Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Carlos Trower- African Blondin



October has been for several years now been designated Black History Month. The Black existence in the Staffordshire Moorlands has not been  marked although the occasional account indicates that there were people of colour passing through the area from the 18th century onwards. I subscribe to the British Newspaper Archive and some time ago I read of a visit made to Rudyard Lake by Carlos Trower the “African Blondin”  so called after the French tightrope walker who was the first to cross Niagara Falls who Trower admired..

Trower was born in the late 1840s in New York and began tight rope walking at an early age. He appears to be a natural performer who worked on perfecting and developing  his craft. He first performed at Rudyard in 1861 while still a teenager.

 By the 1870s he was well known in the country and regularly performed at various venues around the country. In June 1878 he made a triumphant return to Rudyard Lake.

 The Sentinel of the 28th June 1878 carried a full account of his show in which he performed before a crowd of 10,000 admirers. The lowest admission price was 1/6.  Special trains ran from Manchester, Macclesfield and  the Potteries. There was a grandstand erected for the wealthier spectator and the audience were grouped on three sides of the lake. A tower was erected and a rope strung 100 feet above and for 200yards over the water. Additional weights  were added steadying  the rope. The weather had been hot and fortunately by the evening a cool wind began to blow although this added to the danger for Trower. A band struck up “ See the Conquering Hero Come” to announce the start of the demonstration. The crowd cheered as he began to walk slowly over the 6 inch rope adjusting his balance to suit the breeze. He made his way to the centre of the rope and sat down acknowledging the applause. He returned to the tower and reappeared with a stove and cooked and ate a meal on the rope. Carlos finally was blind folded as he walked above Rudyard Lake one more time

The Sentinel concluded “ At the close of his performance a hearty cheer attested the satisfaction almost universally felt at his gallant performance”

Trower returned to the States in 1878 appearing at a Coloured Persons Celebration in Brooklyn, Connecticut and Coney Island which indicates that he was sensitive to the  changes that had effected the black population since Emancipation.

As can be imagined his occupation was risky and he fell or was injured on several occasions. Early in his career he fell and was badly injured at Beverley and in 1886 he was receiving hospital treatment in London following an accident. By this time his career was in decline and he was having increasing bouts of ill health. He died penniless in an Asylum in Bow in 1889. His great grandson Ron Howard of Essex who helped me with this article visited Rudyard some years ago  to see the site of his ancestor