The sale of the home of a circus heir and the revival of Billy Smart’s Circus
Billy Smart, Sr. (1894 – 1966), a travelling showman and father of 10 children (he was himself one of 23), bought a circus in 1946 and quickly became known as an extraordinary entertainer. One of his son’s, Billy Smart, Jr. (1934 – 2005), made his debut at the age of 12 as an assistant ringmaster in Billy Smart’s New World Circus and performed with ponies, horses and eventually elephants.
Following on from the death of Billy Smart, Sr. in 1966, his sons took over the management of the circus and at its peak their four-masted Big Top tent could hold more than 6,000 people. Their popularity continued to grow until the animal rights activist movement began to protest against them and subsequently the last performance was held at Clapham Common in 1971.
With the wealth that they had created, the family diversified and set up Guernsey Zoo before opening Windsor Safari Park in 1969. By the time they sold the park in 1977 to Trident Television, they had accumulated 2,000 giraffes, zebra, lions, rhinos and other animals.
Billy Smart, Jr.’s career as an animal trainer came to an end in 1978 after cosmetic surgery resulted in the loss of his sight in his right eye. In due course he moved to Marbella and set himself up in the property business.
Smart, Jr., equally, was very well known on the social circuit. He dated Jayne Mansfield, Diana Dors and Shirley Bassey but eventually settled on marrying a German Pan Am air stewardess, Hannelore Magel, five weeks after they met on a flight from London to Los Angeles. The couple had a son, property developer and businessman Billy Jay “BJ” Smart and a daughter, artist Baccara Smart.
After the death of Smart, Jr. in 2005, BJ Smart bought the home where he currently lives with his sister and mother, Nazeing Park, near Waltham Abbey on the Essex – Hertfordshire border for £3,500,000.
This 18th century mansion is now for sale at a guide price of £10,000,000 as, according to Country Life’s Penny Churchill, Mr Smart is planning a permanent move to Monaco. The house had previously been used as a special school by Essex County Council and was originally built for a successful London merchant named William Palmer (1737 – 1821) between 1780 and 1820.
BJ Smart has extensively refurbished this grand James Lewis designed building and filled it with circus memorabilia and artwork from the 1950s and 1960s. The 14,560 square foot Grade II listed house features 9 bedrooms and 7 bathrooms and in addition there is a 3-bedroom staff flat, a 2-bedroom coach house and various outbuildings. The whole property is set in 68 acres of parkland, formal gardens and woodland.
In a 2009 interview with the Daily Mail’s Fred Redwood, BJ Smart stated:
“The place is not formally on the market, although I am open to offers from anyone with £10 million… I’d love to develop businesses here… We have a 50-metre deep well here and we are already conducting water purity tests to see if we can market it as mineral water. I may also set up a micro-brewery and perhaps start cultivating the walled garden. I am toying with all sorts of ideas like this. I have a genuine interest in reviving the history of the house”.
Though BJ Smart plainly has mixed emotions about selling Nazeing Park, we do wonder who will be lucky enough to be the next custodian of this fine Georgian residence that is just 10 minutes by helicopter from Battersea Heliport. They truly will acquire a gem of a home.
On an entirely separate note, Billy Smart’s Circus has just been revived by Tony Hopkins for NWC Presents and commences a UK wide tour today, the 18th February. Times may have changed, but as Freddie Mercury would say, “The show must go on”.
For more details about Nazeing Park, contact the Guildford office of Hamptons International on +44 (0) 1483 572864 or email [email protected]
For a more detailed history of Nazeing Park, go to: http://www.nazeingpark.co.uk/The_Story_of_Nazeing_Part_one.pdf
For more information about Baccara Smart, go to: http://www.baccarasmart.com
Watch a video of the Billy Smart’s Circus on parade in the 1960s at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9v_Szr5r48Y
For more details about Billy Smart’s Circus: http://www.billy-smarts-circus.co.uk
Billy Smart’s Circus will be in Coventry from 18th to 24th February, Stevenage from 27th February to 3rd March, Reading from 6th March to 10th March, Swindon from 13th March to 17th March and Swansea from 19th March to 24th March.