Category:Bostock & Wombwell Menagerie

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The Life of Arthur Feely - Animal Trainer and Booking Agent with Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie by Geoffrey Younger Arthur was born in 1870 in Corn Street, Bath. He was the son of Daniel Feely and Susan Jones (Roman Catholics). Daniel at the time was a Bell Hanger, born in 1831 in Birmingham and Susan born in 1843 in Worcestershire, and were very 'on the Tramp'.

Very often there was insufficient food, so Arthur and his brother Alexander had to resort to begging from farmhouses. During the 1870's and 1880's they travelled extensively across the country, from Yorkshire to Manchester to Leeds and to Birmingham.

Arthur was related to the Feely family Acrobats - noted at George Sanger's Circus, Astley's Amphitheatre, 1885. Notable for the double ladder and an immaculate aerial act. Members included Clara Feely who was killed falling from a trapeze, on the 9th June 1889 and Mollie, equestrienne and Katie who performed with Dan on the flying trapeze, at 'George Sanger's Great London and Continental Circus'. Dicky Bell, of the Two Bells, was an apprentice member of the family.

Arthur married Kate Daniels in 1891 in Sculcoates, Yorkshire. At this time Arthur was working with his father as a China Riveter (repairing damaged china). Kate was the daughter of a Scarborough Sailmaker, Charlton Daniels and also through her Mother, Ann Crimlis(k) she was a direct descendent to the Filey Fishermen Crimlis(k)'s and was the grand-daughter of Thomas Crimlis(k), Coastguard. Arthur and Kate had four children, Susan May (1894), Annie (1896), Catherine (1901) and Alex (1907).

Arthur seems to have joined Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie just prior to 1897, touring with them to Limerick and for sixteen weeks at Crystal Palace - the Diamond Jubilee year of Queen Victoria. From 1902 to 1904 he worked for 'Little' Frank Bostock, touring Europe, most notably as an Elephant Trainer/Showman in Paris and was closely associated with Captain Fred Wombwell.

Arthur was a good friend of Anita 'The Living Doll', a dwarf-statured woman who occupied the 'Living' carriage owned by a man named 'Birch'. Anita was probably of Hungarian descent (Her brother was of normal height, his name being 'Ignacz'). Anita was frightened of attention outside of the circus grounds, and Arthur would carry her under his coat, so that people would not stare at her.

Arthur stayed with Bostock and Wombwell's Gigantic Combination Menagerie until 1915, (though in the winter-times he would resort to general dealing) when he volunteered to become a soldier in the Royal Army Veterinery Corps serving in France caring for many hundreds of horses until his discharge in 1917 due an injury on his right leg. He returned to England and rejoined Bostock's in Abeerdeen where they were showing during 'Red Cross Week'. As dispensation because of his injury he was allowed to travel in one of Bostock's carriages instead of having to walk (which was common practice for showmen).

Arthur's job roles with Bostock's was as 'Booking Agent', 'Lodgings Agent', 'Descriptive Lecturer', 'Elephant Trainer', and at some time a 'Lion Tamer' (from which he was awarded a meritous badge). It is very probable that he performed under the name of Captain Daniels (The maiden name of his wife Kate) perhaps due to the association of the Biblical character Daniel and his forced imprisonment with a large group of lions and subsequent miraculous escape from this captivity.

A story from Arthur foretold to his grand-daughter Annie:

One night he tossed and turned in bed and a hard day coming up. His bunk was in a narrow passage at the back of an animal cage. The animals were fairly quiet, only the wailing of a soul in torment kept rising and falling from the lower bunk.

"Oh my Arthur what shall I do, the pain is bad, it feels like someone hit it with a hammer, I can't sleep at all"..

Arthur told him once again that it served him right and he had no sympathy for him, hadn't he warned him that the hyena would get him one of these days. Arthur was usually a sympathetic chap, he was so soft-hearted and wouldn't hurt a fly, he loved the animals and was always worried when George fed the hyena at night after the day's show was over because George left it until he had a few drinks at the nearest pub and by the time he got back he was careless, added to this his natural contempt for the animal which made him tease it and jab it with a stick, he'd push the food towards it and pull it out again making the hyena mad. The night the animal pounced George had been drinking as usual and he pushed the food into the cage for the second time, the hyena rushed at his hand and bit the finger off.

All hell let loose… what with George screaming and the other animals panicking, it was a night to remember.

Arthur was a Lecturer in 1928-1929 with G.B.Chapman's Zoo Circus and was at Kelvin Hall in 1929. From 1931 he worked as an Animal Trainer, at Grimsby Zoo specifically with Rosie the elephant and the former Bostock lions. His nephew, 'Little' Arthur Feely was a lion tamer also at Grimsby Zoo, which had six of Bostock's lions after the menagerie was disbanded and sold off. When 'Little' Arthur was in the cage, Arthur 'senior' would stand outside the cage with a long-pitched fork, ready to show it's point to any rogue lion. 'Little' Arthur was badly mauled at one time by a lion. He died at the young age of 34 in Birmingham of a kidney complaint.

After Grimsby Zoo, Arthur worked at a small zoo down in Sheppey, Kent and then retired in 1939, living the rest of his days with his daughter Annie in Beckenham, Kent. Annie later moved to Australia, with his grand-daughter Annie. At the age of 85, the year of his death, he would still manage to walk to the local library to read the daily newspapers and would often go up to a London market to buy budgies. He had a large hearing funnel due to deafness but always had a smile and a tall tale to offer.

He died of cancer in 1955 and is buried in Beckenham/Elmers End Cemetery. A courageous man who survived many a perilous event, perhaps helped a little by his belief in his good luck charm, a rabbits foot, which gave him confidence, but may be more than any thing, his love of the wild beast together with his disciplined approach and his ability to understand the mood of the animal.

Arthur won a medal for capturing a loose lion that he found lying on a grave stone in a cemetary.

There is also a pathe news article from 1932 following the animals of Bostock's from Dunstable station to Whipsnade Zoo following Bostock and Wombwell's closure. Alex (Arthur's brother) is seen taking the camels from the train wagon and is later seen accompanied by his son 'Little Arthur' (a lion tamer).

Geoffrey Younger


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