"Never Forgotten Elephants: A Hundred Years of Salt and Sauce"
By Jamie Clubb
Recently my attention was drawn to Robin Brampton’s article in the 141st edition of the “King Pole” Magazine, entitled “More Memories of Ringlands.” Mr. Brampton’s article is the most recent in several that mentions the famous and infamous circus and music hall elephants, “Salt” and “Sauce.” Such interest inspired my father and I to research the many varying accounts of their lives, hoping to help piece together their remarkable history. The result of this investigation has led me to spend over a year working on my book, “The Legend of Salt and Sauce”, which I hope for the first time will provide the definitive account of these elephants’ recorded lives. As the title hints it will also expose the myths that have been passed down from generation to generation.
January 25th 2004 will mark the hundredth anniversary of the day the infamous reputation of Salt and Sauce was born. This was the day the group were panicked at Walthamstow station, killed their owner, the famous “George” William Lockhart Snr., and charged on into circus fable. Only last year marked the centenary of their first recorded appearance, when they arrived at Lockhart’s home in Brighton.
After Lockhart’s death they passed through the hands of some of the most famous trainers of their day; Herbert “Captain Joe” Taylor, John “Broncho Bill” Swallow, Charles Van Niekirk, Ivor Rosaire, Emily Paulo, Dennis Fossett, Yank Miller and Jack Smith, to name but a few. They also worked in some of the most famous institutions in circus such as the Agricultural Hall, Islington, the Yarmouth Hippodrome, Blackpool Tower, Billy Smart’s Circus, Bertram Mill’s Circus, Rosaire’s Circus, Paulo’s Circus, Ringland’s Circus and Cody’s Circus.
Returning to Robin Brampton’s article, there are a few points, which need to be put right before I answer his question as to what happened to Salt and Sauce (a.k.a. Saucy) after they were bought by “Long” or “Big” Tom Fossett.
Firstly, there was never a Cruet member called “Baby.” The reasons for this common mistake are explained fully in my book. “Baby” was an entirely different elephant who Salt and Sauce worked alongside when John Swallow purchased them. The original Cruet was Salt, Sauce, Pepper and Mustard. Salt, Pepper and Mustard were struck by a mysterious tropical disease, which only Salt survived from. Vinegar and the second Mustard were then bought as replacements. Again this entire epidemic episode is fully discussed in my book.
“Captain Joe” Taylor was their next owner. During their time with him from 1904 to 1923 my father and I encountered the least recorded events of the remaining Cruet’s career. In fact, Vinegar and the second Mustard disappear without trace. Taylor sold the remaining Salt and Sauce to John Swallow, who owned them until his death in August 1945 at Canterbury on Paulo’s circus. Salt would also die at Canterbury on Sunday 5th October 1952 at 12:35pm (according the veterinary surgeon’s report) on Dennis Fossett’s Ringlands Circus a week after she was rescued from falling into Vauxhall Lake (not the River Stour). The whole event was publicised in the local press and over a hundred wreathes were lain for Salt by the residents of Canterbury. Again there are many different versions of both Swallow and Salt’s deaths, which provide more material for the elephants’ legendary tale. There is even one story of Salt killing Swallow. Another fascinating story tells of Zena Rosaire hearing “the ghost of John Swallow” at Canterbury calling Salt’s name a few years prior to the elephant’s death.
Mr. Brampton would have seen Sauce at Cody’s Circus after Dennis Fossett sold her. In spite of her fame, she was always billed as “Jumbo” there. She was then sold to Butlin’s Holiday Camp in Skegness, in the charge of “Steve” Les Stevens, where she remained until her death in October 1960. The circumstances of her death are still a subject of our investigation and like many other accounts of incidents during the history of Salt and Sauce has a few variations.
A common mistake with some historians is to confuse Sauce’s death with the dramatic demise of the second of her successors, “Gertie.” Even people who knew Sauce have been wrongly informed for years that she died in the publicised “Elephant in the Pool” incident at Butlin’s Camp in Skegness. Curiously there are also variations on Gertie’s death. Two press reports have it that she had decided to go for a bathe in the pool, even though she wasn’t usually allowed during the holiday season, and waded into the 12’ deep end. She quickly panicked, began thrashing about and swiftly died. In spite of the tale being re-told again in the 1998 edition of Evening Telegraph Special Publication, it has been argued that this was actually a cover-up story.
To re-cap, Gertie was obtained from Sir Garrard Tyrrwhit-Drake’s Maidstone Zoo when it closed in 1959. Butlin’s historian, Mick Smith, informed me that after acquiring Sauce, Butlin obtained an elephant called “Joey.” This elephant died within the same year and Gertie (a.k.a. Gert and Gertrude) conveniently took his place as the camp’s mascot. “Steve” Les Stevens stayed on as the elephant handler. On Tuesday July 24th 1962 Gerti took her fateful dip in the swimming pool. Two would-be rescuers dived in, but only served to confirm Gerti was already dead. Mick Smith, who was holidaying at the camp on that day, recalled a number of flags being used to screen the incident off from the resident campers. The press claimed Gerti died from a heart attack, but according to “The Story of Maidstone Zoo”, their last elephant drowned after the flooring gave way under her feet and she became stuck. Contrary to the newspaper reports, Mick Smith says that Gerti was in fact regularly bathed in swimming pool every Friday - holiday season or not - before it was routinely cleaned for the campers. Perhaps Gerti broke away from her handler and ended up there by either slipping or voluntarily plunging in. A Boston firm was hired to remove the huge carcass with a crane thus concluding the history of the last of Butlin’s elephants.
Before writing this article I was helped by Circus historian Ray Dolling, whose research I am most grateful for. Just when I thought there was little left to report on the lives of Salt and Sauce he provided me with a wealth of new material.
For all those interested in the life story of Britain’s most famous and infamous elephants, “The Legend of Salt and Sauce”, is nearing completion. We will keep the “Kingpole” Magazine regularly informed.
©Copyright. Jamie Clubb 2007