History

Silvers Model Circus was created by David Hardie and his family over a period of nearly 70 years.

 It shows every aspect of a travelling circus and is brought to life by tiny, moving figures, from the artistes high in the Big Top to the cooks preparing a meal in the kitchen tent.

David Hardie

David Hardie was born in Sydney, Australia, and joined the tent-making business started by his grandfather who had trained in the tent lofts of Barnham and Bailey’s Circus in America.

In 1931, aged 17, David made a miniature big top and a menagerie tent after completing his apprenticeship to become a master tentmaker.

After the Second World War, David formed the travelling show, Silvers Circus with his brother, Les Hardie, and their partner Mervyn King.

For eight years, the show travelled extensively through Australia but in 1953 David became severely ill with meningitis and had to return to Sydney. Silvers Circus closed later that year.

To help his recovery, David’s wife, Diana, persuaded him to emigrate to England in 1954 with their son, David Jnr. The miniature circus tents went with them.

Gradually, David recovered his health and went back to model making. Over the next 20 years, David taught his wife, son and daughter, Diana Jnr, the skills needed to work in miniature and Silvers Model Circus became a family project.

Exhibitions

Silvers Model Circus was first exhibited in 1982 in The Spanish Barn, Torquay and, over the next 30 years, it toured the United Kingdom and drew large crowds wherever it went.

In 1984 it was part of the Cheltenham Christmas Festivities and was officially opened by Earl Spencer, the father of Princess Diana.

In 1985, the model was invited to take part in the first International Clowns Convention in Bognor Regis.

From 1986 until 1994 the circus was the central feature at the tourist attraction, Silverlands in Chudleigh. It then travelled around the country showing in many cities including, Sheffield, Exeter, Swindon, Slough, Manchester, Walsall, Southampton, Coventry, Weymouth, Newbury, Andover and Ballymena.

In 2008 Silvers Model Circus moved to The Model Village, Babbacombe, Torquay where it stayed until 2012.

Interesting Facts

The entire model is powered by one motor and is operated by a complicated system of belts and pulleys connected to a single drive-shaft approximately 7m long.

Every item in the model has been made by hand and is exactly 1:24 scale.

The human and animal figures are all carved from balsa wood fixed to a wire skeleton with brass joints.

When assembled, the model measures 9.2m x 3m and stands 2.2m high.

Every section of the model has its own specially made travelling box and the display can be transported in a 3.5ton truck.

It takes between two and three days to assemble the model.

Recycling

Many of the materials used to build the circus have been recycled and were sourced from a wide variety of places.

Bearings were made from copper tubing from broken refrigerators.

Gear wheels came from mechanical toys or old clocks.

Carving wood was taken from discarded piano cases.

The elephant’s tusks were carved from a toothbrush.

Tin plate was cut from empty oil tins,

And many of the circus figures are dressed in outfits made from the family’s old clothes.

The Auction

Sadly, David Hardie’s family are no longer able to care for the model and, as a result, Silvers Model Circus will be sold at auction at Roseberys in London on 22nd November 2018.

The family hope to see it go to a home where it will we appreciated and will continue to give pleasure to visitors.

Roseberys

Operating in London for more than 30 years, Roseberys London is a privately owned specialist fine art and antiques auction house and valuers, with offices in the heart of the London’s Mayfair and Lambeth. 

roseberys.co.uk/craft-tradition/news-silvers-model-circus/

Viewing dates

Silvers Model Circus is available to view on the following dates at Roseberys 74/76 Knights Hill London, United Kingdom SE27 0JD

Friday 2nd November 2-5pm
Saturday 3rd November 10am-2pm
Monday 5th November 2-5pm
Wednesday 7th November 2-5pm
Friday 9th November 2-5pm
Sunday 11th November 10am-2pm
Monday 12th November 2-5pm
Wednesday 14th November 2-5pm
Friday 16th November 2-5pm
Sunday 18th November 10am-2pm
Monday 19th November 2-5pm
Wednesday 21st November 2-5pm          

The Documentary

When filmmaker, Lucy Townsend, decided to make a documentary about her grandfather, David Hardie, she had no idea that her investigations would lead her to a dung heap in a field in Devon.

Lucy was only 13 when her grandfather died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s and she felt that she had never had a chance to know him properly. 

She did know, however, that he had spent most of his life building an incredible animated model of a three-ring circus which had been displayed in cities around Britain and Ireland but had been left abandoned for years.

For Lucy, the process of restoring the circus and delving into her family history has been a bitter sweet road of discovery which has raised questions about the model’s future.

“It would be such a shame to see it left to deteriorate,” Lucy said. “It should be on display somewhere, bringing joy to people, as it has in the past. I know that’s what my grandfather would have wanted.”