THE Echo revealed last week how a herd of colourful elephants are set to liven up Southend this summer.

Herd In The City – created by Havens Hospices and Wild In Art – will see more than 30 large elephant sculptures dotted around the city, Leigh and Shoebury.

Each one will be painted by professional artists and then sponsored by a business based in Southend.

At the end of the trail, the elephants will be sold at auction, with all proceeds raising money for Havens Hospices.

The art project follows on from last year’s Hares About Town which raised more than half a million pounds for the hospice.

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When it comes to the real thing – living, breathing, stomping elephants, south Essex has plenty of experience.

From the Victorian age to the early 1920s and 1930s elephants were often seen trundling around Southend as circuses – such as the world famous Sanger circus with its famous ‘ragtime elephant band’ – set up their big tops in the town.

Echo: Ready to perform - elephants from Sangers Circus pictured in 1922 in SouthendReady to perform - elephants from Sangers Circus pictured in 1922 in Southend

In June 1820 an elephant was even sold at auction at Chelmsford Market (along with a host of other exotic animals).

In 1867 Manders Grand Travelling Menagerie travelled through Essex. A highlight was a giant elephant playing the piano as well as the largest and smallest elephants exhibited side by side.

In 1922 a baby elephant from Carmo’s circus helped to raised hundreds of pounds for Victoria Hospital when she was paraded around the streets of Southend as part of a publicity stunt for the circus. At one point she was led to a pub and given some beer to drink.

Elephants were regularly part of acts performed at the Kursaal and the Hippodrome.

Sometimes their appearance in the street in broad daylight could be problematic for those not used to the sight of such mighty mammals.

In January of 1933 an elephant was being quietly led through the streets to the Kursaal when a woman crossing the thoroughfare in front suddenly fell screaming to the ground.

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The hysterical woman alleged that she was knocked down by the elephant, but the animal’s attendant disputed this and claimed that at the sheer sight of it the woman had taken fright and crumpled onto the ground in a panicky heap.

Traffic came to a standstill for a while, until the woman was able to compose herself and eventually both elephant and human were able to go on their respective ways.

In 1937 a wedding held in Billericay became something of a spectacle thanks to an elephant guest – but then again it was a circus wedding.

A large crowd gathered outside the parish church where the wedding of a circus trapeze artiste and a knife thrower was being held.

After the couple had exchanged vows they were carried off from the church on an elephant.

The couple were Walter Shufflebottom and Cecily Rosaires.

Echo: Not a bus - the elephant parade is forgiven for flouting a no entry sign in Southend in 1971Not a bus - the elephant parade is forgiven for flouting a no entry sign in Southend in 1971

Mr Shufflebottom was the 27-year-old son of the original Texas Bill of Wild West fame. Miss Rosaires was aged 24 and lived in Cox’s Farm Road, Billericay. She was a flying trapeze artist and also an expert elephant trainer. One of her chief acts in the show was to allow herself to be carried with her head in an elephant’s mouth.

The best man at the wedding was “Broncho Bill.” who rode his horse to the church and wore his cowboy outfit.

Similar scenes were witnessed three decades later when in August 1967 a couple got hitched in Southend – joined by an elephant for their big day.

Jackie Squires, 22, the grand-daughter of the late circus magnate Billy Smart, was marrying high wire performer Michael Cimarro. When they tied the knot at Holy Trinity Church in Southchurch they were joined by their faithful elephant–- and 1,000 curious onlookers.

By 1947 baby elephants were using an Essex airport runway for training. Asian elephants, brought over from Sri Lanka, could be seen scampering around on the runways of Wethersfield Aerodrome, near Braintree.

The elephants were valued at a total of £15,000 and were forced to take part in a training course led by performing animal expert Wenzel Kossmayer.

When their training was finished the elephants were said to be worth twice what the owner paid for them.

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Less expensive than the real thing, but far more complex, was an extraordinary mechanical elephant built in 1950 by an Essex-based inventor.

Scottish artist and inventor Frank Stuart, who lived in Thaxted, spent two years and £1,000 creating the motorised 8ft 6inch tall elephant to give joy rides to children.

The battery-powered creation –which he dubbed an ‘electrophant’- was made from a steel skeleton and covered with toughened paper and was capable of travelling at 27mph. It was capable of seating eight adults or 16 children on its howdah.

Stuart, who had specialised in creating stage scenery and masks for the annual Venice festival, was aiming to sell the elephant. He set up his own electrophant business in Colchester but unfortunately he was beset by production costs.

In the summer of 1971 an elephant named Bella became a familiar sight around Southend.

Bella had been all over Southend for carnival day and was the star attraction of the parade. She later shared the stage of the Cliffs Pavilion with guest host Dickie Henderson.

In the same year 13 elephants, weighing a total of 40 tons, caused a stir when they were unloaded from a special train at Southend Victoria Station .

The elephants were then paraded along the Golden Mile to herald the return of Billy Smart’s Circus. One police officer (featured in our gallery) could only stand and watch as the jumbo animals flouted a strict ‘no entry’ sign along a seafront turning.

It wasn’t until 2020 that the law banning the use of wild animals such as elephants in travelling circuses in England officially came into force.