Introduction to The National Fairground Archive and its
2004 marked the tenth anniversary of the of the National Fairground Archive.
The Archive forms part of the Special Collections and Archive Division
of the University Library. Its current holdings include a wide variety
of documents, photographs, and audio visual material which record not
only the history of fairs and popular entertainment but the essential
and previously overlooked role played by travelling showpeople.
Although the Archive itself was officially inaugurated
in November 1994, its concept and development was founded at a meeting
held at the University Library in July 1994. Since that auspicious day,
the collections have grown from strength to strength and the National
Fairground Archive can today claim to be the leading repository of material
relating to British fairs and the amusement industry. This has been achieved
through the links with the Fairground Association of Great Britain, who
were the instigators of the idea for the Archive, and the Showmen's Guild
of Great Britain who donated the World's Fair newspapers, and Guild records
from seventy years ago.
The National Fairground Archive also contains materials
from the Fair Organ Preservation Society, the Fairground Society, individual
family collections and the Fairground Association of Great Britain. A
substantial portion of the photographs held in the Archive were taken
by members of the Fairground Association and include the Ron Taylor, Jack
Leeson, Stuart Johnson and George Tucker collections. These collections
have now been catalogued and conserved. Recent important donations include
the David Braithwaite collection and the Arthur Jones collection. These
photographic records are very detailed and the Jack Leeson collection
consists of approximately 5,000 photographs and negatives, both collected
and taken by him. Jack Leeson's notebooks contain detailed lists of every
fair he visited and an elaborate system of cross referencing that enables
the researcher to match the photograph and Jack's account of the fair.
The George Tucker Collection comprises 2,000 photographs taken during
between the 1930s and the 1950s and was donated by the Fairground Association
of Great Britain. With the recent acquisition of the Lionel Bathe Collection,
the Archive presently holds over 70,000 photographs, and many thousands
of items of memorabilia, posters and ephemera relating to travelling fairs.
Recent cataloguing and digitising projects have been acheived through
the generosity of the Pilgrim Trust and private donations.
Harry Lee, presentation of the FOPS Plaque Dewsbury Feast, 1961.
Posters for Smart's Circus, 1961.
One of the strengths of the Archive is the depth of
material relating to fairground families and three of the principal holdings
consist of photographic material bequeathed by travelling showpeople.
One such collection is the Shufflebottom family material donated by Margaret
Bird, Florence Campbell and Maisie Smith, who were all members of the
famous Wild West family. The photographic material dates from 1890 to
the 1960s and covers over three generations of the family on the fair.
Within this collection can be found the Waddington family material which
has recently been extended due to the recent donation of material belonging
to the late Harry Lee, who travelled the famous Steam Yachts which originally
belonged to the Waddington family. This collection includes diaries, account
books, receipts for living vans and other items relating to the day to
day economics of travelling showpeople.
Paraders on the Aspland and Howden Bioscope Show, 1912-1913.
Oxford St. Giles Fair, 1956 - as seen by Lionel Bathe.
Oxford St. Giles Fair, 1958 - as seen by Lionel Bathe.
The Archive also holds substantial items of ephemera,
including posters, handbills, engravings, and maps and plans of fairground
rides and parks dating from the 18th century owards. The Archive has assisted
in the making of several television programmes, including Candyfloss and
Carousels (HTV Wales), Born Freak (Channel Four), and The People's Century
(BBC Television). The Archive has also participated in over 40 radio broadcasts,
including the two hour radio programme on Newcastle Town Moor Fair, a
production with BBC Radio Scotland and dedicated programmes on the history
of the Ferris Wheel, Candy Floss, and Radio Four's No Women Like Show-women.
As a result of this collaboration the Archive contains over one hundred
hours of recorded interviews with travelling showpeople which are presently
The Archive's audio-visual holdings have been enhanced
by our association and partnership with the BFI under the management of
the Mitchell and Kenyon early film collection. However, the donation of
the Noel Drewe films of 16mm, 8mm and 9.5mm amateur films of fairs and
circuses from the 1930s onwards is rapidly becoming our most sought after
material. This collection is currently being digitised and put onto digibeta
format to enable future research.
Central to the collection is the newspaper and cuttings
archive which includes a complete run of the World's Fair newspaper and
also 150 scrap-books compiled by fairground enthusiasts from regional
and national publications. These have recently been added to with scrapbooks
detailing fairs in Cumbria and North Lancashire. The documentary holdings
are constantly being updated with the additional publications of books
and articles relating to fairs and showpeople. The Archive presently holds
over 4000 monographs and articles published from the 1790s onwards and
claims to be largest repository for printed material on the history of
fairs. The periodicals section of the Archive is equally comprehensive
and full listings of magazines and quarterlies such as the Fairground
Mercury, the Merry-Go-Round, Steaming, Platform, Key Frame and others
can all be found within the collection. The donation of the Circus Friends
Association library and over 90 circus periodicals have greatly expanded
the circus and allied performance material. The circus holdings have developed
over the past five years with the Smart family archives forming an essential
part of this. This unique family collection charts their history as fairground
showmen to presenting one of the great British circuses from 1947 onwards,
and is a fitting tribute to the Gov'nor Mr Billy Smart - the founder of
One of the highlights of the 10th anniversary year has
been the Archive's role in Pleasurelands: 200 Years of Fun at the Fair.
The national exhibition, which toured the UK throughout 2004, is a collaboration
between Sheffield Museums Trust and Croydon Clocktower.
To view our tenth anniversary celebrations and download
a booklet please click here.
At the mushy peas and mint sauce stall - taking a break from the ceremonial
opening, 700th Nottingham Goosefair, October 1994
To find out more about the Archive, or to make arrangements
to access the collections, please contact:
National Fairground Archive
Western Bank Library
University of Sheffield
Sheffield S10 2TN.
Tel: 0114 222 7231
Fax: 0114 272 7292