Circus and Fairground Communities
The information in this section is from information published by the then Department of Children, Schools and Families in January 2010.
The content is Crown Copyright and may only be reproduced for non-commercial research, education or training purposes. NATT+ members can download this document from the National Strategies Documents section of the members' area.
‘Show’ or ’fairground people’ have a distinctive culture and lifestyle, which stretches back many centuries. Fairs in Britain have a long history; it is recorded that the origins go back to pagan customs when seasonal gatherings were held for trade and festivity. During the Middle Ages almost 5,000 fairs were granted royal charters. These fairs not only attracted merchants but also itinerant entertainers, jugglers, musicians and tumblers, possibly the ancestors of today’s show and fairground people.
The Showmen’s Guild is the representative body for travelling showmen who gain their livelihood by attending funfairs. It protects the interest of their members in two ways: by its code of rules and advice and guidance on legal requirements for travelling fairs. Members of the Guild are called showmen and are normally the owners of fairground equipment. Families usually own the rights to hold fairs and let pitches to others. They may employ non-fairground labour, known as ‘gaff lads.’
The number of fairs fluctuates annually. They are not as economically viable as they used to be, possibly due to competition from theme parks. Families tend to be highly organised and have specific travel patterns. This usually involves residence at a winter base during the closed season, between November and February. Children therefore normally return to a winter-base school during this period.