The Journals of Sydney Race

Source: Ann Featherstone (ed.), The Journals of Sydney Race 1892-1900: A Provincial View of Popular Entertainment (London: The Society for Theatre Research, 2007), pp. 85-86

Text: 1898, October 6th, 7th, 8th
Goose Fair

I have not the patience to describe the Fair fully, but these were the shows:

Bostocks menagerie
Wall’s ghost (opposite Market Street)
Lawrence’s Cinematograph (facing Spaldings)
Wadbrooke’s Cinematographe (commencing the avenue from Binghams to Lambs)
Day’s Menagerie
? Cinematographe
Wallace the Untameable Lion
A second sight woman
Coxswain Terry’s Crocodiles
Randall Williams’s Cinematograph (looking down Wheeler’s Gate)
Count Orloff, the transparent man
The bear-faced woman
A child-dwarf
Ayme’s Mechanical Exhibition
Radford and Chappell’s Marionettes (late Ghost)
Buckley’s Performing dogs etc.
A swimming exhibition
Prof Burnett’s Military Exhibition
(opp Wombwell’s) Baby incubator and midgets

I am not sure this is a correct list as I cannot find the particulars I took down at the Fair, if indeed I did take any. But it is substantially correct.

I saw the child-dwarf. She was a poor little thing, the size of a baby a few weeks old, but said to have been born three years ago. She sat in a little chair and was lifted up by her mother for us to see her; but it was a poor exhibition and the child was not ‘all there.’

I went in most of the cinematograph shows and saw some really good pictures. Most of them showed a bull-fight – views of the actual thing – and very savage did the bull show himself. We did not see the actual death, but we saw several poor horses knocked down and dragged out of the arena lifeless. Randall Williams had a capital picture taken at Lords on Dr Grace’s Jubilee Day, taken as the two elevens were making a ceremonial parade of the ground. The Doctor came first and raised his hat most affably, as he got up to us. Walking with him was Arthur Shrewsbury whom it was quite easy to recognise, and the great Gunn came a little way behind, and also W. Nixon, the Notts Captain.

Walls showed two coloured pictures – the first I have seen – and also a view of the Gladstone funeral procession. This last was a very good picture. The Commons came first, marching four abreast, then there was a little interval and the Lord Chancellor wobbled across preceded by his mace bearer. After him came the Archbishop of York, walking alone, some of the temporal peers in fours, a group of bishops, and another set of peers. Last came the mourners, before whom walked the Bishop of London and then the body. The pall bearers who walked beside the hearse were quite recognisable – of Lord Salisbury we had a particularly good view and the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York we could see at the end. Among the mourners were some little boys who hardly seemed to comprehend the ceremony and at the rear walked the Revd. Gladstone by himself. Any faces one knew were easily picked out. Sir Mathew White Ridley and other Front bench men who headed the Commons I quickly recognised.

Another capital picture shown here was taken in front of a train as it dashed through the country. The hedges, the signal posts and telephone wires all went quickly by and the bridge which we could see ahead grew larger and larger as we approached until we had passed under it. Then we rushed by a station and could see the people walking up and down its platform and rapidly drew near a tunnel ahead. We saw the train entering it, then the sheet went black as we were [pages missing]

Comments: Sydney Race (1875-1960) was the working-class son of a cotton mill engineer and worked as an insurance clerk in Nottingham. His private journal documents the different kinds of entertainment he witnessed in Nottingham. The above is part of his account of visiting the Nottingham Goose Fair in October 1898. Dr Grace is the cricketer W.G. Grace and the film described is W.G. Grace Celebrates at Lord’s on His 50th Birthday (1898), made by the Prestwich Manufacturing Company. William Gunn and John Dixon were both Nottinghamshire players. The jubilee procession took place on 18 July 1898. The funeral of former prime minister William Gladstone took place 28 May 1898 and was filmed by several companies. Lord Salisbury was the serving prime minister. The ‘coloured pictures’ would have been hand-painted. Films taken from the front of moving trains were a common attraction in early film shows, often being given the name ‘phantom rides’.

