Weaste Cemetery

Biographies of people buried between 1950 & 59

Elizabeth (Mammie) Kayes (1878 - 1957)

Elizabeth Kayes was a circus performer who took over and ran her husband's famous travelling circus for over 40 years.


The Salford Reporter of 5th July 1957 ran the headline, "Circus Folk Mourn "Mammie". It continued, "As a 79 year old woman, head of a circus, lay dying, she told her eldest son that the show must go on. The staff of the circus respected her last wish and the show went on as she lay dead in her caravan. But on Monday (1st July) there was no performance of the circus with which she had spent her life, for the staff came to Salford from the Potteries to pay their last respects to Elizabeth Kayes, known to fairground people all over the UK as "Mammie". She was the head of Buff Bill's Circus and matriarch of the family which had been in the circus business for over 200 years. She was herself a versatile performer, having appeared as a lion tamer, a dancer, a juggler and a tight-rope walker. Her eldest son said "we had to respect her last wish that the show would go on, as she lay dying, but no-one had the heart to give a show today. That is why we have all come to Salford today – to pay our respects to one of the finest characters in circus life".


Elizabeth was born in 1878 in Penzance, the daughter of Thomas and Eliza (nee Warwick) Baker, a well known circus family. She became a tightrope walker, dancer and juggler. She married William (Buff Bill) Kayes in 1899 at Hamilton, Lanark, Scotland. William was 18 years her senior and ran "Buff Bill's Menagerie and Wild West Show" which toured Ireland and emulated the American Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. William was a sharp-shooter and knife thrower. They had ten children: Tommy (famous lion and big cat tamer), Arthur (amusements manager), Priscilla (lion tamer), Johnny (horse rider), Jimmy (horse rider), Betty (horse rider), Richard, (circus proprietor), Selena (married James Duffy, son of Irish circus proprietor John Duffy), Violette, Carrie and Pattie.


In the early 1910s, Bill's eyesight was failing, so it was up to Elizabeth to take on the role of manager in her early thirties. And when the First World War broke out and her son Tommy enlisted, she became a lion tamer to save the show from folding. Elizabeth died on 25th June 1957 at the War Memorial Hospital, Congleton, Cheshire, aged 57. She was buried with her husband in plot A4 of the Dissenters portion of Weaste Cemetery on 1st July 1957. She was 79 years old.