PT Barnum – the Midlands connection

Roll up, roll up! Entertainer and Birmingham Hippodrome legend Brian Conley is currently starring on our stage as infamous American showman PT Barnum in the Cameron Mackintosh and Michael Harrison production of the musical Barnum, based on the life of one of America’s most famous men.

Phineas Taylor Barnum was born in Bethel, Connecticut in 1810 and went on to become one of America’s richest and most famous men. He owned Barnum’s American Museum in New York City which was home to many well-known hoaxes and human curiosities, including the Feejee Mermaid and General Tom Thumb. In later life he teamed up with James Bailey to run Barnum and Bailey’s Circus – which he called the ‘Greatest Show on Earth’.

PT Barnum

PT Barnum

After visiting England to perform for Queen Victoria, PT Barnum tried to purchase Shakespeare’s Birthplace in Stratford-upon-Avon when it came up for auction in 1846. He wanted to dismantle this landmark and rebuild it thousands of miles away in America. He was only stopped when great British writer Charles Dickens, outraged that the house might be taken away from the British people, joined forces with others to form what is now the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust and bought the house for £3,000 – securing its status as a national treasure

Shakespeare's Birthplace

Shakespeare’s Birthplace

To delve a little deeper into this unique link between one of the most famous men in America and probably England’s most famous export – Shakespeare, the Birmingham Hippodrome press team packed up Brian Conley and Linzi Hateley into a car and headed for Stratford-upon-Avon.

Upon arrival Brian and Linzi were greeted by Alisan Cole, Lisa Mealing and Dr Paul Edmondson from the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust – plus a number of photographers and reporters from the local media keen to learn more about the Barnum connection.

Head of Research & Knowledge Dr Paul Edmondson led everyone on whistle stop tour around the birthplace, with the help of a lovey female guide dressed in period costume from Shakespeare’s day. The tour ended in an upstairs room which had a table laid out with a number of items held in the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s archives that relate to PT Barnum’s visit. Brian and Linzi were show each individual item by Head of Collections Paul Taylor, and Collections Assistant Victoria Joynes. The items on display included a clipping from the Birmingham Weekly Post (now the Birmingham Post) reporting on PT Barnum’s visit to England; a copy of PT Barnum’s autobiography and an entry in the Shakespeare’s Birthplace visitors book signed in 1844 by PT Barnum.

Dr. Paul Edmondson, Head of Research & Knowledge, Paul Taylor, Head of Collections, and Victoria Joynes, Collections Assistant.

(L-R) Brian Conley, Dr. Paul Edmondson, Head of Research & Knowledge, Paul Taylor, Head of Collections, Victoria Joynes, Collections Assistant and Linzi Hateley.

After looking over the archives Brian and Linzi headed out into the Birthplace gardens for an interview with BBC Midlands Today presenter Satnam Rana which will be broadcast on the programme this week.

After an interesting day, Brian and Linzi headed back to the theatre to get their costumes and make-up on ready for their evening performances as PT Barnum and Chairy.

You can catch Barnum here until 1 August. For tickets visit our website or call 0844 338 5000 #BHbarnum

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