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Title: Leisure, war and marginal communities : travelling showpeople and outdoor pleasure-seeking in Britain, 1889-1945
Author: Bell, Elijah
ISNI:       0000 0004 9349 5507
Awarding Body: University Of Essex
Current Institution: University of Essex
Date of Award: 2020
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This thesis investigates the community of nomadic showpeople who provided entertainments and amusements as part of travelling fairs. The primary focus of the thesis is the development of the relationship between this marginal community and local and national authorities between 1889 and 1945. As part of this investigation the relationship between showpeople and settled British society is also examined. Exploring the physical space of the fairground is vital as this forms the encounter between showpeople and the public. The fair as a form of public leisure informs outside perceptions and understandings of the community behind it. The thesis provides an overview of travelling fairs and associated issues up to the 1880s, before analysing the impact of attempts at temporary dwelling legislation. These attempts proved a formative experience; causing a disparate showland community to amalgamate in the politically active union of The Showmen’s Guild. The thesis explores how this organisation was able to meet the legislative and practical challenges of the First World War. Through negotiation with authorities the Guild secured the viability of the showland business. In addition, they emphasised although separated by their commercial nomadism, travelling showpeople firmly considered themselves part of a British national identity. This concept is revisited in the final chapter which explores the experience of travelling showpeople during the Second World War. In addition to assessing how showmen were able to adapt to noise and lighting restrictions, the chapter also assesses the contributions of showland to the collective war effort, and to what extent the community was recognised as part of the collective narrative of ‘The People’s War’. The third and fourth chapters of the thesis explore the travelling fair in the interwar period which saw local authorities attempting to exercise increasing control over fairgrounds through rent and relocation, but also saw the significance of the fair as a public leisure pursuit confirmed. The fair was presented and perceived as a uniquely British form of leisure, with close links to rural and urban working class traditions. Overall the thesis concludes this unique group were transformed in the period assessed. The creation of the Showman’s Guild in 1889 was a crucial step towards this group developing from a fragmented and misunderstood community, into a recognised body of commercial professionals. Alongside an improving business relationship with local and national authority, the thesis demonstrates the fairground remained a relevant and popular public recreation throughout the first half of the twentieth century.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: D History (General) ; D204 Modern History ; D501 World War I ; D731 World War II ; DA Great Britain