Emily Orley and Elinor Brass
Pleasance Theatre Islington 2007
"Traces of Mr Shillibeer"

The building that is now the Pleasance Theatre Islington was oncethe stables and timber store for the original London Omnibus Company (note the winch on your right as you leave). This was founded by George Shillibeer on the 4th July 1829. He had seen the omnibus operating successfully in Paris and was inspired to do the same in London.

Exhibition Flyer

In effect, Shillibeer was responsible for creating the first regular bus service in England. Before that, the only public transport available in London was the stagecoach, which was expensive, and could only carry up to ten people inside and out.  Shillibeer’s omnibus could carry twenty-two passengers and was drawn by three horses. He boasted it offered a safer and more comfortable ride than ordinary stage coaches as all passengers would ride inside. Many people referred to the omnibuses simply as ‘shillibeers’. The first company to copy this service was the Post Office and soon others competed for passengers. The rivalry with competing omnibus companies became so bad that in 1842 a driver was charged with manslaughter for running over and killing a man in City Road while racing another omnibus. He was thought to have been travelling at twelve miles an hour, a dangerous speed in a crowded thoroughfare with horses to stop. The offenders were fined only a few shillings and continued their irresponsible behaviour. With the introduction of the passenger train, which added to the already fierce competition, George Shillibeer, the man who revolutionized London's transport, went bankrupt. Unable to pay his debts, he was sent to debtors' prison. He eventually converted 'Shillibeer's Original Omnibuses' into 'Shillibeer's Funeral Coaches' and spent the last years of his life in the undertaking business. The fact that his name had been so closely connected to buses was soon forgotten. He died, at the age of 69 in 1866.

More recently this building housed the internationally renowned Circus Space School, which has now moved to Coronet Street (near Old Street). In 1996, the top half of the building was converted into the Pleasance Theatre Islington, designed by the Pleasance founder Christopher Richardson.

Our photographs document our installation work and aim to capture elements of the history of this building and those who have occupied it. We were particularly interested in the contrasting idea of the ephemeral nature of ghosts and memory and the physicality and ‘body-ness’ that is inherent in theatre and the circus.