The Travelling Showman of The Black Lion


WRITTEN BY Hayley Flynn

IMAGE BY Jennifer Brookes

READING TIME: 2 minutes


Salford’s connection to Buffalo Bill, and the birthplace of The Showmen’s Guild.

The Black Lion pub, on the corner of Chapel Street neighbours Blackfriars Bridge and has been in business since 1776. The site is perhaps most famous as the birthplace of the The Showmen’s Guild. 

The Guild began life as the Van Dweller’s Protection Association in 1889 and protects the interests of travelling showmen who gain their livelihoods by attending funfairs. The incentive to set up the guild was in reaction to an evangelist by the name of George Smith. Smith believed his mission was to reform all members of the itinerant community in the United Kingdom, labelling them:

"Dregs of society that will one day put a stop to the work of civilisation, and bring to an end the advance in arts, law and commerce."


Of all the travelling showmen one of the most famous is Buffalo Bill and he and his ‘Congress of Rough Riders of the World Show’ once came to Salford. Real name William Cody, Buffalo Bill toured his show in the United Kingdom to celebrate the Jubilee year of Queen Victoria, putting on shows in London; Birmingham; and finally in Salford - choosing to remain here, on the banks of the River Irwell, for five months.

In honour of visit many of the roads of Salford were renamed, such as Cody Court, Sundance Court, Dakota Avenue, and Kansas Avenue.  During their stay a member of the show gave birth to a daughter, christened in Ordsall as Francis but her Indian name was Over the Sea. She was the first Native American born in Europe.

When the show returned to America at least two of the original cast did not. A man named Surrounded died in Hope Hospital and his body was said to have disappeared, the BBC had hoped to uncover it whilst digging the foundations for MediaCity but it’s most likely the body was transported to London and buried. 

The other member who never left went by the name of Charging Thunder - he married a local girl and changed his name to George Edward Williams. Williams worked as a cinema usher on Clewes Street for a spell before going on to work at Belle Vue Zoo taking care of the elephants. Apparently, when drunk Charging Thunder would head to the circus to sleep it off in the elephant enclosure. His body is buried in West Gorton cemetery and he has two surviving grandchildren who still live in the area. 

The Black Lion reopened in 2011 and Future Artists run regular film nights in the newly fitted cinema upstairs. 

This article is taken from Skyliner From the Other City. An alternative guide to Sounds From the Other City.