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New city poetry wall celebrates the Norwich circus owner who inspired The Beatles

PUBLISHED: 12:07 16 September 2018 | UPDATED: 12:10 16 September 2018

Poet Ira Lightman at the poetry wall at Pablo Fanque House. Pic: Martin Gray.

Poet Ira Lightman at the poetry wall at Pablo Fanque House. Pic: Martin Gray.

Martin Gray

He was famous as a Victorian circus owner and was then immortalised in a song by The Beatles.

William Darby, better known as Pablo Fanque. Pic: Archant Library.William Darby, better known as Pablo Fanque. Pic: Archant Library.

And Pablo Fanque now lends his name to the new student accommodation which has been completed in All Saints Green - just around the corner from where he once lived.

As a young man Fanque, born William Derby, lived in Ber Street. He joined a circus where he trained and handled horses. But he was also skilled as a tightrope walker and trapeze artist.

He struck out on his own in the early 1840s, becoming the first black circus owner in the country. His circus primarily performed in the north of England.

It was a poster for one of his shows which was the inspiration for John Lennon when he wrote Being For The Benefit of Mr Kite!

Pablo Fanque House in Norwich. Picture: David HannantPablo Fanque House in Norwich. Picture: David Hannant

The song, which features on the Fab Four’s 1967 album Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, includes the lyric: “The Hendersons will all be there/Late of Pablo Fanque’s Fair.”

And Alumno Developments, which has spent months building Pablo Fanque House at the former site of Mecca Bingo in All Saints Green, has also marked the connection with a poetry wall.

The wall, in the style of the sort of circus poster which inspired The Beatles, features a work by poet Ira Lightman, who used to live in Norwich and regularly appears on Radio 3’s The Verb.

He was back in the city for Friday night’s official launch, dubbed Pablo Fanque Day and said: “I lived in Norwich from 1992 to 2000, and so, like Pablo, this is my return home.

The  poetry wall at Pablo Fanque House is revealed. Pic: Martin Gray.The poetry wall at Pablo Fanque House is revealed. Pic: Martin Gray.

“I concentrated heavily on the one season that Pablo came back to Norwich, constructing a new auditorium. The auditorium then was purchased for the Norwich Victoria station, the main station for London at the dawn of the railways. Norwich Victoria haunted me when I lived there so it was satisfying to find the connection.”

Along with the poetry wall, a Henry the Horse Zoetrope, celebrating the Beatles song, stands in reception in a perspex case at the new 13-storey student accommodation, which will house 244 students from the University of East Anglia.

David Campbell, managing director of Alumno, said: “We have a strong commitment to the arts within all our developments, whether it’s building in space for artists’ workshops within our buildings or leaving a cultural legacy through public works of arts.

“To find such a unique connection to bring out within the designs has been amazing. There will be commercial space on the ground floor of Pablo Fanque House, which will attract footfall and activity to this part of All Saints Green to make the area more vibrant throughout the day and evenings.

The poster inspired the Beatles song The poster inspired the Beatles song "Being For the Benefit of Mr Kite!". Pic: Submitted.

“We hope the unique story and artworks will add a further point of interest for people passing through as well as for the local community.”

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