Charles Blondin was a French tightrope walker and acrobat. He was born Jean François Gravelet on the 28th of February, 1824.
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Introduction Queen Victoria, who died in 1901, is famous for uttering the words fiWe are not amused.fl Whether she said this or not, she was actually quite fond of being entertained and had a good sense of humour. Popular entertainment in Victorian times included visiting the theatre, attending music concerts, championing sports such as rowing and horse racing and of course going to the circus. Victorian circus thrilled its audience with equestrian displays, clowns, jugglers, musicians and acrobats. The subject of this project chose instead to perform his acrobatics independently Œ keeping his audience to himself and not even selling tickets! All he needed was a small crowd, ˜ne weather conditions and a rope. May I present The Great Blondin!?! Typical Victorian circus performers 1

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Our Man Charles Blondin was a French tightrope walker and acrobat. He was born Jean François Gravelet on the 28th of February, 1824. Despite a life led performing perilous feat after perilous feat he lived to the grand old age of 72, a matter of days before his 73rd birthday in 1897. This fearless and peerless Victorian was born in Pas-de-Calais, France but lived out his last years up the road from us in North˜elds. When I noticed, while walking my dog, a park and several streets named after him I decided to ˜nd out all about him.Prepare to be amazed! 2

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The Early Years On the 28th February 1824 at St Omer, Pas-de- Calais, France a star was born. He was named Jean Francois Gravelet but became known as Charles Blondin Œ but more about that later. As a boy Jean Francois was an adventurous and imaginative child. He loved the outside world and was interested in nature. The lad was fearless and courageous Œ he would climb trees and balance on walls Œ never missing an opportunity to test his early skills. He practised these activities from the moment he learnt to walk. It was plain to see that he had a gift and the determination to become an impressive stunt man. When he was just ˜ve years of age he was awarded a place at the ‚Ecole de Gymnase™ in Lyon.To everyone™s amazement he was astonishingly good and, after only twenty four weeks™ acrobatic training, made his ˜rst major appearance as ‚The Boy Wonder™. His supreme skill and his showmanship, in combination with his talent for performing his tricks in unusual ways, made him an act that soon everyone looked forward to. Word soon spread about this child prodigy and as he grew so did his reputation as an exciting daredevil. As his audience expanded his act evolved into a thrilling and incredible exhibition. ‚The Boy Wonder™ became known as ‚Chevalier Blondin™, ‚The Great Blondin™ and ‚Charles Blondin™ Œ possibly because of his mop of blonde hair. Meanwhile, in his private life, he and his wife-to-be had a son called Aime Leopold. Jean Francois married Aime™s mother Marie but he was soon to leave them behind in France when he went to America in 1855, aged 31. Nobody knows what was to become of his little family Œ a new, exciting life awaited him in America.The Boy Wonder 3

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America Charles Blondin went to the United States Of America in 1855. He was given a job by a man called William Niblo to appear with the ‚Ravel Troupe™ in New York City, and later on was invited to become part owner of the circus. He is undoubtedly most famous for his feat of crossing the Niagara Falls on a tightrope. He actually did it 17 times! Each time more daring and horrifying than the last. To accomplish this the rope had to be 1,100 feet long, 3.25 inches in diameter and 160 feet above the water. This he achieved for the ˜rst time on the 30th June 1859 Œ dressed in spangly pink tights. He wore light leather shoes with soft soles and carried a pole made of ash that was 26 feet long and weighed almost 50 pounds. About 25,000 people arrived by train and steamer to spread along the banks on the American and the Canadian sides to get the best view. The Great Blondin Niagara Falls4

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Coming To Britain While living in the USA Blondin married his second wife Charlotte Lawrence and they had three children; Adele, Edward and Isis. In 1861 Blondin came to London to appear at the Crystal Palace. He turned somersaults on stilts on a rope stretched across the inside of the palace 70 feet from the ground. This is 20 metres. He went on to perform in Scotland and in Ireland though during one display in Dublin disaster struck. He was walking a tightrope stretched between a scaffold structure in the Botanical Gardens and the rope broke. Blondin was not hurt but two men that were working on the scaffolding feel to their death. Blondin made himself scarce and though the event organiser said that he would never allow such a display to take place again somehow Blondin returned the following year and repeated the exhibition but this time at twice the height!In September 1873 Blondin crossed Edgbaston Reservoir in Birmingham. In 1992 a statue was built to mark this feat. Statue in Birmingham7

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My Neighbour The Great Blondin carried on performing until he was in his 50s and sometimes took a part in a pantomime. His very last performance was in Belfast in 1896 when he was 71 though I don™t think he was walking the tightrope. By this time he had two more children with his second wife but she died in 1888. He married again for the 3rd time and he and Katherine lived in their house in North˜elds, Ealing. The house was called Niagara House. Unfortunately the house isn™t there anymore but our hero is well remembered because there is a Niagara Avenue and a Blondin Avenue Œ both leading to a park that is called Blondin Park. This is the park where I walk my dog Larry and balance on the climbing frame. Blondin Avenue, W5 8

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