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National Fairground and Circus Archive Research Project

Updated: Jun 24, 2022

Arthur Jones photograph, Billy Smart's Circus, circa 1950 - Reproduced with permission of the University of Sheffield

I have begun working on a project with the National Fairground and Circus Archive, part of the the Special Collections and Archive Division of the University of Sheffield Library. The project has been supported using public funding through an Arts Council National Lottery Project Grant. This will enable a period of research with the archive in collaboration with academics professor Stephen Walker (Head of Architecture at Manchester University) and Hester Farge (PHD research student) with mentoring support from Professor Vanessa Toulmin ( founder of the archive). The funding will also enable me to work directly with the Showman Community through collaboration with Sheldon Chadwick, 5th generation Showman and founder of the Showman's Mental Health Charity. In addition I will be working with Ella Barrett from the SADACCA (Sheffield and District African Caribbean Community Association) Archive, collaborating on research to discover hidden archival histories.

The research will lead to a new body of work created for a solo exhibition at the archive in 2023. I am very much looking forward this project which has been a long time in the making with the continued support of Arantza Barrutia (National Fairground and Circus Archive Collections Manager) and Andrew Moore (Digital & Exhibitions Officer). The research will explore transience and how the temporary structures of the fairground/ circus create worlds within fragile and moveable boundaries and how these sit in the landscape.

Leaf Wall Dusk, oil on canvas, 18 x 22cm, 2021

The archive was born out of the PhD research and lifetime commitment and passion of Professor Vanessa Toulmin (Director of the NFCA from its inception until 2016). The collection embodies the history of popular entertainment in the United Kingdom from the seventeenth century onwards, covering every aspect of the travelling fair, circus and allied entertainments as well as the culture, business and life of travelling showpeople. The NFCA provides a primary source of research and teaching material to a wealth of popular culture and history from the unique view point of the travelling entertainment industry.

The Archive collects material from the fairground, circus and the allied industries that found a place in the early travelling fair, including early film, circus, sideshows, magic, boxing, variety and amusement parks, until they developed into their own distinctive form of entertainment.

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