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1903: Florence wins a bet

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Taken somewhere along the London to Brighton route

Mademoiselle Florence was bet $2500 she could not walk from London to Brighton in 6 days - she not only managed it but did much better than that. We don't know her precise route from London to Brighton, but the mental picture of her negotiating Cuckfield hill is worth savouring.

The walk was to publicise her appearance the following week at the Empire Theatre in London with her ‘Globe Equilibrium Act’.

Florence was an 18-year-old from New Jersey and had learned her skills as an acrobat at Barnum’s Circus in America and then travelled to England with her sister Queenie and father to seek her fortune.

In September she appeared at the Tivoli Theatre in Leeds. On the opening day she tried to walk to the theatre on her globe but was stopped by the police as the crowds had built up and blocking the roads. After Leeds it was the Hippodrome at Glasgow and other variety halls across the country. 


A newspaper report after her performance at the Derby Palace of Varieties talks gave a report on her act: 'Miss Florence is exceedingly clever and walks on her globe in masterly fashion whilst she waltzes, dances, skips and does some fine juggling feats. She works her globe over obstacles and in and around rows of bottles. She winds up her performance  by walking the ball down a flight of stairs'.

So it was in June 1903, that Florence walked her two foot diameter globe from London to Brighton over a period of 3 days and 22 hours comfortably beating the challenge of six days.

She set off on Monday morning 15 June 1903 but no sooner had she left Big Ben in the pouring rain and she slipped off.  She set off again at 5.30am the next morning dressed in a ‘sailor’s hat and blouse and a short velveteen skirt’.  She was cheered on by workmen as she passed through Kennington and Brixton.

She actually had two globes, both 26 inches in diameter. They were made of hollow wood covered in sheepskin. The first was 20lb in weight and the second, used for going down-hill, weighed over 75lb.  She intended to walk 10 hours a day with several breaks en-route.

seven pairs of shoes

Florence was accompanied by her father and sister who threw sawdust over the globe during muddier stretches of the route. Her father, described as a ‘naval-looking gentleman’, described his daughter as 'the pluckiest bloomin’ girl in the world!' He estimated that the walk would amount to 32,000 steps on the ball. During the feat she wore out seven pairs of shoes.

Did Florence have her circus friends supporting her?

By 1906 Florence was appearing in panto in Exeter and by 1910 she had re-joined the circus and was working for 'EH Bostock’s Grand International Railroad Circus' but was now getting second billing to '

Great Little Abex the ‘Midget Hercules’ who, despite his size was able to pull a motor car with his teeth. (Is Abex in the background of the second photograph perhaps?).

Florence arrived on Brighton at 3am on the following Sunday morning, amazingly the streets were thronged with cheering people who had arrived ‘on foot, in motor-cars, cabs, carriages and bicycles.’ Despite the early hour the streets of Brighton were thronged with well-wishers all the way to the Aquarium where she finally dismounted her globe. 

Did she pass through Cuckfield? Well she stopped off for two overnights en route - and with a couple of hotels strategically in Cuckfield about two thirds along the route, it's not impossible. One thing is for sure, if she did, the hotel staff would have been on the ball.

Contributed by Malcolm Davison.

Based on several articles:

Surrey History, Vol II No 5 1983

The photographs have been colourised.

Visit Cuckfield Museum, follow the link for details


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