News and Updates: 2004 News

Mitchell & Kenyon book release

October 2004 sees the release of "The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon, Edwardian Britain on Film", the first part in a series of books, DVDs and a three part television series marking the culmination of the three year, AHRB funded research project between the National Fairground Archive and the British Film Institute.

The Lost World of Mitchell and Kenyon contains essays from leading historians covering film history, popular entertainment, the seaside, transport, the earliest sporting events and the social and economic context of Edwardian Britain. Together they provide a vivid commentary on an unparalleled collection.

Exhibition at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh

16th October 2004-8th January 2005[image] big wheel

The magical, topsy-turvy world of the fairground is explored in a new exhibition celebrating the fascinating tradition of the great British funfair. Pleasurelands will display outstanding images and items of fairground memorabilia, spanning two hundred years, drawn from the National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield and public and private collections of national importance. Pleasurelands premiered at the Millennium Galleries, Sheffield in October 2003, moved to Croydon Clocktower Gallery in April 2004, and concludes at Edinburgh City Art Centre.

From menageries and sideshows to the contemporary rollercoaster, the fairground has long been a part of popular culture and over two hundred fairs still take place very weekend in the UK. Pleasurelands investigates a world where reality is suspended, where visitors shed inhibition and indulge their fantasies. The fairground is also a place of down-to-earth reality for those who work to create the magic for visitors. The exhibition looks at this reality alongside the spectacle, illusion and experience of the fair.

Pleasurelands focuses on the lives of the showmen involved, including families such as the knife-throwing Shufflebottoms, the Smarts and individuals such as Billy Bellhouse, the former Sheffield Wall of Death rider. Many rare and unusual articles will provide a colourful, contrasting and multi-sensory display including decorative panels, carved animals, costumes, photographs, archive film and music.

As visitors venture in to the world of the fair, they will be bombarded by the spectacle. A city created overnight, moving on as quickly as it arrived. Sound, light and colour will create a sensational and magical impression of the fair.

Pleasurelands explores the anticipation and thrill of the past and present fairground experience through the eyes of the punter. Visitors can read memories and anecdotes and view personal memorabilia collected from generations of fairground fun-seekers. The role of technology and innovation in the creation of the experience is also examined.

Showmanship is central to the illusion of the fair. Pleasurelands introduces some of the great showmen and women who created the mystery of the fair. Pleasurelands looks at the real lives of characters such as Wee Macgregor and Davy the Leprechaun.

The exhibition also lifts the lid on the reality of life on the road and the temporary nature of the funfair. For families living on the fairground, their business is their life. At odds with the popular romantic perception of the fairground life, Pleasurelands examines how the working fair is bound by a strong sense of tradition and respectability and a complex network of relationships, within a highly organised community.

Pleasurelands is a Sheffield Galleries & Museums Trust and City Art Centre exhibition supported by the National Fairground Archive, University of Sheffield.

Pleasurelands is at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh from 16 October 2004 – 8 January 2005 with FREE admission.

City Art Centre has provided a full events programme, and produced a variety of excellent publicity and educational material.

The Pleasurelands Catalogue is a 96-page A4-size glossy paperback book containing 4 illustrated essays by Dr Vanessa Toulmin, Director of the National Fairground Archive, on the four themes of the exhibition: 'Spectacle', 'Experience', 'Illusion', and 'Reality'. It contains many black and white and colour photographs relating to the world of the fairground.
The catalogue is available by post, price £10+95p&p, from:
Lesley Allen
National Fairground Archive
University of Sheffield
Western Bank
S10 2TN
tel: 01142 227231

Recent News

Exciting new collections

The holdings of the Archive continue to grow, with some important collections donated at the end of the summer.

The Testo collection was donated by Francis Testo following the wide stream of media publicity around the 10th anniversary and Pleasurelands exhibition. The collection dates back to 1830 and includes a rich history of fairground shows, including lavish detail on the famous Testo family flea circus.

Pleasurelands (Croydon) also led to the donation of the Hal Denver collection, donated by his son Monty Norman. Hal Denver (Ralph Norman) was a wild west performer featuring heavily in the USA before joining forces with his brother Tom Norman who ran the famous travelling Palladium show.

Glyn Jones contacted the Archive to carry out the wishes of his late father, Arthur Jones, and to donate the photograph library of the FCFS (Friendship Circle of Showland Fans). This collection includes much new material relating to famous fairs, engines and rides.

Finally, the Archive is honoured to receive the David Braithwaite collection, kindly donated by his wife and daughter Joanna and Naomi. Braithwaite was of course the author of 'Savages of Kings Lynn' and 'Fairground Architecture' and this huge collections includes photographs, postcards, plans and record books from the famous Orton and Spooner company.

