Chipperfield's Circus

Chipperfield's Circus

Chipperfield's Circus was the name of a famous British family circus. The show toured Europe and the Far East. The dynasty goes back more than 300 years, making it one of the older family circus dynasties.[1]



The name "Chipperfield" dates back to James Chipperfield, who introduced performing animals to England at the Frost Fair on the Thames in 1684.

James William Chipperfield

Born in a caravan, 1824, at St. Martin at Oak, Norfolk. Son of James William Chipperfield and Harriet Amy (née Coan).

Commenced clowning for his father being then engaged in a “Liliputian Circus”. Reputedly entered a den of animals at Wombwells when only 14-years-old. First ventured on his own when he acquired an “educated” pony.

He married Elizabeth Jones in 1846. His daughter appeared as the youngest tight-rope dancer in the country. Introduced to Britain Zulus and Kaffirs from Africa and the Aztecs from Mexico. Also entered the marrionette business. Gradually worked his way to the front rank of showland with his menagerie, establishing his winter quarters in Norwich.

Exhibited Robert Tippney, the “living skeleton”. On the road all his life and claimed to be England's oldest showman. Died at his home, Schwanfelder Street, Beeston, Leeds, in 1913, aged 89 years. (Source: Source: John Turner, Victorian Arena)

James Frances Chipperfield

Animal trainer and menagerie proprietor. Son of James William Chipperfield. Born in 1846 in Tottenham Court Road, London. A member of the third generation of the show family he performed in every village and town in the country and was a noted trainer of animals. "I can train anything from a rabbit to an elephant", was one of his favourite expressions. Aged over 68 when he died. Source: John Turner, Victorian Arena

From the "WORLDs FAIR" :

WF13.1.17: "We regret to have to record the death of Mr James William Chipperfield, who died on Thursday last, January 4, at the age of 68. The deceased was a popular midlands traveller, but for some time has been located at Ludgershall, Wilts., where he was interred .

WF 27.1.17: "The funeral of the late Mr James W. Frances Chipperfield, who died after a long and painful illness on January 9, 1917 at the age of 68 at Ludgershall, Wilts., The deceased was an old and respected showman, being laid to rest with signs of the greatest love and sorrow. The following relatives and friends were present at the last sad journey (the widow not being able to attend through excessive grief): Mr John Chipperfield (son); Mrs James Chittock (daughter); Mrs A. Tiller (daughter); Mr Richard Chipperfield (son); Mr Henry Chipperfield (son); Mrs R. Cartwright (daughter); Mr Thomas Clark and Mrs John Chipperfield.

The service was conducted by the vicar (Mr Bird) the service being of a very impressive nature.

Richard Chipperfield Sr.

Son of James Frances and Mary Ann Chipperfield. Born in 1875, at Sileby, Leicestershire. Fourth generation of the Chipperfield showmen.

First performed in public at the age of five. Succeeded to the management of the circus in the early 1900s. In 1902 added a Bioscope to the attractions of the show at Birmingham, Manchester and London.

Six films were shown at each presentation in just about as many minutes. These included films of Marie Correlli riding in the Shakespeare Birthday procession and the disaster that befell the "Albion" on the River Thames.

Married Maud, daughter of George Seaton. One of his hobbies was painting, particularly of animals. Examples of his work were to be seen on the walk-ups of his circus pavilion.

The circus gradually enlarged, and in 1933 combined with that of the Purchase family. In 1933 he was described as a hard bitten man of the world and the roads and known from one end of Britain to the other.

Father of five children, including Dick and Jimmy (who took over from their father in 1937), John, Marjorie and Maud.

Richard Chipperfield died in 1959. (Source: John Turner, Victorian Arena)

Dick Chipperfield

Died at the age of 83 in 1988 - began performing as a clown at the family's fairground variety show when he was just five.

Jimmy, Dick's younger brother, also took part in the show as a clown, a wire-walker and an acrobat.

It was in the early 1930s that the Chipperfields started to become well established in the traditional circus business and by the end of World War II the show had become one of the largest touring circuses in Europe.

During the late 1940s, the RAF Wethersfield base was used as a winter camping ground for the Circus. Elephants were housed in the maintenance hangars and Nissen (Quonset) huts, formerly used as offices, became homes for lions, tigers, snakes and monkeys. Jimmy Chipperfield fought as a fighter pilot.

By 1953, Chipperfield's Circus ousted rivals Bertram Mills and Billy Smart and boasted a big-top tent which could accommodate 6,000 people. It had a collection of 200 horses, 16 elephants and 200 other animals.

During the Second World War, from 1941 I think, my father Richard Sandow (and circus family) formed a most successful partnership with Richard Chipperfield (and family) and toured a very large circus, with wild animals, during those years. see: Circus Historical Society - History - Tom Sandow 14 April 2008.

Jimmy Chipperfield

Two years later Jimmy suddenly broke away from the family circus and after a brief spell at farming and managing other shows, he and daughter Mary began providing animals for film work.

