Visit to Sheffield University’s Special Collection and National Fairground Archive

'Coronation Street'

‘Coronation Street’

The 5th December proved to be a bad weather day in much of the UK, with extreme winds causing many trains to be cancelled or delayed. This resulted in a number of attendees not making the visit. One hardy person did try and travel up from Surrey but had to admit defeat at Birmingham! Nevertheless, a small group of cataloguers had a very interesting visit to Sheffield University’s Special Collections, including the National Fairground Archive.

During the first part of the visit, we met Jacky Hodgson who is head of Special Collections. Jacky described the staffing and their current cataloguing work.  She gave us some background concerning the breadth of the collection, how the reading room is used and by whom. Interestingly, it is well-used by undergraduate students. The collection is very broad, and ranges from medieval manuscripts and incunabula to the archives of modern British playwrights such as Jack Rosenthal and Barry Hines. On display for our visit was a Jack Rosenthal early Coronation Street script and the manuscript of Richard Hoggart’s The Uses of Literacy. The collection also contains the British Fascism Archive.

National Fairground Archive

National Fairground Archive

National Fairground Archive

Ian Trowell, manager of the National Fairground Archive, hosted our visit  The Archive is directed by Professor Vanessa Toulmin, and was developed out of background material from her PhD research into the social history of travelling showpeople  It celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2014.  Being based in Sheffield meant I was aware of the National Fairground archive due to its public engagement events. However, it was really interesting to get the background to how the collection is managed and what it contains.

This is a really rich and diverse resource. As well as the expected books and journals, there are photographs and images, posters, handbills, maps, plans, letters, diaries, tickets from shows and memorabilia.  It is partly self-financing. The NFA charges for research carried out at the request of members of the public or companies such as the BBC, although they will do

Uses of Literacy

Uses of Literacy

approximately the first half hour without charge. The archive has made several successful bids for Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council funds for specific projects, such as The Hull Fair Project. This was a lottery funded project to provide documentation of Hull Fair – including audio visual material, digitised images, aural history and transcripts. The project worked with all communities benefitted by Hull Fair, including the local population and the show land community.

We were given an overview of NFA digital, which contains approximately 50,000 images. They use the OCLC software CONTENTdm. This material is catalogued using Dublin Core and an important aspect of the metadata is Geographic location of specific photographs of fairground locations. They use both a hierarchical vocabulary derived from Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Name and a precise geocode tag code to give precise information.

We all enjoyed the visit and appreciated the time that Jacky and Ian gave up to talk to us.  The NFA20 events should also be worth looking out for.

University of Sheffield Special Collections

National Fairground Archive




by Pamela Johnson and Helen Garner (Sheffield Hallam University)


Comments welcome!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s