The circus is coming to town

bySineadin Cork, Story, Tower, United Kingdomand  29 Comments

The circus came to Tower over a hundred years ago and there is no doubt it would have been a cause for huge excitement and high spirits. In April 1911 the Hudson family circus had pitched their tents and more than likely staged their show in Tower village; traveling circuses were a thrilling and welcome sight in the pre-electricity and pre-television era.


It is perhaps difficult to imagine exactly how exciting it must have been for people to see the brightly painted caravans and exotically dressed circus performers pull into their tiny village and entertain them with breath-taking acrobats and comic antics.


Back in the early 1900s, the circus was a time when families could escape from reality, take some time off their lives and spend a few hours simply being entertained in the same way that today we use television, box sets and YouTube.

William Hudson, born in Manchester in the 1840s, was travelling the Irish country side with his family circus for at least a decade by the time the 1911 census was taken. He and his wife Kate had eleven children and all were working in the family business. The family toured under the name The Turner Hudson Circus.


The eleven children ranged in ages from twenty-three all the way down to a one year old baby and all were staying in Tower the night of the 1911 census. William’s brother Joe Hudson, also a circus hand, was with them.


And the only non-family member was Patrick Rose, a twenty-one year old circus hand. It would appear that Patrick Rose had been living in the Industrial school on Roxboro Road in Limerick according to the 1901 census and then left to join the circus. That would make some story!


According to an online forum about family history within the circus world the children Sam, Kathleen and Mike were all trapeze artists. (You can visit to see the full details).


It would appear from the census ten years earlier in 1901 that the family had been travelling further afield than Tower with their circus act as they were staying, or living, in a 4th class house in Freemount north county Cork.


There was nine of the family in a small one roomed thatch cottage. There is a small bit more detail on the family in the 1901 census that tells us that four of the children were born in county Tipperary, two in Waterford and one in Cork. It also tells us that William’s wife Kate (Catherine) was actually from Dublin.


So in true circus lore the family toured the length and breath of the country, entertaining and playing to the crowd as they went, their family growing as children were born as they moved from town to town, county to county.


One of William’s daughters Susan, married one of the circus performers, James McCormack, when they were both living in Rylane in Coachford, or possibly they could simply have been performing in Rylane at one of their many stops. An interesting aspect of the marriage and marriage cert was that Susan’s age was listed as “Minor” as she would have been fifteen when she got married.


It would appear that Susan and her husband James toured as a circus act during World War 1.


While I have been unable to find a photograph of the Hudson Circus this is a photograph members of the Wilson & Duffy Combined Circus in Strabane in 1910. The Hudson circus would have been quite similar but smaller in numbers.



When the circus pulled up in Tower they would have pitched their tents either on the file opposite the Huntsman pub or the field alongside the old forge, where the petrol station now is; on an unrelated side note it is here that the travelling cinema would have setup in the late fifties when it came to Tower.


I am unable to confirm if the Hudson circus did indeed perform in April 1911 in Tower, or if they were just passing through. It is nice to imagine the locals of Tower village, who worked as blacksmiths, labourers, farm hands, bootmakers (there was a boot “factory” located in Tower at that time!) and housekeepers all finishing up for the day and heading to see the circus. The guests of the upmarket nearby Hydro hotel may have wandered over to the village to see the sights and enjoy the show. Its not quite on the same scale as the Ed Sheeran concerts in Cork this weekend but close!

SineadThe circus is coming to town


  1. Terri O’Gorman Reply

    Fantastic bit of research. I’d be a descendant of the McCormick/McCormack side that travelled with every type of entertainment.

  2. Maureen New Reply

    My grandmother was one of the 11 children Mary Ann Hudson. She was a tightrope artist. She married a scotsman Joseph Reid in Killarney. He was a wall of death rider.

    1. Sinead Reply

      Hi Maureen,

      Thank you so much for that info, what an exciting life your grandmother must have had! It must have been so thrilling for the people of Tower when the Hudson family circus came to perform, so glamorous and entertaining.
      Thanks for taking the time to comment, I will update the blog with that info. There definitely wasn’t that many tightrope walkers in either 1901 or 1911!!


  3. Maureen New Reply

    The irony is that my grandmother died after falling from a chair undoing a knot in the pulley rope. She was unaware that she was pregnant again and died from a haemorrhage. My grandfather died from head injuries following a motorbike accident on the road. We are only now beginning to piece their exciting early lives together as they both died quite young. My mother and her youngest sister were put in to Quarriers Homes until their eldest sister married and took them back.

    1. Sinead Reply

      Hi again Maureen,

      Thank you so much for getting back in touch, what a sad story that is, I didn’t know what a Quarriers Home was so had to Google.
      It is very tragic that young Mary Ann passed away in the manner that she did – and as you said, so ironic.