In the 1960s he started making a career in "drive-through" safari parks, such as Longleat and Woburn Abbey, both at home and abroad. According to his autobiography, "My Wild Life", he pioneered the entire idea and among his first groups of animals was the lions featured in Born Free.

Jimmy Chipperfield was a "victim" of the "This is Your Life" UK TV series This Is Your Life (UK TV series) and a photograph of him with Eamon Andrews is featured in the collage of photographs on the first edition dust jacket of his autobiography.

All four of the Chipperfield siblings , Dick, Jimmy, Marjorie and John who were responsible for the circus's greatest successes are now dead. Marjorie died 1975, John in 1978 and Jimmy in 1990.

Marjorie Chipperfield

Equestrienne, contortionist and equilibrist. Marjorie Suzanne Phyllis, younger daughter of Richard Chipperfield, born 12 December 1916. Fifth generation of the famous family, sister of Dick, Maude, Jimmy and John. In 1931, did a bending and balancing act, climbing in and out of the narrow rungs of a ladder. In 1933, with Chipperfield's Lion Show, performed a rolling globe act. With her brother Richard's circus, after he took over from their father, in 1937. In 1938 was said to be a young lady with a pleasing ring manner, globe walking and presenting horses. With the family's circus, Eastbourne, for the 1938-39 season, presenting liberty horses. For the 1939-40 season appeared, as Mlle Marita, with performing bulls, at the Belle Vue circus. Appeared as Miss Marjorie, balancing and rolling, at Poole's (Tom Fossett's) circus, in September 1941. Exhibiting fine horses at Arthur Joel's 'All-British' circus, 1941–42, with her brother Johnny and Rosie (wife of Jimmy) Chipperfield. Also performed on the rolling globe. With Reco Brothers' circus, in 1942, exhibiting liberty horses and globe walking. Later in 1942 joined Harry Benet's stage circus. Married James (Jimmy) Stockley on 15 December 1945. Performed as Roxana, assisting Marsaline (Bertha Gridneff), on the wire. With Chipperfield's circus she was in charge of the girls' wardrobe, costumes, etc.

Joint proprietor of Chipperfield's Circus, in 1948, with brothers Richard, James and John Chipperfield. Her elephant ballet was presented at the Kelvin Hall circus, Glasgow, 1948-49. A director of Chipperfield's in 1951, when their headquarters were at Down farm, Stockbridge, Hants and later when the winterquarters moved to Heythrop, Oxfordshire. Looked after the family's wild animal reserve in South Africa until Jimmy Stockley's death in 1973. Died 11 December 1975, in Cape Town, South Africa. Daughter Jane Stockley married Brian Boswell. (Source: John Turner 20th Century Circus People)

James Stockley

Transport and electrics expert, a brilliant mechanic. Born Stoke-on-Trent in 1914, in the motor trade there before the war. In the RAF during the war, he flew with Jimmy Chipperfield, as his navigator, and through him met Marjorie Chipperfield. Awarded the Distinguished Flying Medal (DFM) for his wartime service.

Supplement to the London Gazette, 22 May 1945 2623 Distinguished Flying Cross. Flight Lieutenant Geoffrey Cleugh CHAPMAN (120712), R.A.F.V.R., 85 Sqn.

Distinguished Flying Medal. 1219665 Flight Sergeant James STOCKLEY, R.A.F.V.R., 85 Sqn.

As pilot and observer respectively, this officer and airman have participated in very many sorties. They have proved themselves to be highly skilled, cool and resolute members of aircraft crew and their keenness for operations has won much praise. One night in March, 1945, they were responsible for the destruction of two enemy aircraft.

Married Marjorie Suzanne Phyllis Chipperfield, on 15 December 1945, at Blaby, Leicestershire. The witnesses were Don Ross the stage circus producer and Maureen Van Der Gray. Jim Stockley's forte was transport and his mechanical skills were superb. As part of Chipperfield's circus he kept the post-war show on the road, running the show as far as moving it from A to B was concerned. He was a seriously hard worker, leading from the front. Daughter Carol Elizabeth was christened, at Bristol, in 1950. A director of Chipperfield's by 1951, when its headquarters were at Down farm, Stockbridge, Hants. Looking after the transport in 1952. In the 1970s, when Chipperfield's circus returned from South Africa, Jim Stockley and his wife Marjorie remained there, running the Natal Lion Park and Game Reserve. Died on 31 May 1973, at the age of 57, following a blow to his chest during the inoculation of a gnu. Father of Jane, Carol, James (Jim) junior and Maryann. (Source: John Turner 20th Century Circus People)

Johnny Chipperfield

Rider, clown and animal trainer. John L., son of Richard Chipperfield (b.1875) and Maud née Seaton. Younger brother of Dick, Maud, Jimmy and Marjorie.

Trained a Welsh pony to do tricks, as a boy, then a monkey jockey for it, performing in the arena. At age twelve bought his first ring horse and became a rider and clown with the family show. Spent the 1937 season, with the Chipperfield's animals, on Sweden's Circus Scott, when his riding was encouraged by Rudi Blumenfeld. Married Doris Morche, a member of a German springboard troupe.

