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. 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.
Bradley was a regular visitor to Surrey fairs at Mitcham, Milford, Epsom, Tattenham Corner, Leatherhead, Walton on Thames, Reigate, Tolworth, Guildford, and many others. 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.
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.
Bradley’s 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 Surrey History Centre Ref 6790/2/1-4). Passionate about model railways and Meccano he further wrote about making models of fairground and railway prototypes.
The collection comprises:
- 44 volumes of ‘Fair notes’ dating from 1932 to 1999; the ‘data books’,1943 and 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 hour’s notice is required if you wish to see colour photographic materials in the 6790 series: specifically -/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.
The following books are available for study at Surrey History Centre. Click here for further sources for fairground history.
PW Bradley, Some Notes on the Development of Fairground Machinery (1997, Chippenham).
- Kevin Scrivens & Stephen Smith, Philip Bradley Fairground Photographs & Notes, Jan 1932-Dec 1938 (1999, Telford).
- The Fairground Mercury, vol 22 no 3, Dec 1999. The entire issue is dedicated to Philip Bradley.