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QI READ last week that Birmingham had a famous lion-tamer - and that his name was Cooper. Obviously, I'm interested because I've been tracing my family tree and I'm intrigued that he might be one of my ancestors.

JOHN COOPER, Birmingham

A YOU'RE right, John. Your namesake was one of the most famous performers in the ring.

But trying to trace his lineage could prove tough because he literally ran away to join the circus!

The 1841 census just placed online by finds him still living in Bread Street, Birmingham.

He was born in either 18 3 3 or 18 3 4 but would be orphaned within three years of the census.

Daunted by life, he ran away to join Hilton's menagerie. A successful spell with Manders's menagerie followed.

But then his life changed forever when he became apprenticed to animal-trainer Thomas Batty.

In 1852 he hit the headlines. While appearing with his mentor in Leeds, a lion escaped.

Batty's men stood by, paralysed with fear, and Mrs Batty fainted - but John distinguished himself by coolly securing the collar of the beast.

Next day he was being billed as "the youngest lion-tamer in the world", and his fame spread throughout Europe as an animal-handler of extraordinary skill. is the first website to offer access to the complete census collection from 1841 to 1901, under licence from The National Archives.

For the first time, you can trace your ancestors through the complete set of UK census records in one place.

If you have a particular interest in fairground performers, a Google search for "John Cooper lion tamer" unearths a register of travelling showmen from that era.

It includes circus proprietors, ghost illusion shows, bioscopes, waxworks, menageries, gymnasts, acrobats, equestrians, fairground rides and more.

The site can be found at www.users.

Also of interest is, which offers everything you need to know about the life and times of the Wilson family, one of the oldest established fairground dynasties.

Hope your research is a roaring success!

DOWN in Fenny Compton, Warwickshire, it's said that buried treasure lies beneath a field called "Hen and Chickens".

Legend has it that the loot was hidden by a highwayman who killed himself in prison rather than be hanged.

He'd had a long and prosperous career, however, escaping capture so often that folk said his horse had a magic bridle given to him by the fairies. It was also said that he robbed only the rich and gave to the poor, just like Robin Hood.

SOMETIMES photographs taken not so long ago look as if they're from a bygone age.

Part of that is because of the way that corporate logos now dominate our lives.

So this picture, taken in the 1980s in Moseley, finds a very old-fashioned Tesco in pride of place.

With a long-replaced logo and dated architecture, it might have been shot

in the swinging 60s.

Only the cars give the game away.

But here's a sobering thought.

Twenty years ago, there was concern that supermarkets would one day swamp our streets.

In our old photo, Tesco's next-door neighbours are small shops, including a grocer's store.

Today it's a very different story.

The Tesco store is now a Somerfield and its neighbour a Sainsbury's.



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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)
Date:May 14, 2006
Previous Article:Holy Grail in Midlands.

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