Billy Smart's circus in the 1950s

In the late 1950’s, the famous Billy Smart’s Circus was on the Level one Autumn. It was quite a large circus, with a menagerie of animals including elephants and the big cats. The roads between the trees and the grass were jam-packed with circus lorries and caravans, some of them old converted buses.

Tram ‘feeder’ box
On the “bus” theme, just outside the small building (once a police station) at the south-west corner of the Level, there was an old ‘Brighton Corporation Tramways’ green electric ‘feeder’ box. It was certainly there till the Great Storm of 1987, though a couple of days later I noted that a falling tree was resting on it and had knocked it sideways! I haven’t checked since.

Comments about this page

  • Hi. Reading about Billy Smart’s – Can you remember anything else? My ancestor was a ringmaster for Billy Smart and I am trying to gather information / pictures.

    By Angela Craker (07/01/2007)
  • Angela, what was your ancestor’s name?

    By RingMaster (26/02/2007)
  • I do not recall Billy Smart’s Circus but I did go to Chipperfield’s Circus on the Level. I still have the programme of February 1956. Does anyone recall that circus?

    By Dennis Parrett (30/03/2007)
  • I can remember going to Billy Smart’s Circus at Hove Park in the early Fifties. I also went to Chipperfield’s at The Level. One act that sticks in  my mind is the human cannonball. Can anybody else throw any light on this?

    By John Wignall (03/03/2009)
  • My grandad was a ring master with Billy Smart’s Circus. I can’t remember his name. He married a trapeze lady after he divorced my nan. My nan’s name was Ransom. I have photos of him but don’t know how to put them on the computer.

    By Sharon (10/05/2009)
  • Went to Billy Smart’s every day in the summers of 73/74. For six weeks of school holidays for me aged 11/12 at the time was fantastic! Anybody know of any existing posters etc?

    By Lee Fellowes (02/10/2010)
  • Sometime in the 1950s my grandad and grandma worked for Billly Smart’s Circus but I cannot find any information about them. They left after my uncle who, when he was about three years old, got his arm torn up by one of the bears that pulled him into the cage. My grandad worked with the horses doing many tricks and my grandma was a foot juggle. Can anyone tell me how I would find more information about Billy Smart’s Circus in those days? Thanks

    By Amy (23/01/2011)
  • My uncle worked in a circus in the 30s. He was known as the Legless Indian - he would have been quite young in his teens. Can anyone help? His name was Robert (Bob) Johnson (Johnstone). Thanks.

    By Tina (11/03/2011)
  • Hi, my uncle was the chief clown at Smart’s circus during the fifties, he also owned the famous chimp Kanoble. His clown name is Spuggy, he is still alive and is turned eighty now. I still visit him as regularly as possible, his daughter Gillian is in Holland with Circus Renz - she also had acts in the circus. She married a famous lion tamer called Tom Dieck

    By Keith Wardell (09/08/2011)
  • I work for the Smart family (Billy Jay Junior’s widow, and son and daughter). Have you seen the programme on BBC4 i-player August 10th 2011? Worth a glimpse back in time.

    By Hayley (10/08/2011)
  • My name is David Hart. My father was Harty the Clown. He joined Billy Smart’s circus in 1950 and toured every season until 1962. Most of this time he was chief clown as described in the hundreds of press cuttings I have in my possession. He can be found on Wikipedia list of famous clowns and also in Clowns of the 20th Century (Aardvark Publising. ISBN 872 904 181) on pages 28 & 77. He died in 1986 at the age of 80.

    By David Hart (17/08/2011)
  • Harty the Clown joined Billy Smarts Circus in 1950. He was Chief Clown until he retired in 1962. Spuggy the clown joined Billy Smarts in 1962 and went on to be Chief Clown. (Billy Smarts Circus A Pictorial History by Divid Jamieson page 47) ISBN 1 872904 26 2

    By David Hart (31/10/2011)
  • Please see my web page at

    By David Hart (18/11/2011)
  • Re Ringmaster. Hi all, ref Sharon who posted 11/05/2009. That is my father Albert George Ransom. I have some old photos – blimey we could be related! Anyone wanting to know more please contact me.

