British Universities Film & Video Council

moving image and sound, knowledge and access


Payne’s Bioscope, Hull Pleasure Fair, 1906 (photo courtesy of National Fairground Archive)
The NFA is a unique collection of photographic, printed, manuscript, fairground ephemera and audiovisual material covering all aspects of the culture of travelling showpeople in the United Kingdom, their organisation as a community, their social history and everday life and, the artefacts and machinery of fairgrounds. The NFA collections are continuing to grow: there are now over 80,000 images in the photographic collection, in addition to audio and video material, journals and magazines, and nearly 3,000 monographs. The collection also includes a unique body of fairground ephemera (programmes, handbills, posters, charters and proclamations, plans and drawings).
Within the photographic archive over 1,000 images and associated archival documents relate to Nottingham Goose Fair and a further 4,000 relate to fairs in the Midlands from the 1930s onwards. I,000 images of travelling cinematograph shows and family information and details of films shown are also included in the database. From Easter to October over 200 fairs are held weekly in the UK and the holdings present a comprehensive record of these events from the 1890s onwards.
In the past two years the NFA has doubled its photographic holdings with the donation of major image based collections, including the Dick Price material (10,000 photographs), Lionel Bathe Collection (6,000 negatives), Bernard Fielding (5,000 images), Harry Lee (1,000 items) and other related showland family albums. Additional collections include the Showmen’s Guild Records and the Malcolm Airey Circus and Theatre Collection (20,000 items) with many items of interest to people studying the transition of music hall artistes to film actors. Materials in the NFA now cover all main formats - printed books, photographs, posters, business records, autobiographical manuscripts and posters.
The Development of the NFA Digital Collections. In 1998 the NFA received a grant of £88,700 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to digitise and catalogue 30,000 photographs in the collection - this task will be complete by February 2001. The NFA was the first University Library collection to receive HLF funding and now has the necessary experience and expertise in the management and organisation of this type of project. The Research Director and founder of the National Fairground Archive is co-editor of Living Pictures: the Journal of the Popular and Projected Image to 1920 and has written various articles and books on all aspects of popular entertainment.
Artefact description
Posters and programmes between 1895 and 1920 demonstrating and illustrating the links between early film and other travelling entertainments. Also 1000 photographs of early bioscope shows, biographies of cinema showmen and also handbills for cinema shows in the pre First World War period.
Fairgrounds, entertainments
Open 9.30 to 4.30 Monday to Thursday - by appointment only for archival material (this can be ordered in advance with a minimum of 24 hours notice). No appointments are required Monday to Wednesday for the reading room or digital collections.
Access for outsiders
Video, all formats.
Only for commercial reproduction rights.
Photographic rights only.

Moving Image, Audio and Related Documentation Holdings

Only early cinema, pre-1914, popular entertainment, magic lantern -1,500 titles.
Film History, Kinetop, MIJ
Tom Norman (ghost show, early cinema (pioneer)
All original material deposited at the National Film and Television Archive. Video copies only held.
The Showman (1900-1912). World’s Fair 1904 -.
Mostly Victorian/Edwardian fairs with incidental references to bioscope.
300 hours of transcripts/audio cassette.
Still Images
60,000 images; 1,000 early cinema related travelling shows to cinema.

Artefact and Related Documentation Holdings

Cinema plans and architects’ drawings
Ephemeral printed material such as programmes, handbills, posters relating to early fairground cinema shows and also cinema shows in other entertainment venues such as variety theatres, waxworks pleasur gardens etc. In addition 1000 images of bioscope shows in UK and also full set of World’s Fair newspaper which runs from 1904 to current day but covers in detail the transitional period of film as a fairground attraction to a mainstream form of entertainment.; Catalogues; Diaries, unpublished memoirs etc; Lobby cards; Posters and promotional artwork; Photographs; Promotional literature; Ephemera


Computerised database for link to our selection of photographic material also dedicated section on webpages for early cinema
Printed catalogue
OPAC - Star - Printed Catalogue soon to be all on ACCESS database for internal users only.
Digitised catalogue
30,000 images have been digitised.

Additional Information

Artefact notes
Different cataloging methods for the collections depending on type of material - currently moving to a new system DOMS

Main Contact

Ian Trowell
Job title
Collections Manager
0114 222 7231
0114 222 7290
The Library
University of Sheffield
S10 2TN

Alternate Contact


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