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Friday, 14 November 2008

Salt and Sauce: Wolverhampton's Elephants or Canterbury's Elephants?

On 13th November 2008 my father and officially launched the second edition of my book "The Legend of Salt and Sauce". The original book took over six years to complete and the second edition, as is the nature of historical works, is a heavily revised version with extra material, updates, additional photographs, an index and more. Wolverhampton historian and author Ned Williams very kindly organized our launch at the Light House Cinema in Wolverhampton for 13th November.

The event began with ten minutes very rare footage of Chipperfield's circus elephants on cinefilm and an excerpt from one of their Christmas shows. This was to show the audience who had attended what sort of elephant acts used to be commonplace in the UK. The footage began in the early 1950s, which was the final decade of Salt and Sauce's career.

I then launched staight into a reading of my book's tongue-in-cheek prologue. This an intentially dramatic re-telling of the tragic story of Walthamstow Goodsyard, where Sauce crushed George Lockhart Snr to death, an event that began the official legend and myth-making of these two elephants' lives.

After this my father, my main researcher and historian, gave first part of his PowerPoint talk displaying archive photos taken from the elephants' career. These pictures included photos that cannot be seen in any of the editions of the book. He brought the story up the time when famous Wolverhampton resident and circus showman, John "Broncho Bill" Swallow, purchased our book's two heroines.

This lead into my next reading, which was the entire chapter "Salt and Sauce: The Golden Age". This particular part of the elephants' lives was when they toured with John Swallow's circus in the 1920s. The chapter details how the elephants regularly walked the streets of Wolverhampton and I was delighted to hear from residents who attended the launch that the stories of these elephant walks had reached them via their parents. The stories seemed incredible and the residents were surprised, through reading my book, to discover that their parents were actually telling the truth!

My father moved onto his second PowerPoint piece, displaying photos between Salt and Sauce's time with John Swallow through their presentation by Ivor Rosaire and Emily Paulo, their donation to Dudley Zoo and subsequent purchase by Fossett's Ringland's Circus in the 1950s. This was where Salt attracted local and eventually nationwide publicity when she became stuck in Canterbury's Vauxhall lake and after her rescue died after a week despite the best efforts of the circus and the local vet.

This dramatic episode is recored in the chapter "Canterbury 1952 - Flowers for Salt", which I read an abridged version. I included this particular chapter for the benefit of the Karim family, the children of Prince Abdul Karim, the elephant's main keeper and presenter during their time at Ringland's Circus. This particular incident was a dramatic turning point in the lives of many. Not only did Salt receive over a hundred wreathes from the residents of Canterbury, but the subsequent sacking of Abdul Karim led to his family becoming permanent residents of Canterbury, where many of them still live to this day.

It was wonderful to meet this family who I had written about and heart-warming to hear how much they appreciated my father and my efforts to bring this very important chapter in their family back to life. I was told that although residents of Wolverhampton claimed Salt and Sauce as their elephants, the people of Canterbury were equally possessive!

After my final reading, my father concluded the story with photographs that took the story of Sauce up until her far less dramatic death at Butlin's holiday camp in Skegness. The evening was concluded with a question and answer section, and then we continued signing books and listening to fascinating recollections in the cinema's delightful bar.

The Light House is the best venue I have used for a launch. It is a wonderfully intimate venue, where a selection of live performances, classic, cult and mainstream cinema are shown. A perfect place to discuss a different age of entertainment that is almost forgotten.

Circus Memories - Swansea

One the most wonderful things about having the Salt and Sauce story published is all the people it has touched and the memories it helps revive. As the book begins to circulate I hear more and more anecdotes that further enrich the history I have recorded. However, sometimes it brings up memories that are not directly related to Salt and Sauce, but still worth sharing. The following is one from Robert Bradshaw, who recently purchased a copy of "The Legend of Salt and Sauce" and has very kindly allowed me to reproduce it here:

Growing up in Swansea in the fifties and sixties I used to look forward to the visit of the circus to the Recreation Ground . All the big touring circuses visited - Smarts , Chipperfields , Bertram Mills and others .

I have a vague memory of seeing a large group of the Smarts circus elephants , some very small , being walked through town from the station , trunk to tail . I also remember a large group of polar bears with Chipperfields - they always seemed to have the biggest menagerie . My first snow leopards I think were with Fossetts along with lots of other cats .

I also remember a waggon cage containing leopards being drawn into the ring by I think highland cattle and a coloured lady working the leopards in the cage . The beach was across the road from the Rec. and horses and elephants would be exercised on the sands .