1861; Tightrope walker at Belfield Park, Weymouth.

In the Victorian era, there was actually a little known park in Weymouth.

It was part of the grand Belfield estate, a 13 acre site, mainly parkland that surrounded a magnificent house that was built approx 1780’s for the Buxton family.

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In the 1860’s part of this estate was opened for public use, complete with rose and fruit gardens, it used to come under the care of one Robert Tinker Hawkins, a gentleman who owned a nurseries in Weymouth, and was instrumental in he setting up of the New (alexander) gardens in Weymouth, though there is little or no mention of his part in the events.

In 1861 a great event was held in town.

One Monday afternoon in October, at 2.55 a train drew into Weymouth station, it carried a mega variety star of the times. None other than Charles Blondin, who was a very famous tightrope walker, renown worldwide for his daring escapades, not least for being the first person ever to cross the Niagra Falls on a tightrope, which he performed in 1859.

The same year he appeared in Weymouth, he was also to perform his tricks at the famous Crystal Palace, Dublin and many other large cities.

Folks of all classes traveled from far and wide to see this legend perform his magic in the rose gardens, this was something not to be missed, a chance to see the great man himself, he had performed before royalty!

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.The papers claimed that there were nearly 10,000 people who had turned up to watch him perform his death defying antics, it remarked upon however, rather scathingly that many of the spectators were stood outside of the paying area!

A rope had been erected that was 300 foot long and supposedly 60 foot off the ground…but again, the reporter seemed less than impressed, and declared that it was nowhere near this height!

Blondin started his performance by a simple stroll from one end of the rope to the other, his step keeping perfect time to the band who had been employed to accompany him. Then he started to up the anti as they say, by performing a few summersaults along the walk, lying on his back, hanging by one hand, standing on one foot…he certainly knew how to work the crowds!

Then came the part that the audience loved…his head was bandaged, and a sack thrown over…completely blindfolded he made his faltering way across the rope, teetering here and there, of course, this elicited loud cries and gasps from the watchers below, thoroughly enjoying every faltering step he took.

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His  finale was to walk the rope, carrying  a man upon his back, a trick he was well renown for.

Admist rioutous applause from the spectators below, Blondin climbed down the ladder, took his bow…and he was off!

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http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/c/blondin/ (Biography of Chevalier Blondin)

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