Lizzie the Elephant
‘Sedgwick’s Elephant doing its bit. Novel ‘Dilution of Labour’ at Sheffield. There is such a great dearth of carting facilities in Sheffield that one of the big firms has pressed Sedgwick’s elephant into service, and last week it was seen striding along with ease drawing a load of iron to a munition works. The weight of the load was equal to that usually allotted to three horses…’
World’s Fair Newspaper 5th February 1916
Lizzie the elephant came to Sheffield as part of William Sedgwick’s menagerie, which took winter quarters in Sheffield during the Great War (1914-1918), stationed at the Wicker Arches.
William Charles Augustus Sedgwick (1841-1927) was born in Walworth, Surrey. Although he wasn’t born into the show business, he broke into the industry with a photographic studio and by the age of 19 he was travelling a waxwork show, a popular attraction on the fairs in the 1860s. His business interest progressively shifted to menageries, starting with a group of performing lions in 1869. By the early 1900's William had increased his show to around a dozen wagons and was breeding his own lions, making his show one of the biggest on the road, able to compete with the legendary Bostock and Wombwell.
The outbreak of WWI impacted greatly on the travelling fairground and circus communities; restrictions on travel, rations on food and fuel and general black-outs to avoid being spotted by zeppelin raids, forced many show-families to retire to wintering quarters. In addition, many young showmen and engine drivers were called up for war service, dramatically dwindling the work force.
The commencement of the war threw the country in to chaos and the productive industries concentrated all efforts on supporting it. For showmen organising entertainment, restriction was to the point of paralysis: events were cancelled, staff were impossible to find due to conscription, and the means to travel was limited, resulting in both massive efforts and losses of many of the showland population.
William, by now in his mid-70's, settled to winter at the Wicker Arches in Sheffield with his family. Many other show families settled in Sheffield, taking grounds around the Old Victoria Station. Menageries and circuses throughout the UK were starving due to the lack of funds and were forced to either kill or lease their animals to the war effort. It looks as though most of Sedgwick’s animals were sent to Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester, while Lizzie was leased by Thomas Ward for the haulage of scrap metal, after all his horses were requisitioned for the war effort. Lizzie was not an exception as Sedgwick and other showmen also leased camels and other animals.
Thomas William Ward was born in 1853, at the age of 15 he started work as a coal merchant and in 1878 he had his own business as a small domestic fuel supplier. Throughout the 1870's there was a big demand for scrap metal in Sheffield and 1881 with the help of his brothers Joseph and Arthur he began a scrap metal business that became vital to Sheffield's foundries and steelmakers. Thomas Ward developed an expertise in dismantling big structures such as ships and eventually became the biggest scrap metal dealer in the country.
At the outbreak of WWI, Thomas Ward was employing 1,235 people and feeding a thousand tons of scrap metal to the country's steel makers per day. Thomas Ward was elected to the prestigious office of Master Cutler in 1913 and his brother Joseph became Chairman of the Scrap Advisory Committee to the Ministry of Munitions.
Lizzie was leased from Sedgwick's menagerie to replace horses conscripted by the military to serve in Europe in 1916. Her strength was equivalent to three horses, making her role key on keeping the Ward Company going during the Great War. Lizzie transported machinery around Sheffield in support of the effort the steel industry was committing to the war, making Lizzie an unlikely war recruit. Lizzie was stabled near the factory, in what is now the Hancock and Lant building on Ladies Bridge and became a well-known feature of the city.
After the war William Sedgwick wound down his operations allowing his sons to continue with the business. William died in 1927 aged 86 in Plaistow, he married Mary Anne Saunders (died 1921) in 1865 and had three daughters and four sons; Ellen (1867-1903), Phoebe (1871- c.1901), Richard (1875-1931), Arthur (1878- 1961), Albert (1880-1940), Rose (1882-1942) and Frank (born c.1887).
The Sedgwick's were a pure show family; Richard was taught the art of animal training by Carl Hagenbeck of Germany, and became the daring and fearless lion tamer "Alphonzo". Richard was also responsible for the elephants in his father's menagerie and so was the man who worked with Lizzie on munitions work, in Sheffield during the Great War. After the war Richard ran a cinema show and concentrated his fairground activities on games and amusements and attended the first post-war Hull Fair with two helter-skelter rides. He died suddenly of a heart attack in 1931 aged 56.
Arthur was often referred to as the ‘Beau Brummell’ of showland, due to his collection of velvet suits. In his youth, he worked all the family’s cage acts with his brothers Richard and Frank and sister Rosie. He married Harriet Clark, daughter of Colonel Clark, the ghost show proprietor, and worked a bouncing lion act while his wife performed a serpentine dance in a cage with a lioness. During WWI, he retired his menagerie to Belle Vue Zoo and opened a Hoopla.
Rose nicknamed ‘The Lion Queen’ was the youngest daughter of William; she married Richard Kayes, the son of William Buff Bill Kayes , of Buff Bill's Menagerie and Wild-West Show on 26th June 1916 in Sheffield Cathedral. Richard was recruited shortly after and wounded in 1917 while serving with the army.
Frank Sedgwick was William's youngest son; he was a lion tamer like his oldest brother Richard. Frank continued in the menagerie business up to the 1930's and was famous for pairing up his lion with a pair of harlequin Great Dane dogs.
There are strong indications that Lizzie went back to the Sedgewick family after the war, although there are some conflicting reports as with many other elephant stories of the time, and there is urban legend of Lizzie working with the Ward Company until the cobble stone roads of Sheffield damaged her feet and forced her into retirement.
Lizzie’s legacy continues in the city of Sheffield with a Sheffield Community Transport bus being named “Lizzie Ward" after her.
It has been said that Lizzie was one of the best known elephants in the world, ranking only second to Jumbo! For Sheffielders she is probably more important even than Jumbo.