Holland Family

The Holland family were perhaps one of the most famous of the fairground bioscope proprietors with both Annie Holland, nee Payne, and her brother George Payne, travelling two of the largest and most lavish shows on the fairground. Annie Holland was the daughter of Mrs Payne, and her family's entry into the fairground business arose out of necessity. Her mother had been left a widow when her father died at the age of forty. Mrs Payne's solution to the problem of no income was to exhibit one of her children, who according to family tradition weighed in excess of forty stone, to the public. Arthur Holland, her great grandson recalls how the family first made its start on the British fairground:

She had two sons this Mrs Payne and one daughter, my grandmother, Annie Holland and she got this forty stone son and one of these here chorus girls said, you ought to take him around the shows, show him. That was the only think she could do because her husband died ... What she did, she used to hire a town hall out for half a crown and she used to take him round all the town halls, where ever she could, you understand and show him. This went on until I think she eventually decided to have a little booth of her own ... and then she used to go around the fairs, with this fat boy, her other son he had been introduced into the fairground business through the fat boy, through him you know being forty stone, and he started up then and in the olden days he was called Captain Payne.

The Holland cinematograph show could reputedly hold up to a thousand people with both exterior and interior elaborately decorated. Arthur Fay in his book Bioscope Shows and Their Engines provides us with a first-hand description:

In the Palace of Light there was seating accommodation for six hundred people with standing room in the gallery for another four hundred. The seating was upholstered in Italian green figured cloth with backs to match, while the side linings were of heavy blue figured plush trimmed and ornamented with gold tassels as also were the side door curtains.

After she became estranged from her husband, Annie Holland left London in 1901 and returned to the fairground. Her first show, the Palace of Light, began as a two-wagon fronted booth, built by the firm of Orton and Spooners, and included a gilded, carved proscenium which framed the screen comprising statues of angels, carved pillars and lavishly decorated masks. From 1904 onwards the show underwent dramatic renovations and after the tragedy in 1912 when the original booth was damaged in a fire on Anglesey, it became an amalgamation of other shows. Mrs Holland now bought Edwin Lawrence's show to replace it, however, it appears that only the two wagons at the front of the original exhibition that sustained the damage. An advertisement in the World's Fair from March 1912 appears to suggest that Annie Holland bought Lawrence's show purely for the showfront and organ:

For Sale:- Wanted known that Mrs Holland has purchased the whole of Lawrence's cinematograph show.
For sale:- Marionette stage, fit up with truck for sale, one set of seatings, standing gallery, cinebox, two Gaumont cameras and three trucks to go behind the traction engine. All lots to be sold cheap.

The Holland family presented both the Palace of Light and Wonderland, which was travelled by Annie's son Albert. Arthur Fay writing as Southdown in the World's Fair in the 1930s provides an interesting account of the type of performance the exhibitors presented. In April 1912 when the news of the sinking of the Titanic broke, a Gaumont Film Company newsreel was shown of the event. To accompany the film of the disaster, the Holland family arranged a musical sketch which incorporated tunes such as Afloat on the Ocean Blue, Ship's Bell Rings, The Sailor's Two Step, Crash, An Iceberg, Excitement on Board, Lowering the Boats, Women and Children First, and finished with Nearer my God to Thee and Chopin's Funeral March. The February issue of World's Fair in 1936 includes a description of a bill used by the Holland family and provides us with a guide to the admission charges which range from 3d up to 6d. Both shows continued to travel until the outbreak of the First World War, when the Palace of Light was settled permanently at Measham by James Holland where it continued to present moving pictures whilst the permanent cinema was constructed around it.