Sheffield Educated - Lizzie the Elephant
by Ange Greenwood
An announcement in the World's Fair Newspaper on 5th February 1916 tells of an elephant working for one of Sheffield's big firms "striding along with ease drawing a load of iron to a munitions works". This was Lizzie and this is her story.
Lizzie set to work (image - Sheffield Local Studies Library.
Thomas William Ward was born in 1853, at the age of 15 he started work as a coal merchant and in 1878 he had his own business as a small domestic fuel supplier. Throughout the 1870's there was a big demand for scrap metal in Sheffield and 1881 with the help of his brothers Joseph and Arthur he began a scrap metal business that became vital to Sheffield's foundries and steelmakers. Thomas Ward developed an expertise in dismantling big structures such as ships and he eventually became the biggest scrap metal dealer in the country.
At the outbreak of World War I, 1,235 people were on the payroll of Thomas Ward's company and a thousand tons of scrap metal per day was being fed to the country's steel makers. Thomas Ward was elected to the prestigious office of Master Cutler in 1913 and his brother Joseph became Chairman of the Scrap Advisory Committee to the Ministry of Munitions.
The legendary elephant Lizzie was purchased from Sedgwick's menagerie to replace horses conscripted by the military to serve in Europe in 1916. She transported machinery around Sheffield, was stabled near the factory and could pull a weight that was usually shared out between three horses!
So, where did Lizzie come from? How did she end up on the payroll of T W Ward & Co? And how did she become Thomas Ward's most famous and best loved employee?
Sedgwick's Menagerie building up, circa 1910.
William Sedgwick was born in 1841 and by the age of 19 had one of the waxworks shows which were popular on the travelling fairs of the time. William then moved into the menagerie business and by 1869 was touring a group of performing lions. His menagerie gradually increased and by the early 1900's he had about a dozen wagons, he was breeding his own lions and his menagerie was one of the biggest on the road, able to compete with the legendary Bostock and Wombwell. He had a large family, with at least four sons and three daughters.
The outbreak of war impacted greatly on the travelling fairground and circus communities. Restrictions on travel, rations on food and fuel, and general black-outs to avoid being spotted by the first zeppelin raids sent over by the enemy meant that many show-families retired to wintering quarters. In addition, many young showmen and engine drivers were called up for war service. During the Great War, William, by now in his mid 70's, settled to winter in Sheffield with his family. Most of the travelling show-families had winter grounds around the old Victoria Station. It looks as though most of his animals were sent to Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester but Lizzie, his beloved menagerie elephant, was loaned to Thomas Ward. After the war William Sedgwick wound down his operations allowing his sons to continue with the business. William died in 1927 at the ripe old age of 90.
A 1913 picture of Mr and Mrs William Sedgwick with an elephant, presumably Lizzie.
William's eldest son Richard was born in 1875 and schooled in the art of animal training by Carl Hagenbeck of Germany. He was the daring and fearless lion tamer known as "Alphonzo". Richard Sedgwick was also responsible for the elephants in his father's menagerie and so was the man who worked with Lizzie in Sheffield during the Great War. After the war Richard ran a cinema show and concentrated his fairground activities on games and amusements - he is listed as attending the first post-war Hull Fair with two helter-skelter rides. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1931 aged 56.
The Sedgwick's were a pure show family, William's second son Arthur was born in 1880; Arthur had a gorgeous collection of velvet suits and was often referred to as the 'Beau Brummell' of showland. Rose Sedgwick was the youngest daughter of William; she was married on 26th June 1916 in Sheffield to Richard Kayes, son of Mrs & Mrs W Kayes, of Buff Bill's menagerie and wild-west show.
Richard Sedgwick and Frank Sedgwick.
Richard Sedgwick's twin boys, 1912.
Frank Sedgwick was William's youngest son; he was a lion timer like his oldest brother Richard. Frank was known as "Lorenzo" and continued in the menagerie business up to the 1930's. He was famous for pairing up his lion with a pair of harlequin Great Dane dogs.
There are many anecdotes about Lizzie, eating a schoolboy's cap, putting her trunk through a kitchen window to help herself and pushing over a traction engine! We hope to substantiate and research some more of these as the Sheffield Jungle Project moves on.
There is a famous saying in Sheffield if something (or someone!) is very heavy,
"It's like Tommy Ward's elephant!"
The report of Richard (Alphonzo) Sedgwick's death in the World's Fair Newspaper in January 1931 mentions that whilst Lizzie was working in South Yorkshire an engine got stuck in the snow and Lizzie was called to the rescue, "she stuck her massive head behind it and moved as if it was only a hand barrow".
What happened to Lizzie?
We do not know what happed to Lizzie after the Great War. Strangely, as with many of the elephant stories we have researched during this project, reports become conflicting and exaggerated - sometimes picking up a bit of each others' mythology. As mentioned, Lizzie could do the work of three horses so maybe she carried on working for Thomas Ward for a short duration after the war - it would certainly be the case that normal life would take quite a while to return. There are also stories that she did carry on working until the cobble stone roads of Sheffield damaged her feet, and then she retired.
Other stories suggests she returned to the circus and menagerie industry. There are photographs of her (or possibly another elephant) working in tandem with circus camels for Thomas Oxley. If she returned to the menagerie business would it be with Frank Sedgwick who was continuing the Sedgwick menagerie name? Possibly not, as Frank went on to specialise in lions. Lizzie could have moved into service with one of the Bostock and Wombwell tours, or possibly have been purchased by a zoo.
Another elephant gained fame before Lizzie's time by walking from a Bostock and Wombwell auction in Edinburgh (1872) to its new home in Belle Vue (Manchester) after refusing to board the train. To make matters more complicated, this occurred at the same time as another Bostock and Wombwell elephant called 'Lizzie' killed a school-boy who had been teasing her and feeding her stones. Poor old elephants - in the news, in a strange country.
Lizzie has recently had a Sheffield Community Transport bus named after her! The bus is called "Lizzie Ward" and is an Optare Solo model with the registration number YJ54 UXP, so do look out for it if you are in Sheffield!
Lizzie Ward lives on!
It has been said that Lizzie was one of the best known elephants in the world - ranking only second to Jumbo! For Sheffielders she is probably more important even than Jumbo.