I've posted this elsewhere but one day some family researcher may be pleased to see it .
He looks like Buffalo Bill or some other gun-toting cowboy from the Wild West .
In fact it’s Tommy Strong of Sneinton in Nottingham . A well known character around the fairs and markets in the late 1800s with his strongman act .
Using the Census’ of the time ,Thomas was born c1848 to an Irishman , (also called) Thomas and his wife Mary (nee Goodwin) from Stainsby , Derbys . Thomas had a large number of siblings and half siblings , possibly as many as 13 brothers and sisters !
Thomas first wife , Mary already had children from a previous marriage and then later , Thomas senior appears to have had more children with a lady called Martha (nee Johnson) in the 1860’s onward .
By 1891 Thomas was living alone , his occupation given as “firewood dealer”.
In 1901 (the same year as he died) he was living , still alone at 19 Tyler Street , listed as a general labourer .
This is the obituary of Tommy Strong that appeared in the Nottingham Journal of 14th of October 1901 , who died October 4th 1901 , aged 54 .
Down to a few weeks ago there might have been seen in the streets of Nottingham a man of remarkable characteristics.
To Nottingham people , he was familiarly known as Tommy Strong but a stranger might have imagined that he was a foreigner or a gypsy at least. He had the appearance of a native of Southern Europe , though his complexion was fair, almost pallid , but his hair was very dark and hung in curls about his shoulders. So that his facial appearance was strange enough , to astonish those who have not previously seen him. He was a well-developed specimen of humanity, standing over 6 feet in his socks, and broad in proportion.
He affected a strange garb, but quite in keeping with his character, for he was a strange man. He usually wore a very aged soft hat, and his clothes could not be called new by a long way. On occasions when he wore a collar it was accompanied by a tie of Bohemian size.
His moustache was large and unkempt as a general rule, and his hair, as I have said before, fell in graceful waves about his shoulders. He took a pride in his hair, and he liked other people to notice it. His physical strength was famous and many anecdotes are told of the way he used it, some of which I give you in this sketch.
His genial disposition was of a pleasant nature and he was esteemed and respected by everybody with whom he was acquainted. He was sympathetic and particularly amiable to children.
But about 2 months ago he fell ill and his illness terminated fatally the week before last . He was buried on Monday and his funeral gathered together crowds of old acquaintances. He was 54 years old.
Tommy was noted for his herculean strength as well as his strange get up. He is described by a sister as never having been a small boy. He was always larger build and his strength , even in his youth , was remarkable.
His father was also a very strong man and earned his living by moving machinery. Tommy when he was old enough went about with him, and would often be called upon to lift a piece of machinery from one place to another. After his father died he took to the same employment, though when work was scarce he performed feats of strength at shows and fairs, which he had a strong liking for. He thought nothing of picking up a stocking frame, weighing about 5cwt and carrying it on his back up or down stairs as circumstances required.
On one occasion at a circus in Nottingham , he carried an iron bar weighing 150lbs with three men suspended from it around the arena. Another time he lifted a 56 lb weight with a span grasp raising it above his head without once touching the ring attached to the weight.
At a circus which stood in Sneinton Market some years ago he undertook to pull against a couple of horses. He succeeded in pulling the horses on their haunches and for this remarkable feat he gained immense popularity.
He had a peculiar effective method of dealing with people who annoy him ; but as a rule he was a good tempered man.
He was walking over Trent Bridge one day, and a group of young fellows were standing on the path. One of them thinking to tease him about his height, said to him “Is it cold up there ?” Without a word , Tommy took the speaker, lifted him above his head at arm’s length and then let him fall. He then said to him ” Now you know how cold it is up there ! ”
A somewhat similar incident occurred in Sneinton Market , it was related to me by Mr. Ishmael Wilson, of York Street, Nottingham. One of a group of young fellows was trying to take a “rise” out of him. Tommy smiled and picked him up , took him under his arm and walked off, to the great amusement of the bystanders.
So proud was he of his strength that sometimes his self-assurance betrayed him and he got led in. An incident that ends with unfortunate consequences for Tommy, happened at Haltun’s Circus , Sneinton.
Halton otherwise known as the Cannonball King, was upon that occasion unable to perform and Tommy volunteered as a substitute. The feat was to catch a cannonball fired from an old-fashioned 12-pounder with a small charge of powder. Haltun knew the knack of the trick, but Tommy didn’t, for instead of standing aside and catching the ball as it passed him, he stood in front of the gun. He stopped the ball certainly but failed to catch it, and for some time afterwards he was in hospital .
While performing at the old Alhambra music hall as the “Man With the Iron Jaw” , he caused roars of laughter by a ludicrous mistake. He was hanging in a horizontal position by a rope that he was holding onto with his teeth and his heels were resting on a trapeze bar.
He has suspended from his body five 56 lb weights . At the signal – “are you ready? ” from his assistant , he should have answered with a nod but instead he opened his mouth to say yes , with the result that he fell onto the stage, weights as well, with a terrific crash. Fortunately he sustained no injury.
