Sally the elephant’s Tapton wash and brush-up

One of the more unusual items in the Science Museum Group collection is a photograph of Sally the elephant just about to enter a hand car wash in 1962. This is viewable fully by following the link here.

From Cleopatra to a car wash. Sally the elephant is about to enter the former garage on Brimington Road. Chesterfield College is in the background. In today’s more enlightened times we look more critically on animals kept in captivity. The ‘crop’ marks on the photograph indicate that Chesterfield College, in the background, may not have appeared on the published picture. Notice the car with the long radio aerial pointing skywards. (Daily Herald Archive/Science Museum Group
© Mirrorpix)

What’s this got to do with Brimington and Tapton you may well ask? In fact examination of the photo reveals it was actually taken at the Brimington Road garage of Beckett’s Ltd., Tapton, currently the Crystal car wash. When viewing the photograph, you will see one of the staircases of Chesterfield Technical College in the left background. 

The scene of Sally’s brush with a car wash is the current Crystal hand car wash on Brimington Road. The high bay building, now Jon’s Autos, may well be the site of the old car wash bay. An April 2022 photograph.

The recent photographs show the raised part of the premises, which may well have been the site of the car wash part of the garage. Now, of course, the majority of the premises is given over to hand car washing, receiving a bit of a makeover and new canopy during late December 2020/early January 2021.

What is a picture of an elephant – named  Sally – doing in the Science Museum Group collection? In fact the group’s collection also includes media, including the picture library of the former Daily Herald newspaper in its collection.

The photograph actually appeared in ‘The People’ newspaper in late April 1962, but was taken a month earlier. The published newspaper article is pasted to the rear of the photograph. It can also be viewed on the Science Museum Group website. As you might imagine, for the times, it’s a bit jokey but does explain that Sally had just been in Rome, appearing in the film, Cleopatra, which starred Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. The car wash was being used to remove make-up applied as part of Sally’s role in the film. We might speculate that Sally had returned to Chesterfield to catch-up with her more normal employment in a circus, which was presumably visiting the town. 

These were in less enlightened times when what we now see as cruel – the detention of what are wild animals and their subsequent training in circus acts – was accepted by many. One can also imagine that being asked to line up in a queue surrounded by cars and then subjected to a scrub down in a car wash would also have caused Sally much anxiety.

The newspaper photograph reveals that any make of car would be cleaned for 7 shillings and 6 old pence – that’s 38 pence in today’s money! At the same premises you’ll pay considerably more than that now.

It’s been some years since Sally turned up for a wash and brush up at the Brimington Road carwash, which now operates as Crystal car wash. Notice the Chesterfield College premises above the building with the yellow facia. The right-hand staircase can be seen in the black and white photo above.

This post was edited on 25 April 2022 in order to strengthen recognition that the actions described involving the elephant would today be deemed as cruel.

2 thoughts on “Sally the elephant’s Tapton wash and brush-up

  1. I remember this. I saw all the elephants walk up Corporation St from the station. My Grandparents had Bowers Taxis on the corner behind The hotel


    1. Thanks for sharing your memories of this. These were certainly less enlightened times when the appearance of animals in a circus and them being paraded through the streets was seen as normal.


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