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  • 100 YEARS AGO: SALFORD'S "WAINWRATTA" AIMS TO TIGHTROPE WALK ACROSS NIAGARA FALLS


    Tony Flynn
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    History With Flynn

    Another year begins and another story from the pages of the Salford City Reporter, January 1922 which tells of a Salford tightrope walker and his colourful life.

    The newspaper visited Mr Thomas Wainwright, aged 20 who resided in Hodson Street, Salford after he had issued a challenge to a Madame Eleanora, who had planned to walk on a tightrope across Niagara Falls, but by walking backwards, no less!

    Wainwright who used the name "Wainwratta" for his performances, certainly wasn't lacking in confidence as he told the reporter,

    "There is really nothing to it, you have more confidence walking across water then say, trees or the land, walking backwards is the easiest way, but she is a rope walker and will use a rope some two inches thick, I will use a wire, no more than a quartet of an inch thick, and I wouldn't use a balancing pole, or a safety harness"

    He was then asked if the roar of the water going over the waterfall would put him off, he answered that he had an iron nerve and was used to the roar of the crowd when he performed, then added, that he was deaf in his left ear.....

    We then learned that Wainwratta came from a long line of tightrope walkers, his Father and Uncle were both award winning performers and introduced young Thomas, sorry, Wainwright to the stage at the age of eight.

    His Father had his hand amputated in a works accident and took to the stage as a ... conjuring violinist... you can't make this up, to add to his misfortune, he visited America after vowing to walk across Niagara Falls, however on a journey from New York to Baltimore, he caught a chill and died.

    Undeterred the plucky Wainwratta Junior, joined the Royal Marines and toured the world, on one occasion his shipmates urged him to do a tightrope walk between the ships mastheads, he was halfway up the mast, but came down when the Captain threatened to shoot him.

    Another time he was moored in London and he was challenged to walk across the Thames on a tightrope, once again he was thwarted when the Port Authorities threatened to have him arrested and put in jail... not having much luck is he?

    At the time of the interview, Wainwratta was unemployed but helping out at the unemployed centre on Albion Street, Salford where he was in training for the proposed Niagara Falls walk, by doing, "walks, slides, picking up handkerchiefs and jumping tricks"  obviously vital skills when crossing over a 1,100 foot high waterfall with 70,000 gallons of water a second hurtling below you.

    I did a check on the number of people who have walked over the Falls, 13 in total, with Charles Blondin the French tightrope walker doing it over 300 times, sometimes with people on his back, blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow and once he even cooked an omelette half way across it, and ate it...what a show off.

    Sadly no sign of Wainwratta on the roll of honour, but if any consolation no, Madame Eleanora, but I still admire his determination and pig headed belief he could do it, certainly a character.



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