News and Updates: 2009 News

Merry Christmas!

Photo: Barnum

The National Fairground Archive would like to thank everybody for their support and appreciation throughout a very busy 2009. We look forward to some very exciting events planned for 2010, and to the continued use of our online resources and reading room. The staff of the NFA extend Christmas wishes to everybody, and look forward to resuming normal service on Monday 4th January 2010.

viva the 80s

Photo: 80s rhyl

Celebrate the best of 80s with some iconic images from Rhyl. Check out our latest gallery here

Christmas and New Year opening

Our opening hours will be slightly changed due to the festive season. We will be closed for the dinner hours (12-00 - 14-00) on the following days: Monday 14th December, Monday 21st December, Tuesday 22nd December, Wednesday 23rd December. In addition, we will NOT be open for bookings on Thursday 24th December. We re-open for regular service on Monday 4th January, 2010.

Kelham Island Victorian Christmas Market

Photo: victorian fair

The NFA will be presenting an exhibition of poster art at the Victorian Christmas Market organised by Kelham Island Museum. We will be exhibiting material in the Douglas Centre alongside the Victorian fair situated on the end of the scenic island.

The Christmas Market is a popular event allowing people to sample Victorian life and purchase some innovative and original Victorian food and gifts. The event takes place over the weekend of 5th/6th of December. Admission is 4-00 for adults, 3-00 concessions, children free.

Kegworth event

Photo: kegworth

The NFA will be guest speaker for the East Midland Steam & Vintage Society meeting on Monday 16th November. The two hour talk will cover the history, activities and policies of the Archive, followed by an insight into some of the more interesting collections. The meeting will take place at The Kegworth Town Cricket Club, Kegworth, Derby with the presentation starting at 8.00pm and doors opening at 7.30pm. Visitor fees just 2.00

transitory thrills and transformations

Photo: poster

The National Fairground Archive is collaborating with the University of Sheffield School of Architecture on a day event to celebrate and support the Abbeydale Picture House. Headline artists In The Nursery and Everly Pregnant Brothers perform musical / visual works, whilst the NFA will host a talk and exhibition on transitory entertainment with the regard to the 'Sheffield Jungle' and the history of fairgrounds and shows transforming space within cities. The event is at 2-00pm on Saturday 7th November.

you cannot miss this

Photo: poster

Whilst cataloguing our extensive poster collection we felt that the batch of 1970s Yorkshire fairground posters designed by Taylors of Wombwell needed to be seen straight away. The clever method of combining a bold and easily readable style lettering into something that speaks solely of fun and thrill is a unique art. Click here to see the sample collection of 70s nostalgia.

guest gallery - Shaun Martin

Photo: freak out

Shaun Martin's gallery of Hull images is our first guest gallery. Shaun has also contributed a gallery of material in our 'futures' section looking at the impact of vinyl artwork. Click here to see these original images.

Fright Night 2009

Photo: fright night

The University of Sheffield, through the National Fairground Archive, will be actively involved in Sheffield's FRIGHT NIGHT for 2009. We have an even greater involvement this year with the addition of the successful side shows presented at Blackpool with illusionist Jon Marshall. Full details on our Admission All Classes website.

technology drivers

We are delighted to announce that our section covering the art and design of the fairground is now complete with retrospective essays on carving, a key work looking at the history of technology and how this now plays a major part in the fairground aesthetic, and finally a brief look at how the future might unfold on the fairground.

We plan to present a series of talks promoting this resource and would be happy to hear from any interested parties.

lights, sounds and... plastic

Photo: lighting

Our commitment to provide a comprehensive guide to understanding fairground art and design has now seen the completion of new articles on areas of lesser-recorded aesthetics. We hope to complete the section with an exciting essay examining the future of fairground aesthetics with regard to digital developments and the cultural and technological climate. For now check out the following introductions:

  • A history and overview of the role of lighting on the fairground.
  • New work looking at the concept of noise and sound and how the fairground atmosphere is unique.
  • Can plastic and metal attain the status of classic design? We think so.

