creatures in the Zoo. Surely there was no need for the ‘trainer’ to feed them from her own blood supply!
Now you can trace the history of the flea circus and its different forms through the internet.The National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield is a great source of images and information. As a child I was happy to suspend my disbelief and accept it for a fascinating and unforgettable spectacle presented in that tiny side show booth at Belle Vue.