National Fairground Archive Opens To The Public In Sheffield

By 24 Hour Museum | 07 November 2007
a colourful poster showing a young woman flying through the air on a fairground carousel with a a fairground behind her and a large blue slab of sea in the distance

© National Fairground Archive

The University of Sheffield’s National Fairground Archive (NFA) has opened its expanded and refurbished premises and launched a new exhibition of its unique collection.

Previously based in a University staff-only room with limited space, the archive now resides in the the NFA Reading Room in the Western Bank Library with a dedicated front of house and seating for up to eight people.

Visitors now have access to periodicals of specialist titles on circus fairs, a full set of the World's Fair newspapers and also access to the photographic database of 80,000 images and other electronic resources.

a colourful and stylised poster showing couples on dodgem cars

© National Fairground Archive

“Our new location will make it much easier for staff, students and members of the public to gain access to the archive and allow even more people to benefit from our fantastic collections," said Dr Vanessa Toulmin, Director of the NFA.

"We thought an exhibition would be the perfect way to launch our new space and give people a taster of the unique and diverse materials we have to offer.”

‘Top of the Bill’ gives visitors the opportunity to get a taste of the remarkable archive via a range of handbills, posters and other ephemera. More than 50 large scale framed posters and up to 300 smaller handbills are on display covering everything from British music hall to international acts like Barnum and Buffalo Bill.

Included are items that haven’t been seen by public in years, including some fine examples of printing from prominent show printers such as Theophilus Creber of Plymouth, Taylor's of Wombwell and Willson's of Leicester.

a painting from a poster of an acrobat boy balancing head to head with an older man

© National Fairground Archive

The material covers fairs, circuses, pantomime, travelling shows and theatres in Britain, whilst the stranger entertainments featured include optical and magic and early cinema.

There is also a section dedicated to posters produced abroad - from Europe to the United States and India - and a small selection of early 19th century handbills advertising acts and novelties such as the Nyctalope, a Peristrephic Panorama and FC Burnand's take on John Henry Pepper's Metempsychosis, the dyspeptic illusion Curried Prawns.

“These are the gems of the collection never before exhibited, with material that hasn’t been seen for over 100 years," said Dr Toulmin.

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