Shufflebottom Family Collection

Scope and Content

The main part of the collection consists of material relating to the Shufflebottom family and receipts and posters advertising their latest attractions. The second half of the collection pertains to the Waddington family, and Margaret Shufflebottom’s later marriage to Arthur Bird.

The Shufflebottom collection consists of photographs, diaries, albums, account books and assorted ephemera associated with the family’s history on the fair. The photographic material dates from 1890 to the 1960s and covers three generations of the family shows, including the founder, Texas Bill Shufflebottom, a Buffalo Bill impersonator from Yorkshire who masqueraded as the great American showman.

Also included are items from the Waddington Family collection. This collection contains both personal and business correspondence, newspaper cuttings relating to fairs and family, four cash books from the Waddington family from 1898-1908, 1916 and 1927, a poster of the Great Dorset Steam fair from 1985, the diary 1916 of Abraham Waddington, son of J. W. Waddington and other diaries from Arthur Bird. One example is the diary of Abraham Waddington which records his daily life in 1916 in Hull, including accounts of Zeppelin raids and operating a blackout fair. There are also a number of handbills and various items of ephemera.

Administrative / Biographical History

The founder of the Shufflebottom firm was William Shufflebottom, who was known as Texas Bill. The origins of his first adventures into the fairground are unknown, but according to the family, William went to America with a circus act and saw Buffalo Bill's show. At this point the stories differ, with one branch of the family maintaining that he worked for William Cody and others stating that he came back to England with the idea to perform a similar type of performance in this country. His wife was also from a showland family and performed a knife-throwing and snake-charming act.

This famous knife thrower and sharpshooter died in 1916 after sixty years travelling with his show. In the early days of motion pictures he combined films with his other programmes and entertained the crowd with his family of sharpshooters and Wild West performers. His original show was a double wagon, with himself, his wife and children dressed in Wild West costumes on the front.He left a large family with his oldest children continuing to parade on the bioscope shows for William Taylor. His twin daughters married into the Rowland and Lawrence families. Three of his sons continued to travel Wild West Shows, Richard, Wally and William, all travelling under names such as Colorado's Troupe and other Wild West themes. The family shows were renowned for being some of the most attractive and entertaining on the fairgrounds, with Wally's show continuing well into the 1960s.

One of his younger daughters Margaret Shufflebottom, a parader on her father's show, married John Willie Waddington from Yorkshire and after his death continued to travel the Steam Yachts in the Eastern Counties. Margaret later married her foreman Arthur Bird.

Abraham Waddington, the founder of the family firm, was not only a Roundabout Proprietor, but also an innovator, taking out several patents in the late 19th century for improvements for fairground machinery. Amongst his earliest machines was a set of bikes which were travelled with a chain-drive traction engine. Later he bought a Sea on Land, built in King's Lynn by Frederick Savage. The ride was powered by a McLaren Traction Centre Engine which had been driven on to an 18 foot gantry. One witness writing in the World's Fair in 1942 remembered watching a performance on his way to school. It was raining and the engine continually slipped attempting to climb the ramps.

When Abraham Snr died, the business was continued by his widow, Mrs Hannah Waddington, and their son John William (born 1874). Mrs Waddington travelled her Gondola Switchback and later a Tunnel Railway. The early takings books in the collection provides us with a weekly account of the takings of this ride and where it opened around Yorkshire. John Willie, who continued the ride after the death of his parents, married Susannah Lee and had two sons; John William Jnr who was born in 1898 and Abraham in 1900.

By the turn of the century Waddington had a set of 4-abreast Ostriches, his own Switchback, joined in 1901 by the first set of Steam Yachts and later a Bioscope show. In 1905 he had eight replicas made of his De Dion motor car and those replaced the Gondolas on his Switchback. Much of the equipment was sold by the outbreak of the Great War and just the Yachts were kept, although the sons bought their own set in 1914. John Willie Snr's youngest son Abraham wrote a diary in 1916 and provides us with a graphic account of what it was like for the showpeople during the First World War.

Tragically Abraham died in the great influenza epidemic of 1918. His father John Willie Snr continued to travel his yachts throughout Yorkshire until his death at the age of fifty four in 1928. His remaining son, John Willie Jnr, married Margaret Shufflebottom of the Wild West Shows and they continued to travel the yachts in the Eastern Counties. John Willie died in 1932 aged only 34, however his widow Margaret travelled the Yachts in the Norwich area and later remarried.

The original Savage Yachts new to Waddingtons in 1901 still survive. On Mr Waddington's death they passed to Walter Waddington's son, Herbert, and on his death to his daughter Priscilla, who married Harry Lee. For many years they were the only set of Steam Yachts travelling. They are now owned by a collector in Lincolnshire.


Catalogued by type

Conditions Governing Access

The photographs make up part of the image database collection which is available to view by appointment in the NFA reading room. Other items must be requested prior to appointment.

Acquisition Information

Donated by Mrs Margaret Wilby, n裠Bird, in memory of her mother, Mrs. Margaret Bird, formerly Waddington, n裠Shufflebottom, Florence Campbell, n裠Shufflebottom, and Masie Smith, who were all members of the famous Wild West family.

Other Finding Aids

Photographs available on the Image database. Other items are listed by type. Contact the NFA for more information.

Archivist's Note

Description compiled by Jane Donaldson


Further accruals expected.