Lord' John Sanger

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One of the finest statuary groups in Margate Cemetery is that of the Sanger family, 19th century owners of the most spectacular circuses this country ever saw. Whilst the better known of the family is ‘Lord George, who had strong ties to Margate and made his home here in the grounds of his Hall by the Sea, later Dreamland, the burial plot is dominated not by ‘Lord’ George but by a beautiful stone horse to ‘Lord’ John, who died in 1889. The titles ’Lord’ used by both Sanger brothers were not hereditary, and I shall explain how they came about.

They were the sons of James Sanger, a man impressed into Nelson’s Navy who actually served with the great man on H.M.S. VICTORY at Trafalgar, during which he was severely injured. As disabled men were no use to the Navy, he found himself discharged with a yearly pension of £10. Using skills acquired from his shipmates, James entered the world of the showman by taking a small peep show box he had made onto the road on his back, to complement which he performed a conjuring routine. So it was that John Sanger came to be born at the little village of Chew Magna,near Bristol, in 1815, and in 1827 George was born at Newbury, he being the youngest boy in a family of ten children. Life was spent touring in the season, and John and George, like their father

had in the Navy, watched and learnt the skills which would set them both on the road to fame.

As soon as age allowed and opportunity presented itself John and George followed in their father’s footsteps, touring the Midlands with their own show. Success crowned their efforts and they branched out into the world of horse training, their first step on the road to legitimate circus, and were soon employing staff for a tour of Norfolk. Their embryonic circus grew quickly and was to be seen in all parts of the country as they toured, going from strength to strength. The culmination of the success enjoyed by these equestrian minded brothers has to have been their purchase of London’s Astley’s Amphitheatre. The driving force behind the partnership was the younger George, and eventually he and John decided on an amicable split of their circus empire, each then going their own separate ways on the touring road.

It was in the August and October of 1887 that George found himself in Court, being sued by “Buffalo Bill” Cody for using that gentleman’s name in advertising one of his shows, and this was how that title of “Lord” first became associated with the Sanger name. That supreme historian of the English circus. M. Willson Disher, in his 1937 book “The Greatest show On Earth”, recounts how George went to a country pub to drown his sorrows at being prosecuted for contempt of court and smarting that Cody was known as ‘The Honourable’. In conversation with a farm labourer who was unaware of George’s identity, the man asked, ‘Bain@t Sanger a Lord?’. To the dapper George Sanger who had always been known as “Gentleman George” as a boy and habitually called “His

Lordship” by his father, the solution was obvious. “Dang it” he exclaimed, if he’s the Honourable William Cody then I’m ‘Lord George Sanger from this day out!. And so he was, and as the circus bible “ The Sawdust Ring” by Rupert Croft-Cooke and W.S. Meadmore state in 1955, “ the Effect of this on the other circus proprietors of the time was amusing. John Sanger, not to be outdone by his brother, also became a Lord. Cooke became Sir John Henry Cooke, Bob Fossett was transformed into Sir Robert Fossett, and the acrobat head of one of the smallest tenting shows went one better and styled himself “King Ohmy”. Lion tamers became captains and even grooms hinted at aristocratic connections.


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