CANTERBURY HISTORICAL 

& ARCHAEOLOGICAL SOCIETY (CHAS)

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Charles Blondin (1824-1897)

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Charles Blondin was a French tightrope walker and acrobat who achieved world-wide fame through his remarkable high wire acts.  A series of walks across the Niagara Falls in 1859 led to his celebrity status and brought considerable wealth.  His stunts whilst 160 ft above the water included walking blindfolded, in a sack, with a wheelbarrow, on stilts, cooking an egg whilst he sat on the rope, standing on a chair with one leg on the rope, and carrying his manager on his back.  Several of these were repeated when he gave a performances at Canterbury Infantry barracks on 12 and 14 October 1871 (Image 1), but in place of his manager Blondin carried on his back Lt George Onslow of 20th Hussars (Image 2), superintendent of the Garrison Gymnasium.  The crowd was estimated at around 5,000, many brought on the special train services run from across Kent.  The finale was the crossing of the 400 ft rope on a bicycle.

 

The barracks held up to 3,000 men - two Garrison buildings still standing in Military Road are the Garrison theatre (now Northgate Community Centre) (Image 3) and the Garrison church (Image 4).

 

Sources:  Blondin image by courtesy David Hobbs, see Butler (2012);  Onslow image see http://www.hussards-photos.com/UK/UK_20_Onslow.jpg.htm;  also Kentish Gazette 26 September 1871

DL