Thursday, 3 May 2012

A day with John Raymer

A few days ago i was lucky enough to visit the wonderful John Raymer and his family. I was visiting them as research for a play about the circus we were art directing. I had such a fascinating and emotional day that the second i got on the train back up North i just had to write about my experience that day.

John is part of the circus family 'Raymer Brothers'. They were animal trainers, his father, grand father and great grandfather all worked in the circus.
His father and mother were animal trainers too. They kept horses, dogs and budgerigars. Johns mother trained all the dogs (mungrel bitches) and named them after jewels there was Pearl, Ruby and Saphire to name a few, the act was known as 'Olivia's Jewels' and consisted of six little terriers. Raymer's was a very small family circus that operated from 1946 until about 1960. It was based at Kesgrave in Suffolk. It used to give daytime performances at the Royal Victoria Pavilion in Ramsgate 1954 - 1958. These came to an end I believe when a backstage fire destroyed all the costumes and props.

The entire company consisted of Stanley Raymer, his wife Olive and their two sons David and John. On the road each of them drove a vehicle of some sort which towed a trailer. There was also one 'outside' act, different each year and usually a couple, who made at least two appearances in the show. I know that in 1953 this was Victor and Pauline Johnson who did two acts - Ricardo and Pauline, knife throwers, and Sylvia on the Silver Thread, tight rope. They had a GMC (General Motor Company) Bedford bus.Raymers had a bus as well - an SOS (Science Over Strength) bus bought from Birmingham Corporation. It was driven by Mrs. Raymer and towed the dog trailer. Stanley Raymer died in 1981 and his wife has passed away as well. However David and John are still alive. 

Johns great grandfather designed a show with 10 black horses and 10 white horses performing together. The animals were hugely loved by all the family and everyone that worked there. The dogs even slept in the bed with the family. In training animals John spoke of how you can't force an animal to do something it doesn't want to do, so you pick the animal for the trick. They had two Arabic stallions, when walking them from their paddock one day they walked past a bonfire, one stopped and wouldnt pass whilst the other happily past. John and his brother realised that this horse wasn't scared of smoke and so gradually over time intro him to fire and eventually his trick became jumping through a hoop on fire. This particular horse was one of Johns favourite and they had a very close bond. Later in life the horse became very ill with larangitis the vet told John to have him put down as horses never recover, but John argued, slept every night with the horse in its paddock wrapping him in wet blankets to cool him down, the horse made a full recovery and John said it never forgot what he'd done for it. On one occasion John spoke of his youngest son going to fed the horse, his son put his hand out to fed it, but unaware gave the gesture that the horse knew for standing on its hind legs. Johns son was terrified and froze, but the horse saw the little boy and spread its front legs avoiding crushing the little boy. On the farm, they had 2 ex-show ponnies, both were white and small. The horses were due to be put down, but johns son rescued them and they live happily in a paddock, I fed them digestive biscuits and wasn't scared, this is big news for me!

John and his wife Bertha were in a trapeze act together, they married when John was 23 and Bertha 20 and performed together as 'The Flying Oben's'. John was also a clown with his brother they were called Pongo and PomPom.

Johns brother was storing all the families old circus props but very sadly they were all destroyed by damp recently. They lost all the dog performing outfits and show pieces, old signs and a large coconut mat that the horses ran round one. The mat was made by prisoners and was 4 inches thick.

Smarts, Roberts and Fossets are three circus families still going today. Johns family now work with Zippos. Though his grandaughter Kirsty is still performing in the 'Voltini freakshow' with her soon to be husband.

I asked John what life was like in the circus, he said it was hard but rewarding. The average day started at 4am, moving the horses in then moving on, unpacking, putting up the tent, doing an afternoon and evening show finishing around 8pm then sometimes packing up before sleeping.

We spoke about the Ringling brothers and Barnum and Bailey, and admired the wonderful book collection some donated by R B and B & B in the Zippo's collection. Whilst looking through the beautiful Tascen 'Circus' book, John explained how Ringling at their peak had 11 acres that the circus happened over, (pg139 of the 'Circus' book) and had 3 trains to transport their circus on.

Circuses had to stop during the war, but some continued, there was a German lion tamer/performer called Hanz Bric who had a lion act, the lion was called Mushy and adored him. During the war any metal was taken from the circus to be used and so Hanz created his lion cage from bed frames!!! Mushy played darts and did a trick when hanz pretended to shoot him as a German soldier!

I asked if they ever had a freakshow, he said they didn't but they did tour with one...Leicesters Midgets! He knew of a chinese man Ho Hoytzen who would hang by his hair as an act. The best sideshow he heard of here was this...

'Strangest site you ever did see is a horses head where his tail should be' . The public would pay to go into this enclosure only to see a horse facing the other way! It was a con but it worked!

John told me that there are 3 types of clowns; Hobbo, White faced and Auguste.

In europe the circus is seen as a very reputable job but John and his family feel they are portrayed as dirty gypsies who are cruel to animals. I saw no signs of this, if any thing I met three people who LOVE animals. Inside Johns trailer I was shown pictures of there past circus life and animals they owned. The now work for Zippos 'part time' doing the accounts and offering advice. John had so much knowledge and was an incredible engineer, i had the best day learning from such a great man.

1 comment:

  1.!/groups/292624567506838/ Checkout above url, this family circus were in Laxey Isle Of Man in the 50`s, can you put names to the faces(checkout the photos) cheers!