New book is a whale of a celebration of Sheffield university treasures

from the National Fairground Archive.
from the National Fairground Archive.
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Never-before-seen treasures from Sheffield University’s fairground Archive are to be revealed.

Over the past two decades, the world-renowned National Fairground Archive has grown from one small box of donated material to an extensive collection filled with thousands of items of international significance – from photographs and posters to souvenir programmes and archival records.

To celebrate its 20th anniversary, a book of 100 carefully selected treasures has been compiled, which have never before been seen by the public.

Treasures of the National Fairground Archive will also feature items which reveal part of Sheffield’s fascinating travelling show history.

Items include an illustrated handbill for General Tom Thumb’s first UK appearance. Measuring just 25in tall and weighing only 15lb, coachloads of the nobility flocked to see the miniature human who was invited to meet the Queen.

Another fascinating memento is a handbill advertising the world-famous Charing Cross Whale, a 480,000 lb, 95f long and 18 ft- wide skeleton, which was found floating in the North Sea.

Exhibited in 1831 on the site of the King’s Mews, ticket holders were invited to dine inside while listening to a 24-piece orchestra.

The archive, based at the Western Bank Library, started life when a PhD student studying travelling show people received a donation of one box of paraphernalia by the fairground family, the Shufflebottoms.

Two decades later, the archive sprawls over three floors and employs five full-time members of staff.

It holds 150,000 images, 4,000 books and journals and 20,000 items of ephemera including rare posters, tickets and handbills.

Professor Vanessa Toulmin, archive director, said: “The archive is a very special resource and it is completely unique in that it is living – we will never stop collecting or acquiring as it is important to constantly look into the future, preserving even today’s artefacts with a view to tomorrow’s generation,”