Times Essex has seen elephants in the past amid Herd In The City

THE Echo revealed last week how a herd of colorful elephants are set to liven up Southend this summer.

Herd In The City – created by Havens Hospices and Wild In Art – will see over 30 large elephant sculptures dotted around the city, Leigh and Shoebury.

Each will be painted by professional artists and then sponsored by a Southend-based company.

At the end of the trail, the elephants will be auctioned off, with all proceeds raising funds for Havens Hospices.

The art project follows last year’s Hares About Town which raised over half a million pounds for the hospice.

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When it comes to the real thing – living, breathing, trampling elephants, South Essex has plenty of experience.

From Victorian times through the early 1920s and 1930s, elephants were often seen roaming Southend as circuses – such as the famous Sanger Circus with its famous ‘ragtime band of elephants’ – set up their marquees in the town .

Ready to play – Sangers Circus elephants photographed in 1922 in Southend

In June 1820, an elephant was even auctioned off at Chelmsford Market (along with a host of other exotic animals).

In 1867 Manders Grand Traveling Menagerie passed through Essex. A highlight was a giant elephant playing the piano as well as the larger and smaller elephants displayed side by side.

In 1922, a baby elephant from the Carmo Circus helped raise hundreds of pounds for Victoria Hospital when it paraded through the streets of Southend as part of a publicity stunt for the circus. At one point, she was taken to a pub and given beer to drink.

Elephants were a regular part of the acts performed at the Kursaal and the Hippodrome.

Sometimes their appearance on the street in broad daylight can be problematic for those who are not used to seeing such powerful mammals.

In January 1933, an elephant was being quietly led through the streets to the Kursaal when a woman crossing the public road opposite suddenly fell to the ground screaming.

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The hysterical woman alleged that she had been knocked down by the elephant, but the animal’s attendant disputed this and claimed that at the mere sight of her, the woman had freaked out and collapsed to the ground in a panicked bunch.

Traffic stopped for a while, until the woman was able to pull herself together and the elephant and the human were finally able to continue on their respective paths.

In 1937, a wedding held in Billericay became something of a spectacle thanks to an elephant guest – but again, it was a circus wedding.

A large crowd gathered outside the parish church where the wedding of a circus trapeze artist and a knife thrower was being held.

After the couple exchanged vows, they were taken from the church on an elephant.

The couple were Walter Shufflebottom and Cecily Rosaires.

Echo: Not a bus - the elephant parade is forgiven for flouting a no-entry sign in Southend in 1971Not a bus – the elephant parade is forgiven for flouting a no entry sign in Southend in 1971

Mr. Shufflebottom was the 27-year-old son of original Texas fame Bill of Wild West. Miss Rosaires was 24 and lived in Cox’s Farm Road, Billericay. She was a flying trapeze artist and also an expert elephant trainer. One of his main acts in the show was having his head carried in an elephant’s mouth.

The best man at the wedding was “Broncho Bill”. who rode his horse to church and wore his cowboy outfit.

Similar scenes were seen three decades later when in August 1967 a couple hitched up in Southend – joined by an elephant on their big day.

Jackie Squires, 22, the granddaughter of the late circus mogul Billy Smart, married Michael Cimarro. When they married at Holy Trinity Church in Southchurch, they were joined by their faithful elephant and 1,000 onlookers.

In 1947 baby elephants used a runway at Essex Airport for training. Asian elephants, brought from Sri Lanka, could be seen frolicking on the runways at Wethersfield Airfield, near Braintree.

The elephants were valued at a total of £15,000 and were forced to attend a training course led by animal expert Wenzel Kossmayer.

When their training was complete, the elephants were worth double what their owner had paid.

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Cheaper than the real thing, but far more complex, was an extraordinary mechanical elephant built in 1950 by an Essex-based inventor.

Scottish artist and inventor Frank Stuart, who lived in Thaxted, spent two years and £1,000 creating the 8ft 6in tall motorized elephant to provide fun rides for children.

The battery-powered creation – which he dubbed an “electrophoresis” – was made from a steel skeleton and covered in tempered paper and was capable of traveling at 27 mph. He could accommodate eight adults or 16 children on his howdah.

Stuart, who had specialized in creating stage sets and masks for the annual Venice festival, aimed to sell the elephant. He started his own electrophant business in Colchester, but unfortunately he was beset by production costs.

In the summer of 1971 an elephant named Bella became a familiar sight around Southend.

Bella had been all over Southend for Carnival Day and was the star attraction in the parade. She then shared the Cliffs Pavilion stage with guest host Dickie Henderson.

In the same year, 13 elephants, weighing a total of 40 tonnes, caused a stir when they were unloaded from a special train at Southend Victoria Station.

The elephants then paraded down the Golden Mile to announce the return of Billy Smart’s Circus. A police officer (featured in our gallery) could only stand and watch the giant animals flout a strict ‘no trespassing’ sign along a seaside bend.

It wasn’t until 2020 that the law banning the use of wild animals such as elephants in traveling circuses in England officially came into effect.

Elizabeth J. Harless