- About us
- Through Time
by David Rose
While cows graze the town meadow next to Shalford Park today, it was Buffalo Bill who had the run of the fields there just over 100 years ago. In the summer of 1903, Buffalo Bill, alias Colonel W. F. Cody, brought his huge touring Wild West Show to Guildford. The whole shebang came by rail from its previous stop off in Brighton.
In Shalford Park, up went Indian tepees for more than 50 native inhabitants, who were part of the show, plus tents and stabling for more than 200 horses. A staff of farriers tended to the horses, plus about 80 people were employed just to feed the great ensemble.
The Surrey Advertiser of August 2, 1903 stated that even before the show was ready to roll, many local people descended on Shalford Park to see the entire goings on. The report described an immense dining tent, “where between six and seven hundred men, who are connected with the show, have their food. “Three meals a day are served, each consisting of plenty of substantial plain food, with very little in the way of cake or pastry. The cooking is done on a 14ft range, which is mounted on wheels for transport purposes.”
The report noted that Shalford Park was well suited to host the show. “In many places considerable difficulty has been experienced in selecting a site sufficiently large and also sufficiently free from trees, but in Shalford Park one tree alone was enclosed by the open-sided tents framing the arena, and that one practically formed no obstacle.” Before the main show of the afternoon began there was free entertainment by way of an open-air concert by the Cowboy Band – no doubt to entice the crowds even more.
The newspaper report continued: “Shortly before 2pm Quarry Street and the Shalford Road were literally packed with people all wending their way show-wards. In the evening the crush was even greater, there being fully 10,000 at the last exhibition.” Each show opened with a musical overture followed by Colonel Cody introducing “the rough riders of the world”.
This was followed by an exhibition of “seats in the saddle” by a cowboy, a Cossack, a Mexican, an Arab, a gaucho and an Indian. Next came drill with horses by United States artillery veterans using weapons from the time of the American Civil War.
Then a feature that included a prairie emigration train crossing the planes, which was involved in an attack by marauding Indians. “This was duly repulsed by scouts and cowboys,” reported the newspaper. “Colonel Cody won plaudits by his wonderful display of marksmanship from horseback, picking off objects thrown into the air, while riding at speed.”
There was more marksmanship courtesy of a guy called Johnnie Baker, followed by the re-enactment of the Battle of San Juan Hill. This included detachments from Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, 24th Infantry, 9th and 10th Cavalry, Grimes’ Battery, Garcia’s Cuban Scouts and a pack train.
The report stated: “Perhaps the most striking feats of equestrianism were exhibited by the cowboys in the riding of the ‘bucking broncos’, and picking up objects from the ground.” The show also included military exercises by veteran English cavalrymen and a detachment of the 10th US Colored Cavalry. The newspaper noted that the show concluded with: “…. the frustrated attack on the Deadwood mail coach, racing by Indian boys on bare-backed horses, and a salute by the entire congress of Rough Riders.”
Interestingly, before the show had even finished some of the packing up was under way. The newspaper stated:
“Everything that was not required for the show having been already sent on to the station. So rapidly was the work of dismantling the tents, etc, carried out, that the last of the three trains left Guildford at about 2am on Tuesday for Tunbridge Wells, the ‘Wild West Show’ proper having concluded shortly before 10pm.”
W. F. Cody, “Buffalo Bill”, toured the UK and Europe with his Wild West Show for four years from 1903 onwards. Born in Iowa in 1846, it’s said that even by the age of 15 Cody had been a bullwhacker, a mounted messenger, a trapper, a gold prospector and a Pony Express rider.
He served for 18 months in the American Civil War as a scout for the 7th Kansas Cavalry. Afterwards he briefly ran a hotel, and then hunted buffalo for a railroad company where he earned his nickname.
He went on the stage portraying himself in 1872, and in 1883 he formed his Wild West Show. It continued to perform until 1913 when it went bankrupt. Cody then formed a film company to make a motion picture about the Red Indian wars. He died in January 1917, and is buried on Lookout Hill, Colorado.
I featured this amazing and long-forgotten story of Buffalo Bill coming to Shalford Park in the Surrey Advertiser back in 1999. In it I stated that while photos do exist of the show in London, none seem to have been taken when it was at Guildford. Perhaps there is some out there waiting to be found?