Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 21, 2018
Webpage updated: February 21, 2018




The Olympia Hippodrome and Circus was opened in the grounds of Drill Hall in Plymouth on Thursday August 18th 1887.  It was stated that the 'monster pavilion' could accommodate 7,000 people.  The afternoon and evening performances that day were packed.  The Western Morning News reported that: 'Among the many clever feats performed last evening, Achmet Pasha is worthy of mention.  He successfully went through many marvellous equilibristic performances on a slack wire, one being the twirling of half a dozen articles upon sticks, which he placed on his head and held in his hands, as he moved along the thin line.  M Pugh gave an unequalled entertainment on the horizontal bar.  The positions in which Mephisto, the contortionist, put himself were simply marvellous.  The Olympian games form a new and pleasurable feature in equestrian entertainments.  A number of men and women clothed in Roman dress raced on horses bareback, whilst engaged in a fencing bout with the short Roman sword, their weapons clicking  to the rhythm of the music.  The chariot race was, however, the most exciting part of the business.  The clowns Rumbo, Austin, and especially Jolly Juba, contributed the less serious part of the programme with entertaining wit.  The last act was a stag hunt, with two stags, hounds, and huntsmen -- the famous hunt of the London Olympia in Addison-road.'

Oddly, no-one claimed ownership of the Olympia in 1886 but the following year it was clearly under the ownership of a Mr Frederick Ginnett, who announced that he would be opening his "Grand New and Splendid Olympia" on Monday September 26thg 1887.  Now it had a permanent building on a site in Martin Street, Plymouth.  It was 125 feet long by 70 feet wide and could accommodate 2,442 people and was claimed to be both fire proof and panic proof, with no fewer than twelve exits at the front and eight at the rear, none involving stairs or steps.  Furthermore, the Olympia was illuminated by 2,000 gas jets, ornamented with 100 classical pictures, and entirely free from draughts.  Daily performances started at 8pm and ended at 10.15pm, with additional afternoon performances at 2.30pm ob Wednesdays and Saturdays.  The Royal Box, to hold up to ten people, would  set you back 1 1s while one of the eight Private Boxes was only ten shillings.  Individual admission to the stalls cost three shillings, the pit and promenade, one shilling; and the gallery, six pence.

Mr Ginnett presented twenty items for the delight of the audience.  Once again the Western Morning News published a review: 'There were very graceful and choice equestrian acts by ladies and gentlemen of the company, tightrope dancing, musical eccentricities, juggling and balancing, remarkable feats on the flying trapeze by two youthful gymnasts named Karl and Rose, and laughter-provoking comicalities by Little Valdo and Charlie Keith, both old favourites in the circus ring.  The most sensational item in the evening's performance was unquestionably Frisco Bill's display of shooting.  This marksman's unerring precision in hitting the object aimed at was wonderful.  A young lady held various small and chiefly fragile objects at arm's length, and Frisco Bill demolished them one after another with his rifle bullet, and even shattered a cigar which the young lady held in her mouth, to say nothing of shivering glass balls and other objects placed on the lady's head, after the fashion of William Tell.  The marksman did not confine himself to the ordinary standing position, for his aim was equally deadly when he threw himself into a most inconvenient position -- backward over a chair.  Highly-educated animals occupy an important place in the programme.  Madame Ginnett rode her magnificent black Arab Abdallah, which shewed how high a degree of intelligence the beautiful animal is capable of in the experienced hands of its mistress -- among other pretty feats that of keeping time to the music with great precision was much applauded.  Mr Buck White's group of Broncho horses formed an exceedingly interesting and novel feature in the evening's entertainment.  These did all the evolutions of a squad of cavalry horses at the word of command, and a few others in addition.  They picked up an handkerchief and passed it from one to another as requested; they opened and closed a box, and removed an article asked for; finally one of the group discharged a cannon affixed to his back while going at full speed and leaping over  a gate.  Captain Harrington's performing baby elephants, Victoria and Jubilee, are a triumph of clever training.  They not only played at see-saw, but one of them balanced himself on and rolled a barrel unaided, from one end of the plank to the other, be especially careful to avoid danger when passing from the downward to the upward half  of the see-saw.  The elephants seated in chairs and partaking of a meal at a table, proved irresistibly funny.'

Performing lions were the stars of the show in April 1889, presented by Colonel Boone assisted by Miss Milli Carlotta, all contained within a metal cage measuring 21 feet by 18 feet drawn in to the centre of the ring.  Also appearing were a fine stud of performing horses, Peruvian gymnasts, the Clackonian midgets and, of course, the clowns.  Mr John Reed, formerly of the Theatre Royal, was responsible for arranging the show.  The Olympia was at that time being leased by Mr Theophilus Creber, a printer and wood engraver, of 61 Union Street, Plymouth, but the identity of the actual owner is not known.

However, 1889 was to be a turning point for the Olympia.  Messrs L C J and H W F Livermore, of London, took a long lease of the building and had it transformed into 'the Handsomest Place of Amusement in the West of England', which they renamed the People's Palace.