The joy of circus

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Pure joy is a rare commodity. We can experience moments of happiness, contentment, cheeriness, euphoria and so on – but only occasionally do we, as adults, get to feel unadulterated childlike joy.

I had such a moment this week. More than a moment, in fact – a full half hour of innocent, gleeful grinning as I drank in all the details of Silver’s Model Circus, a mechanical 1:24 scale model of a three-ring circus, currently on display at Rosebery’s auctioneers, five minutes from our home in West Norwood.

Silver’s Model Circus is a wonderful and enchanting thing, built of magic and love. And if that sounds a bit cloying, a bit Madeleine Bassett (she was the character in P G Wodehouse who thought the stars were God’s daisy chain), then I hold my hand up unapologetically to cloyworthy behaviour. God knows, we need wonder and enchantment and magic and love more than ever, and this has it in spades.

It isn’t, of course, built of magic. It’s built of hard work, dedication, craftsmanship,  attention to detail, imagination and humour (and magic). The more I examined it, the more I saw – little details that elevate this marvellous thing to a higher level.

I’ll let the videos and photos speak for themselves down below, but here are some facts:

  • Silver’s Model Circus measures 27 x 10 x 7 feet.
  • It has over 100 moving parts, all mobilised by a single engine.
  • Apart from that engine, it’s all mechanical.
  • The big top at the centre of the model was made in the 1930s by David Hardie, and used by salesmen to show circus owners a scale model of the tent they could buy.
  • The rest of the model was built between the 1950s and 1990s by Hardie and his family.
  • The model takes five people two days to assemble, and the same for taking it down – it’s quicker to set up an actual circus.
  • Once assembled and switched on, it runs and runs. It has apparently run for over 30 years without breakdown – equivalent to 90,000 miles, so I’m told.
  • The model is based on a real travelling circus set up by Hardie, his brother Les and Mervyn King in Australia after World War II, and all the automated acts in the model are based on real circus acts.
  • All the horses in the model are named after horses from that circus.
  • Every item in the model has been made by hand and is exactly 1:24 scale.
  • A lot of the materials used to build the circus are recycled: old fridges, clocks, piano cases, oil tins…
  • Every figure is hand carved, then painted and dressed.
  • It has been in various places over the years, including the model village in Babbacombe in Devon.
  • On Thursday it’ll be auctioned – the starting price is £7000, and the estimate is £10,000 to £20,000. I wouldn’t be surprised if it fetched more than that.

You can read more about it here.

And there are more photos on the Twitter feed of Diana Townsend, Hardie’s daughter, who has restored the model for sale.

And if you’re in West Norwood between now and Thursday, I do urge you to drop in and have a look. It will be operating at these times: Sun 10-2, Mon 2-5, Wed 10-5, Thur 10-2.



  1. Sold for £10,000 (12,500 inc. premium)! In some ways it seems an almost derisory amount when you consider the labour (and love) that went into its construction! I hope it continues to bring joy to as many people as possible in the coming years! It certainly put a smile on my face – many thanks Lev!

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