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The Philip Bradley fairground collection

Billy Smart's 'Ben Hur', Ealing Common, 18 June 1943 (Ref 6790/4/6 F2883)Philip Bradley (1920-1999) of Ewell was a passionate fairground enthusiast. At the age of 16 he decided he would systematically keep a written and photographic record of every fair in Britain he visited and the fairground rides and vehicles he saw. From 1936 until his death in 1999 he methodically compiled notebooks in which he wrote about these fairs and accumulated newscuttings. Formed over 65 years Philip Bradley's collection was bequeathed to Surrey History Centre and is of national importance, providing an invaluable history of twentieth century fairgrounds. Hugely respected within the Fairground fraternity, his obituary comprised the entire edition of The Fairground Mercury, Dec 1999.

Philip Bradley seated in an Orton & Spooner 'Whale Car' at Butlins Ltd, Florence Park, Oxford, 28 Aug 1943 (Ref 6790/4/8 F2982)Most of the fairgrounds Bradley visited were in the Greater London area such as those at Hampstead Heath, Clapham Common and Ealing Common but he was a regular visitor to Surrey fairs at Mitcham, Milford, Epsom, Tattenham Corner, Leatherhead, Walton on Thames, Reigate, Tolworth, Guildford, and many others; during summer holidays he also visited fairs in Wales, Somerset, Yorkshire and the Isle of Man. His 44 fair notebooks are full of fascinating technical and social detail particularly during wartime: in 1941, Bradley comments that many showmen's engines were carrying out demolition work in blitzed cities such as London and Manchester, and in 1942 he records that the idea of a 'blackout fair' had not caught on. Wartime proved especially difficult for fairground organisers: limited supplies of food, fuel and 'swag' caused frustrations; coconut shies became rare as coconuts took up valuable shipping space and rifle ranges were deprived of ammunition. Music was also muted in case it drowned out the air raid sirens.

C W Lambert's yard, Horsmonden, Kent, with a range of traction engines, 1949 (Ref 6790/4/11 F5362) Bradley took photographs of the fairs he visited and developed all his own photographic prints. Concentrating on fairground machinery, equipment, and transport, his collection of 30,000 photographs was carefully arranged by type of machine or ride, subject or vehicle. All manner of shows and stalls, rides and machines, engines and steam wagons, showmen's living wagons, fairground vehicles, packing trucks and fair convoys are captured in his photographs, along with some of the most famous British fairground shows such as Billy Smart, Bensons, Chipperfields, Bertram Mills and Pat Collins. Each photograph is meticulously numbered, cross-referenced and dated in the notebooks and Bradley even recorded what cameras he was using over the decades. The photographic collection also includes prints taken by friends and fellow fairground enthusiasts and reflects Bradley's other interests such as all forms of transport, cranes, tramways, railways and bridges.

Bradley, who worked as an engineer for the London Electricity Board, was one of the first fairground enthusiasts to sketch and make detailed notes on the specifications of fairground machines, engines and vehicles. His data books record the development and changes in many fairground machines between 1943 and 1998 and he wrote many articles on the subject, including a series of articles entitled "Some notes on the development of fairground machinery" published in The Engineer in 1954 (see 6790/2/1-4). Passionate about model railways and Meccano he further wrote about making models of fairground and railway prototypes.

Records

The collection (ref 6790/-) comprises:

44 volumes of 'Fair notes' dating from 1932 to 1999; the 'data books',1943 to 1998; 30,000 photographs including the 'Showland Snapshots' series, 1936-1999; published material including Bradley's own articles for London Electricity, The Fairground Mercury (quarterly journal of the Fairground Association), 1942-1999; patent specifications for fairground rides and equipment, 1876-1965; fairground model designs, 1975-1989.

(Please note that 24 hours notice is required if you wish to see colour photographic materials in -/5/2/1-2160, -/5/6/1-1180, -5/7/501-1103, -/5/8/1-617, -/5/10/1-718, -/5/11/BOX 7 and -/5/12/1-13.)

Bibliography

  • Bradley, PW. Some notes on the development of fairground machinery. Doug Roseaman Engineering, 1997.
  • Scrivens, Kevin and Smith, Stephen. Philip Bradley, Fairground photographs and notes Jan 1932-Dec 1938. New Era, 1999.
  • The Fairground Mercury, Vol 22 No 3, Dec 1999. The entire issue is dedicated to Philip Bradley.

Images:

Billy Smart's 'Ben Hur', Ealing Common, 18 June 1943 (SHC ref 6790/4/6 F2883)

Philip Bradley seated in an Orton & Spooner 'Whale Car' at Butlins Ltd, Florence Park, Oxford, 28 Aug 1943 (SHC ref 6790/4/8 F2982)

C W Lambert's yard, Horsmonden, Kent, with a range of traction engines, 1949 (SHC ref 6790/4/11 F5362)

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