John Turner Collection

Scope and Content

The John Turner collection comprises of his research for his valuable Circus People indexes which lists many of the circus performers from the Victorian age onwards. There are notebooks, index cards, photocopies and pictures that were gathered from a number of repositories and libraries during John Turner's life and used for articles published in a variety of journals and magazines, and for the numerous books that he published during his lifetime.

Administrative / Biographical History

John Turner is best known as the author of the Dictionaries of British circus Biographies which is an invaluable source for researchers of Victorian and twentieth century circus performers. He also created a database which enables quick searches of performers and provides citations of primary sources that were used in his research.

John Turner was born in Hull and graduated from the University of Leeds with a Ph.D1959 He worked as an academic biochemist, in California, London, and finally as a Reader in Biochemistry at the University of Liverpool from 1963 until 1989

After his retirement, John Turner became interested in the history of circus. This stemmed from his discovery that Hengler's Grand Cirque had once flourished in Hull, Liverpool and other provincial towns as well as in the Metropolis. Initially he collected information on the many performers and showmen of the Victorian period later continuing his research to include performers in the twentieth century.

His aim was to produce a definitive series of source-books on the history of British circus which could be used by others to discover more about this popular form of entertainment. He continued his research right up until his sudden death in 2007. We are privileged to be able to have his research and database at the NFA enabling others to continue to be able to access the information that he painstakingly worked to gather.

For many years, John Turner was the librarian for the Circus Fairground Association, taking over from Malcolm Airey, and helped to get the library into the National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield.


Catalogued according to type.

Conditions Governing Access

There is an on-line index of names which is accessible in the NFA reading room. Some items are restricted under the Data Protection Act.

Acquisition Information

Donated by his widow, Jannette Turner.

Other Finding Aids

Books can be found on the University Library catalogue, STAR. John Turner's database can be accessed in the NFA reading room. Other items have been listed and this list is available in the NFA reading room. Items should be requested prior to visit.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Jane Donaldson

Conditions Governing Use

No copies of material can be made.


Historical Hengler's circus. Pt. 1-5, 1780 to 1856 / by John M. Turner.

History of Ginnett's circus / by John M. Turner.

James Newsome : genius of the ring / by John M. Turner.

Twentieth century circus people : a dictionary of British circus biography / by John M. Turner. Vol.1-4, 1901-1950

Wombwell's travelling menagerie / by John M. Turner

Black Victorians / Black Victoriana / edited by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina

Volume 1 and Volume 11 Victorian Arena – The Performers by John Turner


Personal Names