      So it would seem that your grandparents settled in Scotland & brought up their family there?

      I did another little bit of digging about & have found some more details, bare bones really but I think it helps to show you how your ancestors lived.
      Unfortunately I couldn’t find any reference to Mary-Ann Hudson’s birth or marriage, and I tried every permutation of Mary that I could think of!

      William Hudson & Catherine Tolton married 23/04/1884 in Ballina (Mary Anne’s parents)

      John J. Hudson
      Samuel – born 16/10/1889 Killenaule, Cashel Co Tipperary, father William listed as a “Showman”
      Alfred – born 26/12/1894 Borris, Co Carlow
      Susan – born 05/05/1899 Newcastle, Clogheen Co Tipperary, father William listed as “Showman”
      William – born 05/12/1901 Ballycrogan, Kilmalock Co Limerick
      Bridget – born 18/12/1903 Connolloy, Ennis Co Clare
      Patrick – born 14/02/1905 Bagnelstown, Co Carlow

      (It looks like the travelling circus that William & his brother Samuel ran travelled mostly around the southern most parts of Ireland, Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Waterford & up as far as Clare.
      I wonder is there anyone that would have had a poster or anything from that long ago, it would be fantastic.)

      Alfred married Catherine McCormack & had a baby girl, also named Catherine 19/10/1916 in Passage East (border of Cork & Waterford county).
      Catherine Snr died only three days later, 22/10/1916, in the Union Hospital in Waterford city.
      And then the little baby Catherine died a month later, 25/11/1916

      Samuel married Elizabeth Hays in Athlone 05/07/1931, his occupation was listed as “Travelling circusman”
      Both Samuel’s & Elizabeth’s fathers are listed as “Showmen” in the marriage certificate.
      Samuel died in 11/09/1956 in Kinsale Co Cork.

      A Susan Hudson married Francis McCormack 07/10/1914 in Fethard, New Ross Co Wexford.
      Her father is listed as Samuel & is another “Showman” – Samuel is William’s brother and they ran the circus together.

      Susan, William’s daughter, married a James McCormack in 23/11/1914 in the Church of St Peter & Pauls in Cork city.
      And not only are the two Susan’s first cousins but it also looks like the cousins married brothers!
      I got a message from a lady who is related to this line of the family & said that they travelled with every type of entertainment.

      Patrick married Helen Farrell in the Registrar’s office in Cork city 10/10/1941, both have their occupations listed as “Circus Performers”.

      I presume you have seen this page??? There is some very interesting nuggets of information here too.

  4. Maureen New Reply

    Thank you so much for all that information. It is fantastic. We know they married in Killarney on 29 August 1915 but can’t find the record. They settled in Greenock then moved to Gourock in the west of Scotland and brought the family up there. My grandfather had a shoemaking business there and also had a shoemaking shop across the river Clyde in Kilcreggan. During this time he continued to tour with circuses/fairs. My uncle Joe the eldest son was an acrobat and was due to go on his first tour when my grandfather had his motorbike accident. so never got to join the circus life. The circus act names that my grandparents used are crackers. Granny was The Twinkling Lady on the Twinkling Wire and grandpa was Vulcan the Herculean Hero. Thank you again for all your help and work finding this information. The story is getting more exciting by the minute.

    1. Catriona Reply

      Hi Maureen….I am your cousin Catriona (daughter of John), I have also done some research on the family tree and it’s amazing to read all this information. I have pictures of our grandfather but have never seen one of Mary Anne.

      1. Sinead Reply

        Hi Catriona,

        You have a very glamarous family history! It is really wonderful that you are able to go so far back with your family, and then to see that they were all various different skilled circus performers.

        I find it incredible to think of my grand-uncle watching your grand-mother walk across a tight-rope over a hundred years ago!!!!

        If you have and other info that I am missing I would love to read it.



  5. Frank Moloney Reply

    Hi Maureen, I am delighted to find this page and potential contact with my relatives. My name is Frank Moloney, son of Samuel Joseph Moloney who was the son of Susan McCormack (nee. Hudson) and Michael Moloney. Susan’s husband was killed in world war one according to what we were told and she eventually met and married Michael. Michael was a harness maker from Waterford and we guess the connection was made via work he did for the circuses. My dad Sam married Mary Peyton daughter of an American actor/showman who came to England at or about 1900. He travelled with Fossetts and the then Heckenbergs Berlin Tower Circus and my mother and her 3 brothers all performed in the shows. Would love to know of any available photos, stories from relatives and friends and am well and truly stoked to have found this connection

    1. Sinead Reply

      Hi Frank – I am delighted that you found our page & that it looks like you have come across some long lost relatives – the world is very small really!!

