New public art to commemorate Norwich man who inspired The Beatles

19th century illustration of Pablo Fanque in the ring

19th century illustration of Pablo Fanque in the ring - Credit: Archant

He has already been immortalised in a song by The Beatles, but a Norwich man who was one of the most celebrated circus owners in Victorian England could be about to provide yet more artistic inspiration.

A view of the new flats, proposed for the former Mecca Bingo site. Pic: Alumno Developments.

A view of the new flats, proposed for the former Mecca Bingo site. Pic: Alumno Developments. - Credit: Alumno Developments

A blue plaque on the side of John Lewis, in All Saints Green, commemorates William Darby, who was better known in the 19th century through his stage name of Pablo Fanque.

And the company behind a proposed student accommodation in All Saints Green are looking to mark his remarkable life through public art, if their development gets the green light at a meeting next week.

As a young man, Fanque, who lived in Ber Street, 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.

The Beatles, pictured in 1967 around the time of the Sgt Pepper album: Ringo Starr,John Lennon, Paul

The Beatles, pictured in 1967 around the time of the Sgt Pepper album: Ringo Starr,John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and George Harrison. - Credit: AP


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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.

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.'

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Alumno Developments, which has lodged plans with Norwich City Council for a 244-bedroom student complex at the former Mecca Bingo site, wants to commemorate Fanque's life by working with an arts consultant to create a sculpture of a circus acrobat and a poetry wall.

David Campbell, managing director of Alumno Developments, said: 'We want to make another positive contribution to the city centre.

'This public art is a great way to commemorate exciting stories from the city's past, while our investment will regenerate a vacant site and help bring new vibrancy to this end of All Saints Green.'

The student flats proposal sparked an objection from nearby Aviva, who say working conditions for more than 2,000 city centre staff would suffer if the 13-storey tower block next to their offices gets the go-ahead.

Aviva has enlisted consultants and surveyors to make its objection to City Hall over the 'overbearing' scheme, which they say would 'impact on sunlight and daylight and result in a loss of outlook' for its workers.

The matter will be discussed at a planning meeting next Thursday, where officers are recommending approval.

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