Tickets, Please

Source: D.H. Lawrence, extract from ‘Tickets, Please’ in England, My England and Other Stories (New York: Thomas Seltzer, 1922), pp. 56-57

Text: After the dragons they went on the horses. John Thomas paid each time, so she could but be complaisant. He, of course, sat astride on the outer horse – named ‘Black Bess’ – and she sat sideways, towards him, on the inner horse – named ‘Wildfire’. But of course John Thomas was not going to sit discreetly on ‘Black Bess’, holding the brass bar. Round they spun and heaved, in the light. And round he swung on his wooden steed, flinging one leg across her mount, and perilously tipping up and down, across the space, half lying back, laughing at her. He was perfectly happy; she was afraid her hat was on one side, but she was excited.

He threw quoits on a table, and won for her two large, pale-blue hat-pins. And then, hearing the noise of the cinemas, announcing another performance, they climbed the boards and went in.

Of course, during these performances pitch darkness falls from time to time, when the machine goes wrong. Then there is a wild whooping, and a loud smacking of simulated kisses. In these moments John Thomas drew Annie towards him. After all, he had a wonderfully warm, cosy way of holding a girl with his arm, he seemed to make such a nice fit. And, after all, it was pleasant to be so held: so very comforting and cosy and nice. He leaned over her and she felt his breath on her hair; she knew he wanted to kiss her on the lips. And, after all, he was so warm and she fitted in to him so softly. After all, she wanted him to touch her lips.

But the light sprang up; she also started electrically, and put her hat straight. He left his arm lying nonchalantly behind her. Well, it was fun, it was exciting to be at the Statutes with John Thomas.

Comments: The British novelist and short story writer David Herbert Lawrence (1885-1930) makes numerous references to the cinema in his writings, usually from a hostile point of view but clearly based on knowledge of cinemagoing. This passage from a short story (about a tramway inspector and serial seducer whose victims take revenge on him) features a visit to a fairground cinema show.

Popular Entertainments Through the Ages

Source: E.V. Lucas (1906), quoted in Samuel McKechnie, Popular Entertainments Through the Ages (London: Sampson Low, Marston, 1931), p. 191

Text: A fairly satisfactory proof that the cinematograph has conquered is to be found in its popularity, not only in the ordinary music-hall, but among less enlightened audiences even than those which one finds there. At Barnet Fair, this year, I noticed that many of the old shows had given place to animated pictures, and at the Fête of the Invalides in Paris, a few weeks later, I observed the same development. In both cases the invented story, comic, tragic, pathetic, was the staple; there were no royal processions, no conferments of the freedom of cities, no military manoeuvres. Instead of taking the place of the illustrated paper, as the cinematograph did almost exclusively, and still does at the more pretentious halls, it was taking the place of the theatre. And for two very good reasons it was making the real theatrical booths look very foolish – one being that the pictured stories were bright and engrossing, involving the use of only one sense and never straining that (whereas a stage play in a booth one often fails to hear and sometimes to see at all); and the other that the body of the booth was in darkness, a favourable condition for those who attend fairs in couples, whether in England or France.

Comments: Edward Verrall Lucas (1868-1938) was a British essayist with an opinion on many things. I have not been able to trace the original source of this quotation, which McKechnie dates as 1906.

Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918

Source: Excerpt from interview with Mrs Hannah Myers, C707/401/1-2, Thompson, P. and Lummis, T., Family Life and Work Experience Before 1918, 1870-1973 [computer file]. 7th Edition. Colchester, Essex: UK Data Archive [distributor], May 2009. SN: 2000,

Text: A: But this is how I used to work it, I used to say – you help me – and then I’ll take you out for the afternoon. But any – used to queue up for hours. But it wasn’t a continuous performance. There were certain houses. You see. Until –

Q: What kind of films would they have?

A: Oh – cowboy pictures, and – they used to have serials. And you know – we – he used – if he used to go on a Sunday – to the fair, pictures for a penny, and we used to see Pearl White, and she’d be hanging to the – to the roof of a train by her teeth. And another train’s coming through, we’re all cringing, and then it would come up on the sheet, next week – you see, you see the continuation next week. And we were all – tensed up you know. And – Harold Lloyd.

Q: What day of the week would that be?

