Circus Incident in Laindon 1948.

The National Fairground Archive.
"Reproduced with permission of the University of Sheffield"
Hal Denver and his assistant holding their knives. The National Fairground Archive.
"Reproduced with permission of the University of Sheffield"

During the forties, in addition to regular visits by Presland’s Travelling Fair, on at least one occasion Laindon enjoyed the spectacle of a circus.

I was recently told a story of an incident that occurred involving a knife throwing act.  It’s unknown exactly where the ‘big top’ had been erected in Laindon, but during a knife throwing act, the lady assistant was hit in the leg by a knife and rushed to hospital.  Apparently there was ‘blood everywhere’.  The incident was reported in the press.  The Knife Thrower was Hal Denver and the incident happened in 1948.  I found a small article from  ‘The Argos’ (Melbourne) which reads as follows:

1948  –  Knife thrower’s wife wounded in leg

Three thousand spectators at a circus at Laindon, Essex, gasped with horror when a knife thrown by Hal Denver, who was blindfolded, struck his wife in the right leg and made a deep gash in it.

The woman was taken to hospital, where the wound was stitched.

She returned to the circus with the leg bandaged and told some of the other performers that she would not let the accident unnerve her.

The link to this article is as follows:-

I’m sure we would be most interested to hear from anyone who happened to be at that performance and anything they can remember about it.Apparently somewhere there is a newspaper cutting from ‘The Performer’ dated 29/7/1948  advertising the availability of the Knife Throwing Denvers in the near future, with a photograph, and featuring headlines from recent newspapers which refer to an accident to Ella Denver during the act 1948. (Perhaps it was thought that pointing out and emphasising the dangerous nature of the act might attract an even larger audience).

For anyone interested in further information about Hal Denver, I attach the following link:-

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  • I visited the circus with my brother Roy, Tony Williams and I think David Ashton. We were in the front row near the target and the accident made quite an impression on us, being young it was considered to make the visit memorable.

    By Alan Warren (30/12/2021)
  • I was at the incident. Not only was Hal Denver blind folded, but Ella, the lady concerned was covered with newspaper. The first anyone knew was when blood started seeping through the newspaper. Then screams rang out. My father, who was part of the show, ran on and tore away the paper. Ella’s leg was pinned to the board, the knife having gone right through her shin. My father freed her from the board but the knife was still embedded in her leg. Ralph draped a coat around her an she hobbled out of the ring. At no time did she utter a sound.
    Hal Denver, my uncle Ralph was the greatest knife thrower ever. The knives revolved two and a half times before hitting the board. He toured America with Elvis and taught him how to throw knives. The accident was due to Ella miscounting the number of knives thrown and moving over to her left before the last knife had been thrown.

    By Russ Norman-Noakes (14/01/2021)
  • I can’t remember the name of the road, but near the station there was a bank with a road by the side of it and there was a field where travelling fairs used to park.

    Editor: Denbigh Road.

    By Alan Taylor (18/11/2020)
  • A very late comment on this, but for years I have had a vague memory of being at a circus in Laindon and seeing the knife thrower hit the target he was supposed to miss…. I must have been around seven years old at the time, and I have often wondered if this was really a memory or a ‘false’ memory gathered from something that I read somewhere. Unfortunately I have nothing to add to any of the above, I just have an image in my mind, and a vague recollection of the reaction of the audience to the rather gory accident.

    By Bruce Bellamy (06/12/2017)
  • I have no memory of this incident. What I do remember is that, whenever the fair visited Laindon, they were always located in a field at the bottom of Denbigh Road. There must have been other locations available but I cannot remember them anywhere else. This location did have the advantage of being centrally located for their clientele and, being located perhaps a hundred yards from the High Road, made set up and packing up of the fair easier. Perhaps those were the reason for the choice of this particular location.

    By Alan Davies (28/12/2015)
  • At a rough guess I would imagine the big top would have been placed on the field at the back of the Laindon Hotel. I could never see the purpose of the knife thrower being blindfolded and clearly although it made for crowd pulling it was highly dangerous. Lucky then that Hal wasn’t made to face Ella judging by the size of her axes. Thanks for this Nina a really great find.

    By Richard Haines (28/12/2015)

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