Father of John, Tommy, Doris, Charles (married Keren, in 1988) and Sophie. During the war served with the RAF, demobilised on the very day that the family circus was due to open, at Southampton, for the 1946 season.

He presented the dogs, performed a comedy ride as 'Madame Spangaletti' and clowned with his brother Jimmy. Noted, with his dog act, as 'Kelly', with Chipperfield's Circus, 1938-39. Appeared at Tom Arnold's Mammoth Circus, Harringay, 1949–50 and 1950-51 seasons, and with Chipperfield's circus, in 1950, exhibiting 'Paul's Peerless Poodles' (four poodles and two terriers).

In 1951 exhibited high school riding, noted at the Southend-on-Sea Kursaal circus, 1951-52. In 1952 presented Golden Palaminos, at Chipperfield's circus. Son John jnr born on 20 July 1953. Horse trainer for Chipperfield's circus, from the 1950s onwards, noted at the start of the 1953 season high school riding with Doreen Duggan. Noted with Chipperfield's, in Plymouth and the south west, in 1954. During the mid-1950s began presenting the Chipperfield elephants. With Chipperfield's circus, at the Bingley Hall, Birmingham, 1957–58, exhibiting horses, ponies, elephants and chimpanzees. Accompanied brother Dick and sister Marjorie to South Africa for the Chipperfield tour of Southern Africa 1965 - 1967, returned to the UK 1968. 1970 onwards travelled with Chipperfields Circus in the UK training and presenting Asian & African elephants, horses, lions, tigers and dogs. Died 13 November 1978, of leukaemia. (Source: John Turner 20th Century Circus People)

Current history

Chipperfield Circus, as run by the Dick Chipperfield dynasty, ceased touring in the late 1980s. In the 1989-1990 season Chipperfield Circus toured Ireland, commencing the season in Cork. The show ran for a few months featuring The Flying Souzas, Shiganio, Peter Althoff and members of the Chipperfield clan. In the early 1990s Charles Chipperfield, a son of Jonny Chipperfield, ran Chipperfield Brothers, but this also ceased running during the 1990s. The title was hired out to Tony Hopkins Promotions for his touring UK circus from 1992 to 1996. The show featured Dick Chipperfield Snr's grandson, Richard Chipperfield working his lion act.

In the late 1990s it was reported in the press that Mary Chipperfield was abusing her animals, leading to a fine in April 1999 of £8,500 for cruelty to animals.[2]

In 2010, Chipperfields Circus returned without animals in the show, appearing at Cambridge and Rochester.[3]

Other Chipperfield companies

  • Chipperfield Enterprises trains and supplies lion and tiger acts for circuses worldwide.
  • Clubb Chipperfield Ltd. ceased trading under their title in 1998.
  • The Chipperfield Organisation Ltd is an international animal supply and transport business.

Other members of the Chipperfield family

Sheila Chipperfield, the daughter of Dick Chipperfield Snr's first cousin, Billy Chipperfield, was a bassist in the rock band Elastica and currently works as a DJ.

Jamie Chipperfield Clubb, (middle name taken from his mother's maiden name) a grandson of Dick Chipperfield Snr., is a martial artist and writer, and founder of Clubb Chimera Martial Arts [4]

Bernice Chipperfield: No information known.

Chipperfield candy machines ltd supplies candyfloss and popcorn machines throughout the world. The company is currently owned by James Chipperfield. Although not part of Chipperfield Circus the company director is directly related and descended.

Jim Stockley is the son of Jimmy & Marjorie Stockley and supplies trained animals to the film industry in South Africa. [5]

Jamie Stockley is the son of Jim Stockley (grandson of Jimmy & Marjorie Stockley) and, together with his wife Dana, runs a successful game reserve and wedding venue in South Africa. [6]

Books by members of the Chipperfield family

  • My Friends the Animals, Dick Chipperfield Snr. London: Souvenir Press, 1963
  • My Wild Life, Jimmy Chipperfield. London: Macmillan, 1975 ISBN 0333180445

Books featuring the Chipperfield family

  • Paul Gallico Love, Let Me Not Hunger. London: Heinemann, 1963 (novel that briefly mentions Chipperfield's in the first chapter)
  • David Jamieson Chipperfield's Circus: an Illustrated History, Aardvark Publishing, 1997
  • David Jamieson Mary Chipperfield Circus Book, Jarrold & Sons Ltd., 1979
  • Freddie Mills Twenty Years: an autobiography. London: Nicholson & Watson, 1950 (first edition contains photographs taken at Chipperfield's Circus)
  • Pamela McGregor Morris Chipperfield's Circus. London: Faber & Faber, 1957
  • Edward Seago High Endeavour; illustrated by the author. London: Collins, 1944 (the story of Jimmy Chipperfield's war service as a fighter pilot)
  • John Turner A Dictionary of British Circus Biography
  • J. H. Williams Elephant Bill. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1950
  • J. H. Williams Big Charlie. London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1959 (account of a circus elephant)

See also


External links

Memories of Chipperfield's Circus in Great Wishford [1]

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