      I have loads of information about the Hudson family circus but Maureen has done lots of research & is touch with other relatives across the globe – I will put you in touch with her by email if that’s ok?

      And I think I will update the Hudson family story with all those lovely details that you have, what a family story!

      Sinéad xx

  6. Frank Moloney Reply

    Oh Sinead you can’t believe how satisfying it hras been to fins this site. My sister and myself have been researching the family history for years. We tended to concentrate on the maternal side as we had good information on the family and as my granfather was an American actor with a very famous actor for a father we found it easier to get information. Obviously getting Irish information has been a bit more difficult due to the destruction of records and it’s almost by accident that I stumbled across this site. I would be very pleased to get any info from yourself and would be delighted to hear from Maureen (I’m guessing she’s a cousin a couiple of times removed. However just to throw a few things in the pot. My dad Sam (Susana Hudsons son) apart from learning the harness trade from his dad, was a highly successful boxer. He boxed at middleweight and we believe was an unbeaten amateur. He was known as the Killarney Tiger and when he came to England in about 1945 he continued boxing, eventually turning professional and having 20 odd fights. We believe he was undefeated as a professional and gave up having been injured in a fight and with the prospect of a family on the way made the decision to quit. Phew … loads more to share but it’s G&T time

    Frank xxx

    1. Sinead Reply

      Wow!!! What a family you have Frank!

      And wait until Maureen fills you in on the other side 🙂

      I am very excited now – and may just have to crack open a bottle of gin as well to celebrate!!!


    1. Sinead Reply

      Hi Frank – I only know that it is better known as Fossett’s circus – there is an excellent documentary on RTE radio 1, that I think is now a podcast,

      And it just so happens that there was a feature on the RTE television this evening on a Limerick family circus that started in the early 1900’s – I will watch it again & pay closer attention!


      1. Frank Moloney Reply

        My Grandfather , Granny my mom and uncles travelled with Heckenbergs. Mom was taught to ride by Teddy Fossett and the legendary Dr. Powell. My uncles were multi talented covering everything from acrobatics to contortionism, musicianship, and my uncle Joe was also the clown !! I will look out the pictures that we have and share them.

    1. Frank Moloney Reply

      Hi Catriona, have only just seen this post so sorry for the delay in responding. I haven’t had the opportunity to go through my photos yet as we are in the process of moving house so everything is going into storage for a while. If you would like to send me an email I will send some of the digital images that I have of family etc. Equally I would be delighted if you have any information, stories or photos to share. I’m trying to workout what relation we are to each other … It would be great to hear from you.
      Frank Moloney

      1. Sinead Reply

        Hi Frank & Catriona, hope you are both well & have caught up with lots of family stories.
        I did send an email to you both but I reckon it has ended up in your Inbox Spam folder.
        Good luck with your house move Frank – I would rather pull my finger nails out than attempt a house move ever again 🙂

  7. Karen Reply

    Hi All – Following this thread with interest. I’m a distant relative of Kate Tolton who was Mary Anne Hudson’s mother. Kate’s father Frederick is indicated in records as being a musician. Kate married into the Hudson family but she also had a sister Fanny who married into the Mullins family who were also showmen. One of Kate’s brothers Francis was a street musician, Robert was a cornet player and John was a music teacher for a little while. So it looks like music and entertainment were in the blood.

    1. Sinead Reply

      Hi Karen, that is just fantastic!!

      What a family, really seems to be steeped in the arts & music. I must do a virtual introduction with Maureen who is also descended from Mary Anne, she will be delighted!

      Sinead x

  8. Teresa rose Reply

    hi, just doing my research on my husband’s family and came across this page. My husband’s grandmother was Bella Hudson one of the Hudsons from this circus family. she married Patrick Rose their son Alfred is my husband’s father. I would love any information be found on them I have them in the 1901 and 1911 census.


    1. Sinead Reply

      Hi Teresa – good to hear from you, what a fantastic and interesting family the Hudson’s are!

      I have some information but there is a lady in Scotland who has quite a comprehensive research completed on the family – if you don’t mind I can send her your email address & ask her to get in touch to share with you?
      Maureen will only be delighted to hear from you!


      1. Teresa rose Reply

        Thanks Sinead no problem with you giving my email. would be delighted to find anything i can on the family.


        1. Sinead

          Hi Teresa – I sent that email to yourself & Maureen so hopefully you will get lots of info shortly from Maureen!
          Best of luck with the research & I would love to see the result.

  9. Tabetha Scott Reply

    Hi, I have been trying to research for a very long time on my family. I am a descendant of kathleen’s, my mum would have been franks cousin by the looks of it. I would love to see pictures and anymore information if you have it? This is so exciting! Please add me on Facebook so we can talk further as I would love to get to know you all xxx