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October 2012

Posted on 01/10/2012

All the fun of the fair!




This colourful print showing us an English fairground, including an escaped pig (perhaps having wandered over from our October 2011 ‘Item of the Month’!), a theatrical booth, and a variety of other tents, vividly illustrates the raucous atmosphere of fairs during the first half of the 19th century.

The event depicted here is likely to be Bartholomew Fair, hosted in the Smithfield area and one of London’s best known summer fairs established by Royal Charter. As this image shows, the event featured a wide range of entertainment, from acrobats and circus ‘freaks’ to exotic wild animals. It may come as no surprise, given the chaos of the scene shown here, that an increase in crime and debauchery eventually led to the abolition of Bartholomew Fair in 1855.

Another interesting feature of the print is the depiction of Richardson’s booth, which housed productions by a travelling theatre troupe established in 1798 by John Richardson. Popular shows were performed in the narrow bright booth, including burlesques – comic parodies of classic theatre - and melodramas.

This image comes from the Roy Waters Theatre Collection, which contains a variety of theatrical ephemera as diverse and entertaining as the fair shown here! Join us in launching the collection this month by clicking here 

Adele Allen, Special Collections Archivist (Roy Waters Theatre Collection)


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