Philip Bradley Fairground Collection

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

Ref. 6790/4/8; F2982)
Philip Bradley seated in an Orton & Spooner ‘Whale Car’ at Butlins Ltd, Florence Park, Oxford, 28 Aug 1943

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.

Wag Beach's Chairs at Mortlake Fair, Watney Sports Ground, 23 Jul 1949 (Philip Bradley collection, SHC ref 6790/4/10; F5252)

Wag Beach’s Chairs at Mortlake Fair, Watney Sports Ground, 23 Jul 1949 (Philip Bradley collection, SHC ref 6790/4/10; F5252)

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.

(Ref.6790/4/6; F2883) Billy Smarts Ben Hur, Ealing Common, 18 June 1943

(Ref.6790/4/6; F2883)
Billy Smart’s ‘Ben Hur’, Ealing Common, 18 June 1943

More information


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.

  • K Scrivens & S Smith, Philip Bradley Fairground Photographs & Notes, Jan 1932-Dec 1938 (1999)

    K Scrivens and S Smith, Philip Bradley Fairground Photographs and Notes,
    Jan 1932-Dec 1938 (1999)

    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.

6 thoughts on “Philip Bradley Fairground Collection”



  2. Simon says:

    Hello my granddad is William cooper and my dad was born in the back of his fairground van
    He did do the fairs on Hampstead Heath in the war
    I was wondering if you have any photos or info on him
    Thank you

  3. Steve says:

    Hi Simon

    Might your grandad have been related to John and Minnie Cooper who lived in Staveley Road, Middlesex? I’m afraid I have no info on William, but could he have been their son or nephew?
    My great grandmother Alice Lee’s maiden name was Cooper. I have pictures of her and her daughters. She and her husband Emanuel ‘Earlie’ Lee lived on the same patch as John and Minnie (the 1911 census describes them as “fair keepers”).
    Alice’s son – my great uncle Wally – was married to Lily Beach of Beach’s Fair. They ran the swing boats in Hampton Court gardens and lived in caravans on a plot called ‘Cornerways’ on Littleton Road.

    Best Wishes

  4. Getsi Green says:

    Hello i see just see you mention my fairground name well my great great nan she was a beach Aney Beach and my great uncles Eddie and malcom. Do you have any pictures of these Beachs rides ive saved Wag beachs if you had anymore thatd be amazing.

  5. Shirley Ryan Loveridge. says:

    I have just seen on here, a picture of J Brennans Chairoplanes at Mitcham June fair 1946. He was my Mams older Bro and had other Ma chines. and not too long after this photo sold up and went to America with Dolly his American wife?. But came back alone only a few months later and died soon after. I would love to read any news about him. AND if possible buy copies of any photos of him or his machines etc.He had a stepdaughter known as Bubbles who married one of the Parkins. TIA for any information. on Ryans. Brennans.

  6. David WAKEFIELD says:

    Is there a listing of what fairs attended Basingstoke Carnival and Henley Regatta in the 1960s and 1970s.
    I know some attended both and other family fairs made up the whole fairground.
    Thank you,
    David Wakefield

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