To accompany these ideas we have built a new gallery on modern aesthetics. Click here to see how the current fairground cuts a new edge in futuristic design.

new materials

Photo: ilkeston

We are progressing with the cataloguing and listing of new materials, and are adding finding aids on the collection description pages for each new collection. New additions include:

  • David Braithwaite's own collection, including all the research for his books on fairground design and history, is now complete. The collection details viewable here.
  • We have started processing the bulk of the Orton and Spooner collection, cataloguing the correspondence and business records of the company that survived into the collection acquired by David Braithwaite. The vast collection of plans and blueprints will undergo conservation and be listed (and available for access) in the near future. The collection details viewable here.
  • Barbara's Buttrick's collection of boxing history is now fully listed. Collection details viewable here.
  • The Testo Family's collection covers their long associated history with presenting all types of shows, from early illusions to the flea circus. Collection list downloadable here.
  • Lulu Adams' life and times as a clown are documented in her collection. Details available here.
  • The Ilkeston Fair collection is a valuable historic resource that gives an insight into the planning and administration of a large street fair - it includes comprehensive maps and rent books. Details will shortly follow on our website.

Current work includes the cataloguing and organising of our entire poster collection, which will encompass the large Harry Lee material (preservation events), the Taylors of Wombwell collection (early fair, circus and pantomime blanks), and our vast collection of early show and theatre material.

August / September closure

Photo: closed

The NFA reading room will be closed for the months of August and September to allow essential structural work to be carried out in the Western Bank Library which will result in better access to the archive. Due to the large scale disruption and need to temporarily store resources we will be unable to answer email and telephone enquires during this period.

Urgent or existing enquiries relating to ongoing projects and collection donations can be directed to 0114 2227260. Similarly, those wishing to make bookings to use the reading room from October 5th onwards can do so by calling this number.

Rotherham Follies, 2-3 October

Photo: Bears

The latest event in the Admission All Classes series, with co-production by Fred Bear, is an evening of exotic new cabaret as part of the Rotherham Open Arts Festival. The festival runs between 2nd and 11th October with the Rotherham Follies running on the 2nd and 3rd. Full details available here.

Dippers and Dunkers, Margate, 21-23 August

Photo: Jon marshall

The NFA is involved with the Dippers and Dunkers festival of new variety and burlesque. Taking place at the seaside resort of Margate between Friday 21st and Sunday 23rd of August, the event includes two talks by Professor Vanessa Toulmin (on the history of Sanger and the origins of fairground illusioneering) as well as a top-billing by Jon Marshall who will present some of the material that proved such a success at the Circus of Wonders event. Dippers and Dunkers also features a full variety schedule co-produced by the NFA. Click here to see the festival website.

art and design

Photo: painers

The NFA has been working with History of Art student Duncan Cameron from the University of Glasgow to develop and increase our profile around the subject of art and design on the fairground. The main part of this work has been the creation of a dedicated section of the website devoted to art and design on the fairground, taking an approach of critical and cultural appraisal alongside a detailed deconstruction of themes, influences and aspirations. We are very pleased to announce the following new features:

  • A complete re-indexing of over 2000 images depicting fairground art and design with a new hierarchical indexing system that reflects both practical style and thematic subjects.
  • A history of pattern on the fairground.
  • A history of lettering with further themed galleries showing innovation in technique in slogan.
  • A chronology of figurative aspects within brush painting.
  • An essay on the role of art in Victorian society with regard to the aesthetic construction of the early fairground.
  • Finally, a full portal of images and descriptive system to enable outreach work and collaboration on exhibtions and gallery material.

closing dates - summer 2009

The reading room will be closed for a short duration this summer. We will be closed for the afternoon of Wednesday 17th June to allow a group tour of the NFA. We will be closed for the whole day of Wednesday 8th July for NFA participation in a University event. In addition we will be closed for the month of August for essential building works.

Visual Delights 4 - Visual Empires

Photo: Visual Delights

The fourth Visual Delights Conference: Visual Empires will take place at the University of Sheffield between July 3-5, 2009. See our projects page for further details on the Visual Delights series, and click here to see details of Visual Delights 4.

The venue for the conference will be University of Sheffield Union of Students, Western Bank, Sheffield, S10 2TN. Registration for the event will take place at the Auditorium between 9-30 and 10-00am on Friday 3rd July. A full conference programme will be circulated within the delegate packs handed out during registration.

To download a booking form for this event please click here.

To secure accommodation for this event please click here.

fairground fashion fix

Photo: costume

In response to recent interest in costume we have prepared a reading list for those wishing to research the subject in the archive. Click here to see our reading lists.

For those wishing to admire the subject from a safer distance we have added a brand new gallery. Click here to sample some of the most diverse dress you will see.

Wisbech and March

Photo: Lambe

The Gaudern Lambe collection provides an insight into some evocative colour images of March and Wisbech fairs. Click here to browse the selection of images.

