Arthur Nelson had two sons, Alfred and Alban, and, like many performer’s children, were trained to perform in the circus from an early age. Arthur’s wife Ann was an equestrian and, despite at first supporting his father’s antics in the ring, by the mid-1850s, it was Arthur that was playing clown to his son’s equestrian skills as well as performing in his inimitable comic act.
“HERNANDEZ AND STONE’S AMERICAN CIRCUS, From the Theatre Royal, Drury-lane, London, WILL OPEN BOLTON, on Monday, Feb. 13th, 1854 … Master ALFRED NELSON, will execute Difficult Exercises on his favourite steed; … Mr. ARTHUR NELSON, the Merry, Musical Momus, and Herald of Comicality, will appear in several the Equestrian Scenes, and his Funny Harangues, Speeches, and Laughable Stories, also his wonderful and incomparable Performance on the Rock Harmonicum.” (Bolton Chronicle – 11 February 1854 p.1)
By 1857, in Hereford, Arthur was being hailed in advertisements as, “The greatest single horse rider in either hemisphere, who never had had, and probably never will-have, a rival at all comparable with him. He will throw half-a-dozen somersaults, in rapid succession, upon his horse’s back, during the top of his speed.” (Hereford Journal – 10 June 1857 p.4) and by 1863, he had become known as the “Modern Ducrow”, after the greatest circus equestrian on the century.
It’s clear that Alfred also performed abroad, and in particular at the Cirque de Madrid. During the 1860s, Madrid became the major European centre for circus and attracted the best from throughout Europe. Its new stone circus was the envy of all and was under the management of Gaetano Ciniselli, an Italian. He went on to construct and the first stone circus in Russia (The Bolshoi Saint-Petersburg State Circus) which still exists today. The Cirque de Madrid rivalled the older Circo Theatro de Price.
As the Era put it in June 1863:
“MADRID, MAY 26,-… IN MADRID theatricals are quite forgotten, theatres being closed this hot weather, and circus business is quite the rage; for never so the annals of equestrianism was horsemanship favoured with such patronage, and never was such an array of talent congregated at one time in the same town. The new stone circus, the handsomest in the world, that has been some time building, is at last opened under Ciniselli’s management, and is overflowed each night. Among English artistes are the Talliots, gymnasts, from the Alhambra, the Russelli Family, Fillis, Winling, and a host of foreign artistes. Price’s Circus is fighting bravely with the opposition, and with his beautiful gardens, and dancing platform attached to it, finds plenty of visitors. He has the great Delevanti troupe; Leotard is engaged; Bell’s elephants with their tutor, Mr. Moffat; the charming Su-anna, Ryan, the great rider; Barry, Leach, and Forster, the trio Tornequets from the Alhambra; and he has now engaged Louise Loisset, the great female equestrian, at £30 a week; but she has not performed, as Ciniselli has offered her more money, so it is likely to end in a law affair. Artistes are getting great salaries, and should any new artistes think of coming to Madrid they will be engaged by one of the rival managers before they alight from the railway carriage on their own terms. Whytone, the old English Clown, is still the favourite at Price’s, where he gets enough cigars thrown in the ring to him nightly to set up a smoking establishment.”