Circus! Show of shows

By Phillip Miles, Exhibitions Officer

2018 was the 250th anniversary of the creation of ‘Circus’ in the UK. With Norfolk jointly holding one of the 6 ‘cities of circus’ in the form of Norwich and Great Yarmouth we were lucky enough to be able to partner up with three other cultural institutions and many private circus ephemera collectors, to jointly deliver a Heritage Lottery Grant funded exhibition celebrating this grand anniversary. This was a great reason to look through our own circus archives and try to uncover the hidden stories of circus in Norfolk.

Jordan's Circus images 12.10.18 (69) - smaller

Our main partners were Museums Sheffield, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums and the National Fairground and Circus Archive at the University of Sheffield (known as the NFCA). Although all of the museum partners, ourselves included, had extensive circus material to draw upon, the chance to borrow from the collections held at a national circus archive was very exciting.

The NFCA holds almost 200,000 unique items, many of which have been digitised and can be found on their online database. Amazingly hundreds of these items relate to circus in Norfolk.

As is often the way with temporary exhibitions, the limited wall space in the galleries and the competition between hundreds of high quality artefacts from external sources meant that some objects shortlisted for display from our own collections unfortunately had to remain in storage, mostly circus programmes from the 1950’s – 1970’s. Like those in the NFCA archive, these items still serve an important purpose when in store and are available for use by researchers. Our volunteers have embarked on a digitisation process of each page of these programmes so that we can use them digitally.

GRYEH 2001.26.8 centre pages

GRYEH : 2001.26.8 – Circus programme 

The originals continue to be cared for in store at Time and Tide Museum so that when the next big Circus anniversary comes around they are still available to contribute to the story of a very important local, national and international tradition.


Circus! Show of Shows is on until Sunday 3rd March at Time and Tide Museum

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