Who Do You Think You Are?

Image: Larry Lamb with NFA satff
Larry Lamb with NFA staff

As revealed on the BBC television programme 'Who Do You Think You Are?', actor Larry Lamb traced his family history back into the wild world of fairs and menegaeries with the aid of staff and resources at the National Fairground Archive. Larry was genuinely thrilled to discover this previously unearthed aspect of his ancestry, linking him back to the proprietors of Day's Menagerie and the famous Martini Bartlett lion tamer. Resources such as the World's Fair newspaper and photograph collections were used to complete the story.

Image: Martini Bartlett
Lion tamer extraordinaire - Martini Bartlett

Martini Bartlett was revealed to have spent his later days in Sheffield, with Day's Menagerie presenting many animal specimins to the fledgling Weston Park Museum. Research by Librarian Clare Scott as part of the Sheffield Jungle project shows the links between Bartlett and the city:

"Day's Menagerie is also a big partner with the museum, donating a camel, various monkeys, and lemurs in 1893. Bartlett's lion show, operated in later years by the fantastically named 'Martini Bartlett' (actually an amalgamation of the surnames of the London Zoo superintendent and the Bronx Zoo female big cat keeper), was an offshoot of Day's Menagerie and donated a further lion to the museum in 1902. Martini Bartlett is said to have retired to Sheffield in later years, when his action-packed adventures of life on the road with a menagerie were taking its toll. In a retrospective article in the World's Fair newspaper (5 December 1936) he romantically recalls his longing to put on the best show with animals by growing a French imperial beard and wearing long locks to his shoulders as soon as his age allowed! Bartlett, along with some of the other menagerists we have studied in this project, was a snappy dresser favouring velvet tailoring and an adornment of various medals giving the impression of numerous awards for acts of bravery. Bartlett recalls his lion 'Joey' - the animal donated to Weston Park Museum - as a Christian lion such that he had a kind nature and was happy to agree to most things asked of him. Bartlett's story, told from the fading vantage point of his twilight years, runs parallel with many other menagerist tales - aspects of bravery, escaped animals, stylish dress and performance, and nominally a lion in a local museum!"

Image: Day Travelling menagerie
Day's travelling menagerie show from the turn of the century

The National Fairground Archive contains many resources on the tradition of menageries - newspapers, photographs and some breathtaking ephemera such as programmes, handbills and posters. Our recent project on the Sheffield Jungle focusses some of this material and provides an excellent introduction to the tradition of presenting animals in exhibitions.


Reviews and articles