A: Well it – any day you could go, for a penny. And over this fair for a penny … You know Mile End Station? At the back of Mile End station was known as the fairground. During the winter there was all sideshows, but – Mr Forest had this – first of all he used to go under a tent. They used to call it the flea pit. Used to be a ha’penny. But when he had it built it was a penny. See, and you used to go in, and you used to get a card. And – it was a lucky number. If you had a lucky number on it – you either won boots or a sack of coal – or – you know, some – articles of clothing. See, the – what this man used to buy for prizes. And it used to be chock-block full. And used to sit on forms. And although it was chock-block full they’d still say, come on, shift up there, shift up there, we were all huddled together and when we used to get these serial pictures you know – and the hair raising stuff that they used to do – we’d all cringe and cringe and cringe, and the kids – and – and people at the back used to say, look behind, look behind, he’s behind the door, he’s behind – of course it used to be silent pictures. Look behind the door. And then it used to come up, continuation next week. And we’d say – aaaah. Will you come next week, will you come next week? Yes, if we can save our farthings. We used to get a farthing a day – for spending …

… What about cinemas when you were at school? I didn’t go often, I did go once with my mother and father and I was terrified. It was the earthquake. The San Francisco Earthquake and I was glad to come out. I was terrified. I remember that.

Comment: Hannah Myers was born 1900 in London E3, seventeenth child of 18, parents Jewish. Her father was street trader selling fruit, then opened his own shop. She considered that they were middle class. She was interviewed on 28 July 1972, one of 444 people interviewed by Paul Thompson and his team as part of a study of the Edwardian era which resulted in Thompson’s book The Edwardians: The Remaking of British Society (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1975).

Strange Truth

Source: James MacKenzie, Strange Truth: The Autobiography of a Circus, Showman, Stage & Exhibition Man [n.d] [manuscript, two volumes] (Brunel University, 1-473), vol. 1, pp. 242-246

Text: The Living Pictures had arrived. I determined to get a machine and films. I soon got the information they were only showing at Music Halls, but I hear some showmen are going to have them. I was nearly first.

The machine and two hundred and fifty feet of film only from the pioneers of Film making in England you had to buy the films then!

I was soon equipped with a booth and a lorry, cylinders of Oxy-Hydrogen gas, for the limelight to show the films, a powerful light was needed.

I find a place to open, & the Whit Monday to follow, a man, and my wife and myself, it took me very little time to know all about the machine. I tried it out, all was O.K.

I opened at a Gala, and I showed over forty times that day the show only lasted a few minutes but they were Living Pictures.

It took longer to wind the film out of the bag (note – There was no self winding on a Spool in the front of the Machine at that time) where it went. Wo[r]se than the performance, and the “Music” was the rattle of the machine, which sounded like a steam roller.

My two chaps and myself bawling outside, and telling a short tale inside and working the machine in full view of the audience, with all the curiosity of this new invention, in a few minutes the show was over, but they had seen the latest invention living pictures. They were at that time virtually only on Music Hall.

It was a grand financial start, but the next pitch was on a common at Whitsuntide, and the weather was atrocious building up in the rain, to eventually to be blown down with repairs to do on the following day … I had little fear of failure as I had booked fairs well ahead, and in the wait between them, I put up in the remotest village. My men & horses jog[g]ed along most happily, covering expenses, and saving and the natives had heard of this novelty, so the advent of them helped considerably.

I showed so many times my machine run hot and my films got worn, so I had to replenish them several times. Then came the back end of the season with terrible weather, it rained six fairs in succession, that sort of business empty’s [sic] one’s pocket, but it’s all in the “game” … I am about eight miles from a Cattle Fair, I knew the place well having been through it many times before, I knew now shows built up there, or Pleasure Fair. So I said to my boys, that I was determined to chance it and go. [He cycles to the village] … I cycled to it, and the Boniface was standing on the doorstep, with his little half apron .. I entertained him told him I was a showman, but reserved my purpose till we were quite friends, the[n] I told him of my living pictures, his eyes stared in wonder, he could hardly credit I had them, then I asked him whether I could put my show up outside his vacant land and show for the Cattle Fair. The answer came Yes! Like a bullet from a revolver … Next morning very early we build up and taking money very early. I had a great crowd the Inn was full. Living Picture was on the lips of a crowd. I was the first there to show them. The two days Friday and Saturday I felt like the Bank of England … I stopped there a week, a sing song every night, and when I departed they waved me out of the village.

Comment: James MacKenzie’s unpublished memoir of seventy years as a circus and fairground showman is held by Brunel University. He was born in London in 1862. The section above presumably refers to the late 1890s.