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The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain Collection

Reference code: NFA0054

Scope and Contents

The main extent of the collection contains yearbooks, meetings and minutes, correspondence and a record of day to day activities within The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain.


  • Creation: 1904 - 2023


Conditions Governing Access

These records are closed to the public, access only available to members of the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain. Secondary documents such as newspaper cuttings can be consulted by the general public

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain

Biographical / Historical

The formation of the United Kingdom Van Dwellers Association in 1889 was the most decisive and important event in the history of travelling showpeople as a community. For the first time the showpeople had joined together to fight what they perceived as unfair legislation, the Moveable Dwellings Bill.

Between 1884 and 1891 George Smith attempted to legislate the movements of all travelling people. After successfully restricting the movements of bargees in 1884 he then turned his attention to other travelling groups in the United Kingdom with the introduction of the Moveable Dwellings Bill in 1888. The basic tenets of this Bill included the registration of all moveable dwellings, the compulsory school attendance of all Gypsy and van dwellers' children and the introduction of a series of regulations concerning the number of people permitted in a given living space. However, the main recommendation was the power to grant the local council the authority for an officer of the law to enter a van with a warrant, in order to inspect the dwelling for sanitation, health and moral irregularities. These proposals caused widespread anger throughout the travelling fraternity. When George Smith attended Birmingham Onion Fair he was chased through the streets of the city and after venturing onto the fairgrounds in Leicester and Northampton he was given police protection from the threat of attacks.

Aware of how this would affect the fairground business, in 1889 the leading showmen of the day were contacted through the pages of The Era newspaper and asked to attend a meeting to be held at the Black Lion Hotel in Salford. As a result of this and subsequent gatherings, the Van Dwellers' Protection Association was formed. A membership fund was started and in the first year over five hundred showmen contributed to the cost of fighting George Smith's proposed Bill. The Reverend Thomas Horne was a leading campaigner in this fight. The Reverend Thomas Horne was born in a travelling fairground family and spent the first twelve years of his life in the trade. From the age of three he was parading on a showfront dressed in a bearskin, encouraged by his father to kick up his legs and shout "Sugar!" After the desertion of his father he continued his education on the fair by selling novelties and toys, and eventually travelled a penny bazaar around the Lancashire Wakes with his brother. His education on the fair continued when he became doorman in Mrs. Williams' Waxworks show, and he went on to become actor, and finally partner, in an Illusion show.

He left the fairground to join the Society of St. John and trained as a priest. Upon hearing about the Moveable Dwelling Bill put forward by George Smith in 1889, Thomas Horne started a vigorous campaign in the press against Smith's proposed legislation. Thomas Horne travelled throughout the country, preaching to the showmen, and devoting time and attention to getting new members from the travelling fraternity.

Until his death in 1918, Thomas Horne was the main spokesman for the fairground community. With his education, training as a priest, and family association with the fairground, he became the ideal representative of the travelling showmen. He did much to safeguard the future of the old Van Dwellers Association and presented a respectable image of the fairground to its opponents.

Early founders of the Guild gradually introduced a set of guidelines which eventually formed the basis of the rules and conditions found in the Showmen's Year Books. Throughout the past hundred years the Showmen's Guild has effectively been carrying on the mandate set by the founders in 1889: to separate showpeople from traveller-gypsies and to defend the homes, liberties and way of life of the showpeople of Great Britain. The present day Guild not only represents 95% of the community at both national and local levels, but it also operates a code of conduct within the fairground community.

Until 1907 the Guild was highly centralised, with a 28-strong Executive Committee and an almost equal number of vice-presidents and other offices. In that year it was decided to divide the Executive Committee into seven divisional committees, each having responsibility for a particular region. In 1917 the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain, as it became known, was recognised as the trade association of the travelling funfair business and acquired the right to stand as representatives for the business at both local and national levels; a position it still occupies to this day.

The principal object of the Showmen's Guild has remained the same for over 100 years; to protect the interest of its members, travelling showmen who gain their livelihoods by attending funfairs. It does this in two ways; by its code of Rules and through the constitutional process of the land.

The Guild is organised into ten Sections and is accepted at both national and local levels as the negotiating body for travelling showmen. Through it's parliamentary agent, the Guild contests any proposed legislation that discriminates against its members, or seeks concessions when legislation threatens their ability to make a living. In matters involving local authorities a delegation of officers will usually be called upon to represent member's interests.

Sections of the Showman’s Guild of Great Britain: Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire Section Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales Section London and Home Counties Section Midland Section Northern Section Norwich and Eastern Counties Section Scottish Section South Wales and Northern Ireland Section Western Section Yorkshire Section


6 Linear metre(s)

Language of Materials



Catalogued according to type


NFCA staff adding digital born newsletters as when they are issued. Further accruals from the Guild expected

Description rules
International Standard for Archival Description - General
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the National Fairground and Circus Archive Repository

The University of Sheffield
Western Bank
Sheffield South Yorkshire S10 2TN United Kingdom
0114 222 7231