A sea of Santa hats sat on the heads of mourners in honour of street entertainer ‘Juggling Jim’ as he made his final journey.
Hundreds of King’s Lynn townsfolk turned out for his funeral and procession to Lynn Minster for the service, led by friend Sally Beadle (pictured) on Wednesday.
An entertainer, son, keen gardener, comedian and dearly-loved friend – there was more to ‘Juggling Jim’ than most passers-by ever realised.
Crowds gathered in King’s Lynn on Wednesday to say goodbye to a much-misunderstood figure who was widely recognised, but not well-known.
A memorial walk led by mourners in Santa hats wound down the High Street, passed his usual spot, to the Minster for a unique funeral service.
Anthony Bowen, a busker in West Norfolk for more than 25 years, was remembered as an unconventional man who lived to entertain others.
Lynn has seen a public outpouring of grief since Mr Bowen, of Nelson Street, died aged 62 on January 23.
A large shrine with flowers and candles amassed in the town centre and a book of tributes was opened at family funeral directors AJ Coggles, which donated the funeral costs.
Around 200 people attended Wednesday’s service and the church was festooned with colourful balloons reading “Our Jim.”
His coffin was also decorated with a guitar, juggling balls and a Santa hat.
Leading the service, Canon Christopher Ivory said Mr Bowen had experienced difficulties, but was “heart and soul an entertainer”. “He wanted to make life better for us than it was for him,” he said. “However we perceive him, his intention was always to make us smile.”
He added: “As a town character, everyone knew who he was, but it is not true to say he was well-known.”
Friend and local entertainer Sally Beadle organised the walk to bring people together and give them a chance to say goodbye. “It was a quiet walk to remember Jim, who lived his life, not the way people thought he should live it,” she said. “People have asked why there’s so much fuss, but the depth of feeling among those who knew him is quite amazing. I think a lot of people thought they were the only one who spoke to him, but there were hundreds of people who cared. I wonder if he had any inclination how much he meant to them?”
West Norfolk Council leader Brian Long was among the walkers.
“This is an unusual occurrence, but I think it shows the compassion of Lynn folk for our own,” he said.
“He was part of the fabric of Lynn.”
Another mourner, Karen Scoles, said she hoped to see a permanent memorial to Juggling Jim in the High Street.
Mr Bowen, once part of a comedy act, had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and often caused concern among shoppers, particularly in colder weather.
“Under the surface there’s this big question whether society should let people live how they want to if it means they die in less than great conditions at the age of 62,” Ms Beadle said.
“He was mentally ill and did not always behave the way you would expect, but he did not cause any problems and had a quiet dignity.
“Even if you just saw a dirty tramp who needed a good meal, it’s not how he saw himself.
“I asked him once if he was happy and without hesitation, he said “yes”,” Ms Beadle said.
“He didn’t want help and liked earning his own money. In his mind, he was on the stage when he performed.”
Ms Beadle spoke to Mr Bowen for a couple of years before he started to engage with her around seven years ago. “Jim told me he liked the seaside and gardening. He said he liked being outside and didn’t mind the cold.”
Ms Beadle, known as ‘Crazy Bananas’, was invited to juggle Santa hats at the front of the church at the end of the service.
Mr Bowen’s coffin was carried out to applause as Leo Sayer’s One Man Band played. The book of tributes was placed in Mr Bowen’s coffin.
He was buried next to his father at Gayton.