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Traces of Mr Shillibeer

with Elinor Brass, June 2007

A small-scale site-responsive installation and accompanying photographs exploring the history of the Pleasance Theatre, Islington.  

The building that is now the theatre was once the stables and timber store for the original London Omnibus Company which was founded by George Shillibeer in 1829. He had seen the omnibus operating successfully in Paris and was inspired to do the same in London. 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’.

They attracted fierce competition, however, and when the passenger train was eventually introduced, George Shillibeer, the man who revolutionized London's transport, went bankrupt. The fact that his name had been so closely connected to buses was soon forgotten.

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 project aimed to capture elements of the history of this building and those who 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.

Photographs exhibited on site.

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