Admission All Classes

Photo: Admission All Classes

Admission All Classes takes its next step and presents a full show at the Sheffield Lyceum Theatre on Sunday 24th May 2009. Full details available here.


The NFA has been used as a best practice case study for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council. This follows our project work with Blackpool and its associated benefits to tourism. Click here to read about this commendation.

steam packets

Photo: Steam programmes

Our cataloguing of the Harry Lee collection continues. The latest items to be listed include all of the rally programmes that saw Harry's Steam Yachts in attendance. The programmes are arranged by location and, when combined with our existing collections of rally programmes, give a near complete picture of the rally scene in the UK. Glimpses of an age where motorcycles jumped through rings of fire, police dogs put on displays, and minor celebrities and soap stars from the 70s and 80s provided the opening ceremonies. We have created a combined index that covers all of our rally material and this is available for consultation in the reading room or for telephone / email enquiries.

In addition we have reprinted the series 'Our People' which ran through the World's Fair newspaper in the early 1950s. This is a series of profiles of notable figures from the amusement industry. We have created a name and subject index to aid finding.

art attack

The current issue of Pinstriping and Kustom Graphics magazine includes a wealth of features on fairground art from classic to modern. We have provided a colourful insight into the airbrush generation.

Stephen Smith

Historian Stephen Smith has deposited a digital donation of his first few years photographing, dating from the late 1970s into the early years of the 1980s. This is a valuable and comprehensive record of a period of great change and development on the fairground. Stephen's photographs are available to view in the reading room, and we are endeavouring to provide a sequence of galleries as we catalogue the material. Click here to view.


Photo: Allan Herschell

We have added a 'taster' of new material being listed in holdings section. Click here to view.

A brand new gallery comparing Grantham Mid Lent Fair from 25 years ago to current day is now online here to view.

We also thank Ian Cawthorne for his kind donation of photographs which are now catalogued. In respect of this we have created two new galleries here to view.

media insights

The NFA recently contributed towards two BBC events: an illustrated history of sideshows for the BBC website and a longer piece on Wall of Death rider Alma Skinner for Woman's Hour.

Blackpool documentation

Photo: Circus of Wonders

The Circus of Wonders event at Showzam 09 proved to be a hit. Here we have a gallery of images taken from the event. Click here to see the images.

full content listings

Staff member Jane Donaldson's work in listing and organising the extensive content of the NFA is now rapidly bearing fruit. We have created a variety of access paths to browse collection descriptions and content within the Archive, via subjects, formats and named collections. Click here to begin exploring.

Blackpool guided walk podcast

We have added the podcast for the guided walk around Blackpool, to be used in conjunction with the Showzam 09 Festival. Click here to open the mp3 file.

Showzam 09 - Carnival Ball / Circus of Wonders

Photo: Showzam 09

After last year's exciting link-up between Admission All Classes and the Showzam festival of street magic we are thrilled to announce an expanded partnership for Showzam 09 featuring Carnival Ball and Circus of Wonders. The events are scheduled for the half-term week of 13-22 February. Visit the Showzam website for full details of this exciting event.

To download the flyer for CARNIVAL BALL (1.5Mb pdf file) please click here.

For a feature in the Daily Telegraph please click here.

For Professor Toulmin's latest feature on the history of side-shows please click here.

Warwick Mop

Our section documenting historic fairs includes a new contribution and gallery written by Paul Tandy.

on the wall

Photo: Dare Devil Alma Skinner

We have added the first of a series of galleries celebrating the life and times of 'Dare Devil Alma Skinner' the famous Wall of Death rider from Rotherham. The full collection is available to view in the archive. Click here to view the first of these articles.

inaugural lecture

Photo: Professor Toulmin

Professor Toulmin presented her inaugural lecture "Professor Vanessa's Twenty Performing Wonders" to a packed audience on Wednesday 17th December, 2008. The lecture represented a roving tour of her research and practical endeavours taken from groundbreaking projects such as Mitchell and Kenyon and Admission All Classes. The supporting wonders consisted of live acts and previously unseen film, with a musical accompaniment throughout. A pictorial record of this fantastic evening is included here.


Photo: Stevens Glamour Show

Our latest gallery features acts and shows from the Lionel Bathe collection. Click here to view.

in print

We have contributed two articles to the latest edition of the Fairground Mercury. Our research on the Rotor ride will be split into two parts alongside a documentation of the first 'grouping' of Miami Trip rides at the Pinner Fair of 1992. We will gladly support and encourage any members of the public wishing to research and prepare articles for the Fairground Mercury, Platform, or similar publications.