Wanted: fleas itching to join a Blackpool circus

A postcard advertising Professor Axel's Flea Circus at Blackpool Tower

A postcard advertising Professor Axel's Flea Circus at Blackpool Tower

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By his own admission reader Harold Eastwood enjoys nothing better than scratching beneath the surface.

But even he did not expect to come across 81-year-old fleas. Or rather a lack of them.

Harold regularly spends his spare time helping the team with research in the Local and Family History Centre at Blackpool Central Library.

And on a recent visit, waiting for him on the table was a page from The Gazette of August 29, 1932.

Harold says: “The others thought I would be curious about an article where Professor Axel Knudson was appealing to Gazette readers for some fleas for his circus.

“He was an entomologist and did not wish to be offensive but his plea for fleas was quite genuine. In fact he wanted to buy the fleas and was prepared to pay four shillings (20p) a dozen which he assured readers was far above the market price.”

Harold says: “Had the item appeared on April 1 readers would have thought it to be an April Fool joke, but this was not the case. It was a major dilemma which confronted the professor who had a flea circus in the roof garden of Blackpool Tower.”

According to the article, published 81 years ago, a dozen fleas had perished within the previous two weeks.

Harold says: “Samson and Delilah were dead and Pierre and Pedro had fought their last duel.”

Apparently there was not a duellist left in the show nor was there a flea left who could propel the miniature merry-go-round with the smooth efficiency which Samson and Delilah had acquired.

Harold says: “A crisis was imminent unless the depleted cast was reinforced immediately. According to the professor the life span of a flea in captivity which committed its life to the circus ring was three months but his current batch of fleas had died prematurely.”

Harold adds: “I do not know whether his plea brought any response from Gazette readers – perhaps Blackpool landladies found a few left behind by guests on the mattresses in those days.” Harold wonders if anyone has information about Professor Knudson.

Tony Sharkey, Blackpool’s local history librarian, who has provided this postcard regarding the flea circus, says: “We had always known that a contemporary postcard of Professor Axel’s flea circus was in the Cyril Critchlow Collection of Blackpool entertainment ephemera, held here in the Local and Family History Centre at Blackpool Central Library.

“But recently, while looking for something else entirely, we saw the appeal in the West Lancashire Evening Gazette of August 29, 1932 and shared it with Harold who thought Memory Lane readers would be interested.”

The Local and Family History Centre is open daily except Sunday, Monday and Wednesday from 9.30am until at least 5pm.

It is run by Tony Sharkey who can be contacted at tony.sharkey@blackpool.gov.uk or on (01253) 478090.

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