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Cooke's Royal Circus (c1780 - 1908)



  • Existence: c1780 - 1908


The Cooke circus dynasty started with Thomas Cooke (b.1752). Thomas first started presenting a circus around England and Scotland in c1780. One of its first performances to be recorded was at Ayrshire in 1784.

As it was customary at the time, Cooke's Circus presented mainly equestrian acts, accompanied by light entertainments such as acrobatics, strongmen and contortionists. Most of the Cooke’s Circus troupe was formed by family members, who were introduced into the circus at a very young age.

Thomas Cooked paved the way but it was his son Thomas Taplin Cooke who will take the Cooke name to the height of success. Thomas Taplin was born in Warwick in 1782 and became an accomplished equestrian, a rope-walker and a strong man. By the time he was in his late twenties, he had already taken over the management of the family business from his father. Thomas Taplin was an ambitious businessman, who turned his family circus into one of the most successful circuses of its time. Among other things Thomas Taplin expanded the business by building semi-permanent circuses in Edinburgh, Newcastle, Sunderland and Hull. In 1830 his success attracted a royal visit by King William IV and Queen Adelaide, which in true showman’s spirit he advertised by renaming his circus Cooke’s Royal Circus. He also took his circus on a two year tour of North America in 1836, travelling around New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Baltimore. Cooke’s Royal Circus returned to the UK in 1838 bringing a large travelling circus tent, an American invention, which will become key to the expansion of travelling circuses.

Thomas Taplin had three sons James (1810-1869), William (1808-1886) and Alfred (1821-1854).

James being the oldest son took on the management of his father’s circus in the 1840s while William, became an accomplished equestrian and acrobat and worked at the family circus until he eventually set up on his own at Astley's Amphitheatre in London, which he used to present his circus for eleven years.

Thomas Cooke died in 1866 in London. This same year the management of the Cooke’s circus passed on to John Henry Cooke (b. 1837), son of Henry Cooke and nephew of Thomas Taplin. Immediately upon takin over the business, John built the Royal Circus in East Fountainbridge giving a permanent home to the travelling circus. John presented the Cooke’s circus at this venue for the following 42 years until it closed its doors in 1908, marking the end of the Cooke’s circus dynasty.

John Cooke died in Edinburgh on 22 August 1917, aged 80.

Found in 4 Collections and/or Records:

Cooke's Circus Poster, c1800 - 1899

Reference code: 178R47.20
Scope and Contents Bootham Bar, York, for the benefit of Paul Pietro, The Indian flying equestrian and Mr. Boulter clown, Spanish parade of eight beautiful barbs, Mr. Bridges will go through the wonderful feast performed by Juan Bellinck on the cord volante and pyramid of men, Still Vaulting, Mr. Gibson clarinet concert, Mr. Evans comedian, Madame Louise equestrian act, Mr. Evans wonderful Polanders, On the Key Bugle concerto, Paul Pietro war Indian, Monsier Cline tightrope act, Mr. Woolford equestrian act,...
Dates: c1800 - 1899

Mr. Cooke Circus Poster, 9 November 1830

Reference code: 178R47.26
Scope and Contents Pantheon, Norwich. 12 Arabian and Hanoverian horses, country dance, Mr. Cooke on The Courier of St. Petersburgh, The Magnificent Pegasus, Miss Emiline Margaretta on The Countess of Lilliput or the Fair old Maid of 1725 comical equestrian act, Mr. Smith with Burmese twin ponies act, Mr. Williams' leaping acrobatic act, Master Alfred Cooke's on The Playful Zephyr equestrian act, Mons. Hengler on sigle tightrope act, Protean Nondescript gymnastic act, Brentford Election comedy act. Black type...
Dates: 9 November 1830

Posters, c1800 - 2011

Reference code: 178R47
Scope and Contents

A wide range of British and international circus and menagerie posters ranging from the 19th to the 21st century including Astley's Amphitheatre, Pablo Fanque, Polito, Bostock and Wombwell, Ducrow, Cooke, Hengler, Sanger, Smart, Gerry Cottle, Bertram Mills, Chipperfield's, Robert Brothers, Fossett, Blackpool Tower, Billy Russell, Belle Vue, Great Yarmouth Hippodrome, Austen Brothers and many more.

Dates: c1800 - 2011

Victorian, Edwardian and Georgian Circus Posters, c1800 - 1930

Reference code: 178R47.1-51
Scope and Contents

Early circus and menagerie posters including Polito's menagerie, Astley's Amphitheatre and Pablo Fanque's, Sanger's, Powell's, Ducrow's, Cooke's and Hengler's circuses among others.

Dates: c1800 - 1930

Additional filters:

Animal trainers 2
Animals 3
Clowning 3
Comedians 3
Contortionists 2