A Fine Balance

Carlos Trower escaped slavery to become one of the world’s greatest tight rope walkers and used this platform to promote the emancipation of enslaved people.

Carte de Visite of Carlos by John Stringfellow

With funding from Heritage Schools and a grant from the University of the West of England’s community fund we are looking forward to working with pupils from St Michael on the Mount Primary School, UWE Masters Architecture students and History and Film undergraduates to create an exhibition promoting the story of the African Blondin who once lived on Christmas Steps and performed at Colston Hall for a Victorian audience of over 3,000.

Local Learning has gathered together a team of people who will help to tell the story in a sensitive and appropriate manner, bringing together aerialists, actors, activists, archivists, acrobats and anybody else who wishes to help shape this story.

Carlos Trower Performs on Rudyard Lake, image courtesy of the artist, Trevor Haddrell

We hope to launch the exhibition on Sunday 28th February 2021 in two parts simultaneously:

  • the foyer of Bristol Beacon (formerly known as Colston Hall) to include a live performance from David Ellington (filmmaker and aerialist performing with Extraordinary Bodies)
  • Christmas Steps utilising gallery space opposite Carlos Trower’s home and his daughter Celia’s birthplace at number 7 with a performance by acrobat, Jordan Morton-Trowers.

Carlos Trower ‘The African Blondin’ (text by Dr Paul Green)

As a young fugitive, Carlos hid among a circus and learned to walk up the tent ropes. At 12 years old, Carlos performed for his first African-American audience at an event in Brooklyn, New York, campaigning for the emancipation of all enslaved peoples. After a performance in England, Carlos married an English woman Myra Clay and made a home in the smoke and industry of the Potteries. Carlos continued to perform on the high-rope and nearly died when the rope snapped beneath him in the Beverly Cattle Market near Hull. He also performed with a Victorian Panorama show at Bristol’s Colston Hall for over 3,000 people, but at the age of 39, Carlos died in Bow Asylum reported as a neurological degenerative disorder.

Photo of African Blondin at Rosherville Gardens by J Willis, image courtesy of Gravesend Library

A Fine Balance

The project will build on the city conversations that have followed the recent Black Lives Matters protests in Bristol. There is an increased desire to diversify our learning curriculum, making it more relevant and reflective of the multi-cultural demographic of this city.

Given Bristol’s status as a “city of circus”, there is a circularity and justification in celebrating Black African anti-slavery campaigner Carlos Trower who once performed at Bristol’s Colston Hall. It feels appropriate that as we stop honouring Bristol merchant, Edward Colston, who was heavily involved in the Trans-Atlantic slave trade and whose statue was toppled, that we focus attention on the city’s unknown heroes and provide a platform for someone about whom the city can come together to be proud of.

Further information

See our previous Circus 250 project delivered in partnership with Circomedia that includes artwork created by St Barnabas CEVC Primary School inspired by the life of Carlos Trower an example of which is featured at the top of this page.