The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain

Scope and Content

The main extent of the collection contain yearbooks, meetings and minutes, correspondence and day to day activities within The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain. They date from 1910 and are ongoing and although extensive are not complete.

Administrative / Biographical History

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 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.

Early founders of the Guild gradually introduced a set of guidelines which would eventually form 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 its 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.


Catalogued by type

Access Information

Items are only accessible to members of the Showmen's Guild. Other interested parties will need to receive written permission from The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain

Acquisition Information

The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain

Other Finding Aids

No finding aid but housed in chronological order. Contact the NFA for more information.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Jane Donaldson

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright: The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain


Further accruals expected.