    By Paul ransom (24/03/2012)
  • I am related to this family.

    By Scott Christie (09/04/2012)
  • Hi Scot, how are you related to the Ransom family? Feel free to drop me a line at the email on the blog above. Paul Ransom

    By Paul Ransom (21/04/2012)
  • My dad was a working for Billy Smart’s in 1956 when they were in Brighton. He met my mum there. Would like to get hold of a poster showing date and Brighton.

    By Den Baldwin (29/03/2013)
  • The names Baldwin and Ransom are both in my family. I don’t suppose there is any connection but am surprised to see both names connected on one subject. Greetings, Sandra.

    By Sandra Bohtlingk (nee Baldwin) (29/03/2013)
  • Hi Sandra – my dad’s family are from Bristol so maybe not connected to you, but nice to hear from another Baldwin.

    By Den Baldwin (14/05/2013)
  • My great grandad worked in Billy’s circus back in the 1940-1950s. his name was Charles Blakemore. I would love any info or pics at all. We have one photo of him with lions as he was feeding them, but would love more info!!

    By Phizzle (03/07/2013)
  • Does anyone have any details on David Bentley who was a ringmaster with Billy Smart?

    By John Maguire (21/08/2013)
  • Does anyone have information on an ancestor of mine…..Rodger Scott Stokoe (born in 1920s) he was a trumpet player with Billie Smarts Circus and may be remembered as he had a hunchback. He originated from Sunderland. 

    By Tracey (23/12/2013)
  • Roger Scott Stokoe could be related to my granddad but he was 18 in 1910.

    By Steve Stokoe (25/02/2014)
  • For Tracey: Roger Stokoe the trumpet player was my uncle. Please contact me at and I can pass on what information I have.

    By Roger Stokoe (18/08/2014)
  • I’m the Great grandson of Whimsical Walker (1851 -1934), and I am completing his biography (‘Sawdust to Windsor Castle’ up date) if anyone has got any photos of him for purchase or download I’d appreciate you contacting me at

    My father known as ‘Whimmy’ was with Billy Smarts after the war, he was with them on and off for many years. Again, if anyone has any information etc. I’d be pleased to hear from you.

    By Robert W. Breen (Dawson) (24/06/2015)
  • Hello Joe, I am very sorry to say that we are unable to publish “where are they now” type postings due to data protection but sincerely hope that you are able to locate your Mother in Law’s father after such a long search. Best wishes, Editing Team. 

    By Joe Yerrell (29/06/2015)
  • My Aunty worked as an aerial acrobat for Billy Smarts in the 50s. I would love to find more information on this, her maiden name was Marlene Collinson & she was from Hull.

    By Graham Bridgett (21/01/2017)
  • Lots of info on circuses and the folks who worked in them at


    By John Nicol (29/03/2017)
  • Answering to John Maguire:
    Does anyone have any details on David Bentley who was a ringmaster with Billy Smart? He is connected to my family tree, please feel free to message me

    By Jadeen Abbit (14/11/2019)
  • Hi David, I used to go to Hollydale Rd school and you and I were friends. I remember coming round to your house and meeting your famous Dad. My memory tells me that he was in full costume one day when I came round, but this is not a reliable memory. I have told many people that I had met The Best Clown ever, ‘HARTY’, and I’m not sure they believed me. Lovely also to see your name there.

    By John Masters (13/04/2020)
  • For Tracey

    Roger Scott Stokoe was my uncle. Please contact me At and I will pass on what information I have.

    By Roger Stokoe (02/08/2020)
  • Hi, my grandad was a clown, his name was Edward Connelly.

    By Sarah M Spearman (14/05/2021)
  • My late Grandad Eddie Connelly was a clown with Billy Smart Circus, did anyone know him?

    By Moira Spearman ( Connelly) (22/01/2022)

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