Although a Nottingham man , born and bred, he was often mistaken for a foreigner, and he once settled the dispute between two gentlemen as to whether he was Italian or Russian by saying that he could throw a stone from where he was standing to the place where he was born in Sneinton.
He was something of a wanderer and in his younger days, he was fond of visiting village fairs, where he was often mistaken for Buffalo Bill , when that redoubtable showman was in his prime. He could often have been seen walking back to Nottingham with his weights and apparatus weighing about 1cwt on his back .
He can hardly be said to have had any special form of recreation , unless it was fishing. His work took him to many places, with his exhibitions, and the only exercise he appeared to have was walking.
As an angler he was something of an expert, however, but once he caught something that he had not bargained for. It happened this way. He spent a good deal of a spare time fishing in the Trent or the Grantham canal. He had fished for some hours with a very little success, when he discovered what he imagined would be a fine place to catch eels.
Changing his tackle he put on a plum which enabled him to throw across the river. He threw a little too far for his bait , and the tackle landed amongst rushes and held fast on to something. Tommy wound his line carefully, and found, to his surprise that his bite appeared to be extraordinarily large and powerful but exerting some of his great strength he pulled from the rushes , not a pike, as he had begun to imagine, but a sheep ! The animal had been lying on the opposite bank behind the rushes when the tackle caught in its foot and it was dragged through the rushes and across the river.
The keeper came up and inquired the meaning of the strange proceeding , but after Tommy had explained how it was , the keeper said that was the first time he had ever seen a “mutton fish” !
The time came when he was unable to travel to shows and to need to follow his avocation as a machine remover.
He then seems to have also been a model for several local artists and for some time he did very well. The last time he sat was about 6 months ago, and he was always well treated by his patrons. His family possess an excellent portrait of him , executed by a gentleman for whom he was a model .
Strong is, I believe almost the last of the Nottingham characters.
Another story about Tommy and his “trainer” Slippery Joe .
Tommy would display his strength sometimes in the vicinity of Sneinton Market and other times in front of an inn on Derby Road . He used to break chains on his brawny arms and would support a piano as he lay on his back with knees raised and arms crossed .
At one of the wakes he turned up with a mat and because he couldn’t afford weights , would pick up anything heavy brought to him ,such as a donkey or a pony or a small cart .
On one occasion he was accompanied by his trainer , the foxy-eyed gent called “Slippery Joe ” known for his tricky methods in light-weight prize fights .
To the pairs disgust , a burly ferocious looking fellow from Doncaster had taken Tommy’s pitch and was playing with a 120lb crossbar as though it was a tray of drinks .
He stood encircled by a small crowd and challenged all Sneinton
to produce a man who could do the same feat…..having no takers , he finally he offered a 10shilling prize .
“Git in that ring and nab the ten bob afore the bloke changes ‘is mind”said Joe
Tommy did as he was told .
“Let me see you lift that bar agen” said Tommy to the Yorkshire man ….”I think I can do it”
The Doncaster man did it again
“Hold it up there a minute” says Tommy
“Why , what are yer goin to do “?
“I’m going to lift you and the weight as well ” he said , and swiftly he suited action to word , gripped the man by the waist and lifted him 3 foot from the ground
The Doncaster man refused to pay though , as Tommy had used both arms .
“Right , gimme that bar” says Tommy licking his hands .
He gripped the bar in his left hand and threw it in the air and caught it in his right hand , held it aloft , imitating the other man’s pose .
“Hows that” asked Tommy .
“Pay him” chanted the crowd .
The Yorkshire man gloomily searched through his pockets and managed to find 9s 4d and that included the pennies thrown onto his mat that morning ,
The disgruntled Yorkshireman made a sneering remark about Tommy’s effeminate locks and suggested a round of fisticuffs to settle the deal .
Hereupon “Slippery Joe” intervened.
“See here” , says Joe, “my lad ain’t no fighting man but I daresay if he caught you one , ye wouldn’ see Yorkshire agin
If you want to do any hitting , hit me .”
The Doncastrian took this as a challenge and rushed at Joe and swung a mighty blow , that if it had connected would have knocked him out forever . But Slippery wasn’t there ! Missing his object the Yorkshireman half-turned round and received two lightening cracks on the jaw that loosened his teeth and sent him crashing to the ground where his head struck one end of the dumbells and he lay there dazed .
Satisfied with their 9s 4d , the pair left with the winnings , for this would have taken Tommy all day to earn with his normal act .
When he came round , the fighter asked “where be ’em”
They had gone to the Flaming Sword , a Sneinton inn with a lurid reputation …an army of Amazonian young women , friends and relation of Tommys were his personal bodygards .
One of the crowd warned the Doncaster man to stay where he was for “If anyone lay a hand on Tommy , them there wimmin’ would jump on yer chest to say nuthin’ of losin yer eyesight” .
Tommy Strong , lived in the Meadow Platts area of Sneinton on a street called Platoff Street or its surrounds for most of his life . He doesn’t appear to have married .
Nottingham’s strong man, died October 4th, 1901. aged 54.