This hugely important resource is now undergoing a lengthy conservation process, and an introduction to collection, written by Joanna, is available here.

Machine research and website updates

As promised we have now augmented our section on Modern Rides by incorporating parallel 'machine lists' for all machines listed with a contextual history. These lists are the result of much research here at the Archive, drawing on existing research from the enthusiast community, our own resources here at the Archive, and help from various showmen. The lists are an attempt to include all machines of a particular type, drawing out a complete history to encompass existing rides, those in store, those in parks, and those scrapped or rebuilt. Obviously this information changes from week to week, so we will attempt to update as often as possible.

A selection of Loughborough photographs taken by Jack Leeson have been added to our pages on important fairs. To view them click here.

Hull Fair Project

With Hull Fair 2004 just completed we have gathered a mass of oral history after a week of interviewing various showmen throughout the duration of the fair - this material is in the process of being transcribed and added to the website. The fair and the project drew good media interest, with a live broadcast of the opening, cut with footage from the Archive, used for Calendar News. The project is run in partnership with Hull Libraries and the Showman's Guild of Great Britain.

Bridgwater St Matthews

The Archive is proud to have contributed to Guy Belshaw's recent publication on this famous fair. Guy has been a dedicated user of the Archive whilst compiling both this book and a forthcoming publication on Tom Whitelegg. He selected a series of Lionel Bathe images of Bridgwater to help illustrate the book, including one of Lionel's famous panoramic shots for the front cover. The book is available from New Era Publications, PO Box 549, Tweedale, Telford, TF7 5WA, priced £12.95.

Tenth Anniversary

The National Fairground Archive recently celebrated its tenth anniversary - producing a new booklet 'A Decade of Delights' and organising a free one-day event in Sheffield.

For a report on the event, and a link to download the new booklet as a pdf file - please click here.

Printed copies of the booklet are available free on request by contacting the Archive.

The International Network on Local Film in the early 1900s
British Academy (June 2003 onwards)


The British Academy has awarded a grant of £10,200 to Dr Vanessa Toulmin of the National Fairground Archive to set up an International Network on Local Films in the 1900s. This is in partnership with the University of Trier and the University of Stockholm.

The Network provides a forum in which a core group of ten academics from different countries meet on an annual basis. The first Network meeting was held in Germany at Trier University, Department of Media Studies & Cinematheque Municipale de Luxembourg on 3 and 4 June 2003. Subsequent workshops will be held August 2004 at the University of Stockholm and July 2005 at the University of Sheffield.

All photographs are copyright the British Film Institute and are taken from the Mitchell and Kenyon Collection. This is a three-year research collaboration funded by the AHRB with the University of Sheffield and the bfi.

Recent News

Ron White Collection

We have received through the support of FAGB member Alan Ingram the photograph collection of the late Ron White, donated by his wife Val. This collection contains very valuable pictures of Scottish fairs, particularly in Ayrshire, from the 1960s onwards. Ron wrote various articles for the Fairground Mercury on Ayrshire showmen such as the Lawrence and Bastable families. His photograph collection also includes early colour images of Lancashire gala fairs, taken whilst Ron lived in Blackpool.

Machine research and website updates

Finally we hope to have a website updated with some regularity. We have added pages for all our digital collections and have produced further work reflecting our research into contemporary machine histories. New pages have been added for Octopus rides and Matterhorns / Super Bobs. Last year also saw the culmination of a great deal of research into updating the FAGB booklet on Arks - the finished project available for £2-50 from FAGB Sales Officer, Chris Gibson, 157 Field Lane, Horninglow, Burton-on-Trent, DE13 0NJ. It is hoped that this is the first of many lists utlising our research available through the FAGB.

Hull Fair Project

The Hull Fair Project began in January 2004. Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and running to June 2006. It aims to gather oral histories from citizens of Hull and the community of showmen, as well as images and other ephemera connected with this important event. Initial access is through a dedicated website with a DVD to follow. The project is run in partnership with Hull Libraries and the Showman's Guild of Great Britain.

Article on Freak Shows

Vanessa Toulmin has written an article on Freak Shows for the National Science Museum. You can read this on the National Science Museum website: enter 'freak show' into the site's search facility, then follow the second link, 'Naked Science'.

Noel Drewe Collection

We have received the kind donation by Mr Noel Drewe of his Circusama collection of films. The collection comprises over 100 films with circus as their subject matter, on Super 8, 9.5mm and 16mm format film. The many wonderful titles include: 'Chumming with Animals', 'Chimps, Champs and Chumps', 'Circus of Fear', 'Jealousy at the Circus' and many others. We have just finished listing the collection and look forward to seeing what is on the films.