Fairground fun brought into the 21st Century

A generous legacy gift ensured fairground enthusiast Vic King could preserve his vast collection of films with the National Fairground and Circus Archive for generations to come.

Vic King stood at his drawing board. Photo by Neil Watson

Vic was a long-term supporter of the National Fairground and Circus Archive (NFCA) during his lifetime. Over the years, he had donated various parts of his archive to the collection housed at the University of Sheffield’s Western Bank Library. However, the donation of his films in 2016, which was unfortunately accelerated by his deteriorating health, was his most historically significant contribution yet. This donation was later named the Vic King Collection and consists of 26 [8mm] amateur British fairground films. The Vic King Collection also contains footage of entertainment practices that have long since disappeared and are indicative of social changes and cultural evolution in Britain. This collection is a record of a unique part of human history and community life, seen through the eyes of the entertainment sector.

Sadly, Vic passed away shortly after his significant donation, but not before he made sure that his legacy would continue by making provision for the establishment of a fund for the NFCA in his Will. That fund would turn out to be £10,000. His kind gesture was humbling to the NFCA staff and supporters, and further highlighted Vic’s commitment to the preservation of fairground history. To honour his memory they are putting Vic’s fund to best use by investing it into projects that maximise its impact on the preservation of their collections and in meeting their users’ needs. Although Vic did not impose any caveats on his funds, to celebrate his lifetime commitment and passion for British fairgrounds, they are prioritising projects akin to his interests. 

Items from the Archive's collection being restored
Items from the Archive's collection being restored

The first obvious project to undertake was the digitisation of Vic’s film collection. The decision was not made based on ownership only - Vic’s collection is a rare historic record with great potential for academic and community engagement, which due to its original format was inaccessible and at risk of being lost forever. Thanks to Vic’s generosity and thoughtfulness, his collection has become a historic milestone for the archive, as it is the first to be comprehensively digitised to twenty first century preservation standards. Digital preservation has been in a constant state of flux as technologies have evolved at great pace in the last twenty years. The NFCA have used the best and most sustainable technologies available, in combination with robust stewardship practices at the forefront of the archive sector, to ensure the preservation and accessibility of Vic’s collection for generations to come. The digitisation of these films is helping us realise their significance and unlock their potential for research and community engagement. 

While still working on the digitisation of Vic’s film collection, the NFCA were awarded a conservation grant by the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust (NMCT) to treat the Orton and Spooner Collection. Orton and Spooner are one of the most important British fairground ride manufacturers of all time and this project covered the conservation of over a century of technical drawings, plans and artwork for rides manufactured for the British fairground. Presented with a unique opportunity to save the Orton and Spooner Collection, they were required to source the rest of the funds needed to complete the project. As a keen fairground enthusiast and engineer, this collection would have been of special interest to Vic, thus it was an ideal candidate to benefit from his legacy fund. After a brief consultation with the Fairground Association of Great Britain, of which Vic was a member, they decided to match fund this project with Vic’s legacy fund. 

The design for Corrigan's display frontage
One of the many items in the Orton and Spooner Collection

Vic’s compelling generosity has given the NCFA the opportunity to celebrate his work as an amateur historian and collector, as well as a lifelong fairground enthusiast and supporter of the NFCA. Vic would also be thrilled to see his films used as the basis for an upcoming MA History research placement looking into amateur historians, called 'The Bigger Picture: An Exploration of the Place of Amateur History in Academic History'.

In spite of recent lockdown restrictions, the NCFA have been able to celebrate Vic’s contribution to the archive and to the history of British fairgrounds by using his collection in a series of academic and community events. These included the Gypsy, Roma and Travellers History Month event hosted (online) by the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in July 2020, to celebrate the rich culture of travelling communities.

The films were also partly used in partnership with the artist, author and Faculty Associate for NHS Research & Development in the North West, Rob Young, who has been commissioned to develop an exhibition at the Clifton Park Museum in Rotherham.

The final contribution for his funds will be a Black History Month research project run by Professor Vanessa Toulmin, Director of City and Cultural Engagement and Chair in Early Film and Popular Entertainment here at the University of Sheffield. 

The NCFA will also be hosting a series of community events and several exhibitions once the conservation of the Orton and Spooner Collection is completed. Furthermore, they are currently in the process of digitising this collection and making it publicly available via their online platform.

For more information on the conservation of the Orton and Spooner Collection, please read the full story on the University Library’s blog.

If you would like further information about leaving a gift to the University in your Will, please contact the University’s Legacies Officer, David Meadows, by phone on 0114 222 1073 or by email at d.meadows@sheffield.ac.uk.