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Hengler's Cirques in Liverpool

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

Liverpool Theatres Index

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

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

Hengler's Cirque, 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.

Hengler's Cirque, Cropper Street 1861

Hengler lost no time in establishing another circus after the closure of his Circus on Dale Street in 1861, 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.

Hengler's Cirque, West Derby Road 1876

Later - The Royal Hippodrome

An engraving showing Hengler's New Cirque, West Derby Road, Liverpool - From The Builder, December 2nd 1876.

Above - An engraving showing Hengler's New Cirque, West Derby Road, Liverpool - From The Builder, December 2nd 1876.

After the Newington Cropper Street 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.

A Section Plan of Hengler's New Cirque, West Derby Road, Liverpool - From The Builder, December 2nd 1876.The Builder reported on the building, along with the images shown here, in their 2nd of December 1876 edition saying:- 'The annexed engraving represents one of the largest permanent circuses in the kingdom, and which was opened a few days ago. It stands at the junction of Walker-street and West Derby-road, Liverpool.

Right - A Section Plan of Hengler's New Cirque, West Derby Road, Liverpool - From The Builder, December 2nd 1876.

The front elevation faces the West Derby-road, and is carried out with red pressed bricks, relieved by ornamental dressings. In the front of the main building there are five shops, with principal entrance to the Cirque in the centre leading to stalls and boxes, below the level of the wall at the end of it, shown on the plan. This entrance has iron ornamental gates. The floor is laid with tesselated pavement, and glazed doors are placed at the end to prevent draughts.

A commodious vestibule is provided here with cloak-rooms for the audience of stalls and reserved seats. On the right-hand side is the entrance to pit, balcony, and promenade. The entrance to the gallery is in Walker-street, and is reached by a stone staircase, with level landings, An extra exit door from the pit is provided in this street; also an extra exit for parterre and gallery.

At the rear of the building is stabling for fifty horses, with carriage-shed, and the usual stable requirements. Six dressing-rooms and commodious wardrobes are at the side and back of the main building.

The interior of the building is fitted up after the arrangement of Mr. Charles Hengler's other permanent circuses in Glasgow and London, which have been carried out by the same architect, Mr. J. T. Robinson. The seats are all arranged so as to give a view of the arena, and are divided into five private boxes, 200 reserved stalls, 600 seats in the parterre, 2,000 in the pit and balconies, and 1,600 in the galleries, thus having accommodation for 4,500 people...

A Plan of Hengler's New Cirque, West Derby Road, Liverpool - From The Builder, December 2nd 1876.

Above - A Plan of Hengler's New Cirque, West Derby Road, Liverpool - From The Builder, December 2nd 1876.

...The construction of the roof is novel in design, the span being 100ft., and the collar-beam is 18ft. from the feet of the double principal rafters; 1½in. tension rods are placed from the feet between these rafters, running to the bottom of the king-post, and thence to the top of same, thus forming a light timbered roof and an iron one at the same time; 9in. by 3in. Purlins are placed every 3ft., resting on the principals, and are covered over with dry 1½in. boards, and then slated. A syphon ventilator is formed in the centre of the roof, 12ft. square, and inlets of cold air are fixed in convenient places to assist this ventilation and avoid draughts. Special care has been given to this part of the arrangement, with what result we have yet to learn.

The ceiling is constructed of wood and canvas, formed into panels and ribs, with bosses at each intersection of the ribs, from which drop chandeliers of brass, containing fifty lights; there are twelve of these in number. The sunlight has a domed silver plated reflector over it, the idea of the proprietor. It was executed by Messrs. Z. D. Berry & Son, Regent-street, Westminster.

The front and side balconies have ornamental fronts; the caps of pillars have the Prince of Wales's feathers. In the spandrels of the arches are large trophies and flags of all nations. The decorations are carried out in gold on a mauve and pink ground. The ring is fitted with an extra fence, to prevent the soil being kicked over into the face of the audience.

The contract for the main building, stables, and entrances was let to Mr. S. Campbell, contractor, Liverpool. The slating was done by Messrs. Wild & Sons, of Hull. The gas-fittings are the work of Mr. Price, of Liverpool. The fittings for the sunlight, and lights to the exterior, are by Messrs. Z. D. Berry & Son. The iron stable-fittings have been supplied by Messrs, Alderman Bennett & Sons, of Liverpool. The iron gates and seat standards from Messrs. Smith & Co., Sun Foundry, Glasgow. The decorations were entrusted to Mr. Thomas Rogers, of London. The raised ornament to the balcony fronts, &c., was carried out by Messrs. Jackson & Co., Rathbone-place, London. Mr. Gilbert, of London, acted as clerk of works and foreman of interior fittings.'

The above text in quotes was first published in The Builder, 2nd December 1876.

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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