History behind Sidmouth’s travelling fair

Anderton & Rowland’s links with Sidmouth’s past

AS you enjoyed rides at this year’s Sidmouth Carnival Fair at The Ham last weekend, you might have wondered about the history of the Anderton & Rowland fairground, founded 156 years ago.

Kevin Scrivens and Stephen Smith’s book, Illusion & Reality, is an amazing history, illustrated with a profusion of delightful black and white photographs from those early beginnings, and including a colour picture of the firm’s pride and joy, a 98-key Marenghi organ, delivered to them in 1911.

Publishers, The Fairground Heritage Trust, have let Nostalgia use some of these images and facts from the book, published in 2008, available from the FHT, Milford, Lifton, PL16 OAT, priced �20.

A second book, The Anderton & Rowland Photo Album, is also �20.

In 2003 Simon DeVey asked Stephen for the history of Anderton & Rowland to be recorded and he and Kevin compiled a small booklet for their 150th anniversary in 2004.

With so much history to unfold, they then produced their meatier hardback version.

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In the latter half of the 19th century, John Haslam worked as a hairdresser in Sheffield, while in Middlesbrough, Julius Devey was employed as a platelayer by the North Eastern Railway company.

Neither would ever meet each other, but their families were destined to join to form Anderton & Rowland in 1854.

Neither family had these surnames, they were stage names of an illusionist and lion tamer.

It appears Albert Haslam became a conjuror when he was out of work in 1871. His daughter Martha, who married George Devey, told a Cecil Quick about Albert and he wrote: “…in the latter half of the 19th century a young lad named Albert decided to enter the profession of mystic art, so he joined Professor Anderson, the ‘Great Wizard of the North’ as an assistant.

“The early days were far from easy for young Albert, but with the enthusiasm and determination of a born entertainer, he was able to forsake the environment of casual and often spontaneous entertaining and acquire a modest travelling booth, which was set up at the fairs, having as an assistant his wife.”

Albert obviously held Anderson in high regard and may well have learned his trade as an accomplished magician from him.

When John Anderson’s original apparatus was sold in 1872, it is likely Albert acquired some or all of his props. He carried on Anderson’s act after his death, travelling around the fairs as Anderton’s Wonders.

Kevin and Simon write: “With his wife and a family of four boys and four girls, Albert Haslam, under the stage name Professor Anderton, took to the road in a travelling van and appeared at fairs the length and breadth of the country with a magic show.

“Dressed in frock coat, top hat and gloves, Professor Anderton looked every part the Victorian conjuror. …his show appeared all over England and Scotland in the 1870s…and was a great success wherever it opened.”

His sons assisted him and daughter Martha, who gave her occupation in 1891 as mesmeric subject was the most popular feature outside the show, being suspended in mid-air without any visible means of support.

The first full tour of the West Country was most likely in 1890, and ‘Anderton’s Home of Mysteries’ was “nothing less than a complete travelling theatre of varieties in which conjuring tricks and hypnotic performances largely predominated.”

One claim to fame a few years later, was that Professor Anderton brought the first motor car to the West.

“In 1896 he invested in a ‘horseless carriage’, a Benz Victoria supplied by Rogers of Paris…It was the first four-wheeled car with axle pivot steering.”

By 1908 Anderton & Rowland were working in partnership with Hill Brothers to try to secure the profitable regatta fairs – long the monopoly of W C & S Hancock.

“Ground to let at Teignmouth and Dartmouth regattas, for all kinds of amusements,” read the ad. “Apply Messrs Anderton, Fun carnival, Sidmouth or Marshal Hill, en route. Note: - no ground reserved for anyone unless deposit paid.”

In Totnes, on August 19, Marshall Hill’s Fun City took on Anderton & Rowland’s Mammoth Fun Carnival in an “exciting football match”. The Andertons won 6-3.

During the early part of 1909’s season, Anderton & Rowland’s Show travelled into South Wales on private business.

“From here they moved back to the West Country, little expecting the tragedy that lie (sic) before them.”

*See what that tragedy was next week.