Slack Wire Walker and Juggler
William Walker was born in Scotland to Henry and Nancy Walker (nee Samwell). His career began when he was 12 alongside his father who was a slack rope performer. When Henry died in 1865 William and his brother John were apprenticed to Pablo Fanque with his circus. In these early years William specialised in backward riding and juggling. The boys’ budding careers were dealt a blow with Fanque’s death in 1871. Fanque had been a father-like figure to William who lead Fanque’s horse at the head of the funeral procession in Leeds.
William and John then worked in Pinder’s Circus in England before going their separate ways in 1872. William gave up backward riding and concentrated on slack wire performance and juggling. He had mainly short-term engagements which would be a feature of his career.
In 1874, in frustration at reviewers writing his name incorrectly, he took the stage name of Herr Reklaw. In those days it was common for entertainers to use an exotic name. ‘Reklaw’ is the reverse of his surname.
Herr Reklaw became a success and he continued to take short engagements, sometimes for only a few nights, in music and concert halls, and at galas and fetes. Occasionally he was hired by a travelling circus. He frequently advertised his whereabouts, and positive reviews, in the local entertainment newspaper The Era as did his brother John. They used this as a means of communicating to each other as often their advertisements would sign off with a personal touch such as “I am still going fishing.” They also used the advertisements to defend each other’s reputation or issue challenges to fellow performers.
In 1877 Herr Reklaw was engaged to Sanger’s Grand Circus for a tour of France. Ever one to vary his act, on his return to England he added balancer to his list of skills, where he would balance or manipulate plates, hats, and globes. He also had a short stint at including cats in his act.
Another name change was announced in 1879 when he became Pasha Reklaw, The Turkish Wonder. He went back on the Continent for an extensive tour for some years. It was during this engagement that John died in London thereby ending the amusing asides in William’s advertisements.
In 1885 William married Elizabeth Scarlett in Norwich. During the 1890s Elizabeth took on the role of Queenesta, the Beautiful Circassian Lady, as Pasha’s assistant in his act. They continued taking short-term engagements in England and Scotland until 1898 when, suddenly, Pasha hung up the slack wire and became a dock labourer in London. Whether he had an accident that curtailed his career or could no longer perform for another reason is unknown.
William died in 1932. He and Elizabeth did not have any children.
(Advertisement from The Era 14 December 1879. Image © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. Image reproduced with kind permission of The British Newspaper Archive www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk)
Contact Caroline Cavanagh at email@example.com to purchase a copy of Once a Famous Circus which provides much more detail on the Saunders and Samwell travelling circus families.
Text © Caroline Cavanagh 2017.