LOOKING BACK: Tom Thumb ... 2ft tall but a giant of the circus

General Tom Thumb with his wife and daughter
General Tom Thumb with his wife and daughter

Ted Hide has sent in lovely photographs of a visit to Eastbourne by circus performer General Tom Thumb who gave his name to a row of cottages in the town.

The photographs were purchased by a member of Ted’s family who was present at the visit of Tom Thumb to Eastbourne in the middle of the 19th century.

Charles Sherwood Stratton, better known by his stage name General Tom Thumb, was a dwarf who achieved great fame as a performer under circus pioneer P T Barnum.

General Tom Thumb was born in Bridgeport. Connecticut, on January 11 1832, his parents being of common size. Into adulthood he never grew taller than 25 inches and weighed 15lbs.

He visited England twice; first 1844 when he had an audience with Queen Victoria and Prince Albert and in 1865 when he visited Eastbourne. Both visits were under the care of the promoter P T Barnum.

The following is a report from the Eastbourne Gazette 6th September 1865, “Amongst our latest fashionable arrivals might be mentioned the illustrious General Tom Thumb and his wife, their infant child and Commodore Nutt with Miss Minnie Warren, all dwarfs of the smallest degree, yet not in any way deformed.

“They arrived on Friday last, on which day and the succeeding one, they held their levees at the Workman’s Hall. The diminutive carriage and the diminutive appearance of Commodore Nutt on a grey charger as he rode through the streets, attracted crowds of people, some of whom laughed at, whilst others admired the ‘little folk’ and the general pleasantness of their manner.

“There was no less than five exhibitions, all of which were largely attended. On the following Sunday, General Tom Thumb and his wife accompanied by Mr Charles Bradford, proprietor of the Royal Victoria Mews, took various drives around Eastbourne and its beautiful neighbourhood.

“Proceeding from headquarters, the Sussex Hotel, they drove on to Holywell and Meads, and back across the Downs through the Old Town and again lodged safely at the Sussex Hotel.

“Whilst at Meads and when near the residence of R M Caldicott, Mrs Godding presented the General with a basket of ripe figs, which were duly acknowledged.

“Whilst on the Downs, Mrs Tom Thumb, otherwise Mrs Stratton, took the reins and expressed herself highly gratified at the lovely and ever changing scenery, at the same time remarking that she had never before, since her arrival in England enjoyed such a pleasant drive.

“It is said that this illustrious couple are about to retire into private life and that people generally are now seeing the last of them in their public characters.”

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