Fairground Strollers and Showfolk
A Preview

In her earlier book, Fairfield Folk - A History of the British Fairground and its People, Frances Brown gave us a delightful portrayal of four generations of a family of fairground travellers whose lives revolved around traditional rides and games that characterise our fairs.

Now 'Fairground Strollers and Showfolk' explores another part of the picture - that played by the travelling performers who, having developed their art on our fairgrounds over many generations, have contributed so much to the development of popular entertainment.

The book begins in the early nineteenth century with the emergence of Henry Freeman-Biddall who, having allegedly escaped from a cannibal infested island in the South Seas, turned to wizardry to make his fortune. Once established on the fairground, his children and grandchildren intermarried with a core group of performers to create a dynasty which reads like a who's who in the history of travelling shows - Baker, Codona, Cody, Hanneford, Manders, Mayne, Meers, Miller, Newsome, Ohmy, Ridley, Sanger, Scott, Sedgwick, Test to (to name but a few).

Lavishly illustrated with more than one hundred and sixty photographs, this well-researched book details the history of the Freeman-Biddalls' Temples of Magic and Pepper's Ghost Illusion Show, their marionettes and joey ponies, circuses and clowns. Throughout its pages acrobats tumble and female Blondins cross chasms, steam road locomotives founder in mud and bioscopes flicker living pictures onto linen sheets set up in the open air.

Their unique story encapsulates the spirit of those travelling showfolk celebrated in Widsmith, the earliest poem in the English language, as wandering gleemen who 'are always welcome, and have a joy in their art.'


"The book unfolds as a glittering tapestry of the travelling life"    Sussex Life

"Far more entertaining than a work of fiction...arguably the most complete and authentic record yet compiled of the everyday life of a group of travelling families."    World's Fair


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