Professor Vanessa Toulmin

DEPARTMENT: National Fairground Archive (Western Bank Library)

POST: Director of National Fairground Archive, Head of Cultural Engagement University of Sheffield

AREAS OF EXPERTISE: Fairgrounds and travelling entertainment, freak shows, 19th and 20th century circus and fairground entertainment, variety and music hall and seaside entertainment in particular Blackpool. Fairgrounds and travelling entertainment, freak shows, 19th and 20th century circus and fairground entertainment, traveller and showman related issues, early film, oral history projects


PA Address: Mrs Lesley Allen

DIRECT DIAL: 0114 2227258

PRESS OFFICE: 0114 22 25339 / 21046 /29852


Professor Vanessa Toulmin is Director of the National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield and Chair in Early Film and Popular Entertainment. She is a leading authority on Victorian entertainment and film, and has completed extensive research on travelling showpeople. She also acts as a leading authority on new variety and circus and has acted as creative advisor to leading festivals in the United Kingdom including the Roundhouse in London and Showzam in Blackpool.


Professor Toulmin comes from a Lancashire showland family, and completed her PhD focused on the social history of travelling showpeople in the School of English. She was awarded a personal chair in 2007 and celebrated this achievement with an inaugural lecture titled "Professor Vanessa's Performing Wonders": The Intermediality of Early Film and Popular Entertainment which included live performances from Miss Behave, the Insect Circus, Marisa Carnesky the Danger Boys and musical accompaniment by Stephen Horne.

Professor Toulmin's work has been published in internationally recognised journals and she has submitted articles on early film, Edwardian and Victorian entertainments and popular culture, the history of freak shows, carnivals and British fairgrounds and the culture and society of travelling showpeople. She has also curated many major exhibitions including a national touring exhibition on the history of travelling fairs for the Sheffield Millennium Galleries, Croydon ClockTower and Edinburgh Arts Centre and currently runs the Exhibition Gallery in Western Bank Library for the University. She has also acted as Special Advisor to two Government Select Committees on travelling fairs and gypsy sites.

Professor Toulmin also acts as producer and consultant on heritage and performance history and has worked for five years with Blackpool Council on their heritage and regeneration producing three books celebrating the history of Blackpool including the Winter Gardens, Blackpool Pleasure Beach and The Tower. She also is the creative director of Showzam: Blackpool's annual festival of Circus Magic and New Variety which is now in its fifth year and she has also presented shows and events across Sheffield as part of the NFA's outreach strategy.

She is the author of several books, including The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon, Electric Edwardians, and Pleasurelands. Her recent publications include four major works on the architecture and history of Blackpool's attractions - Winter Gardens, Blackpool Tower, Blackpool Pleasure Beach and the Blackpool Illuminations.


Professor Toulmin has a wealth of media experience. She has acted as historical consultant for seven major television productions since 2000, including the Mitchell & Kenyon series on BBC2 and has co-produced five major radio programmes with BBC Radio 4 on popular entertainment, history of fairs and early cinema. She recently worked with BBC 4 Timeshift producing two programmes on the history of fairs and circuses and has also appeared on Who Do You Think You Are and the Reel History of Britain with Melvyn Bragg. She is also consulted by national newspapers including The Times, Independent, Observer, Guardian, Express, Time Out, and THES.


For a full list of published works, cultural engagements and critical reception please click this link to download a document.