Pages from History

A Collection of Historic Images - The British Sideshow Pg-2


Until improved technology had effected the dominance of the roundabout at the end of the nineteenth century, shows, as the name "showman" implies, were the major component of the fair.

By the start of the nineteenth century the dominance the shows had achieved on the fairground began to be reflected in the growth of their size. Theatrical booths, Waxworks, Freak shows and of course the Wild Beast shows known as Menageries, which by the middle of the century assumed a primacy over their rival shows on the fair, were all to be found on fairgrounds throughout the country..........................................................................................


The fairground shows of the early to mid-nineteenth century are perhaps the most documented of all the amusements that appeared on the fairground until the introduction of steam powered roundabouts. Their heyday was in the first fifty years of the nineteenth century, with Menageries, Circuses, Ghost shows, Exhibitions and Waxworks all dominating the showground landscape during this period. Lord George Sanger, Tom Norman and the famous Bostock of Menagerie fame all became household names. The showmen developed ingenuity and style, and the gullible public flocked to see not just the great Waxworks and Menagerie shows but also the peep shows, illusion booths and exhibitions of freaks.


However, the fairground shows developed many forms and have achieved varying degrees of success on the twentieth century fairground, with boxing shows, parading booths and the modern funhouses and ghost trains all linked to their nineteenth century counterparts.


Click On The Photos Below To View Full Size

The Monkey Circus

International Burlesque

 Flea Circus




Haggar's Royal Electric Bioscope at Neath in 1903


Alf Hurd with  Winston

 the Smallest

Patriotic Horse

Tom Norman's Show





Bristol Coronation

Fair, 1952

Hill's 'Believe it or Not' Show

Messham's Wall of Death at Epsom in 1961

 Biddall's Ghost Illusion

Inside the

Ghost Illusion




Fronting the show at Hull in the 1930s

Frogmen Underwater Show

Jim Norman

 with the frogmen and extended cast of the Palladium Show

W. Pinder's 'Big Zoo' Circus Show

Comedy Circus

Hickman's Boxing Show

All Comers Welcome

Anita the Living Doll

Crocodile Girl alongside the

Beauty in the Lions


Boxing Show

Tantalizing Snake Girl is the animal or the flesh on show the attraction







Chamber of Horrors

The Bloody Tower

Norman's Ghost Show circa 1900

Norah Sullivan's

Lady Wrestlers

Chipperfield in 1946

Jack Gage's

Boxing Stadium  1955





Tom Norman's Palladium Show 1957

Lady of the Lions Show 1946

Tom Norman's Show


Allen's Casbah Show 1979

Chimpanzee and Rat Shows in 1960

Pat McKeowen's Show, Goose Fair, 1961

Sedgwick's Menagerie c.1909



Tom Norman's Show

Day's Menagerie Oxford St Giles Fair 1895

Barney & Joy

Worlds Heaviest Couple

Temple of Black Magic

Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie

Girl in Goldfish Bowl

Tom Norman's Travelling Paladium

Arthur Feely with Bostock and Wombwell The Show at Calne (Wiltshire) with new Burrell engines Nero and Rajah On the Great North Road, 1914 Exterior of Show, 1952 Combined Wild West Show & Water Circus



Boxers on a Variety Show circa 1913

Kid Summers

Hughes' Boxers, 1916

Alma Johnson

and Friend 1932 Motordrome

Speedrome Scarborough 1932
















Sonia Allen and Richard Chipperfield in 1946


All Images are posted with the permission of  Professor Vanessa Toulmin  National Fairground Archive University of Sheffield,  Photographs are copy-righted 2012 to the National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield Library, All rights reserved,  they are part of an extensive sideshow collection. No Images may be reproduced, reposted or used in any manner except that of viewing without the express written permission of the National Fairground Archives. For more information click here  National Fairgrounds Archive University of Sheffield  


Header Image inspired by the Poster of S. Watson's American Museum of Living Curiosities British Library


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