The John Turner Collection
09 December 2008
Many of us knew of our former Vice-Chairman’s, strong interest in circus history and indeed enjoyed his fascinating talk on that subject but few were aware of the vast amount or research he had carried out mainly between 1990-2007 following his retirement from academic life in the Biochemistry Department, Liverpool University. (1963 – 1990). Now thanks to his wife, Janette, his research records and publications have been donated to the National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield Library as the ‘John Turner Collection’
John Turner was best known as the author of the Dictionaries of British Circus Biographies – an invaluable source for researchers of Victorian and twentieth century circus performers but he also created a database which enables quick searches of performers and provides citations of primary sources.
His aim was to produce a definitive series of source-books on the history of British circus which could be used by others to discover more about this popular form of entertainment. He continued this research right up until his sudden and totally unexpected death last year. For many years, John Turner was the librarian for the Circus Fairground Association, and helped to get the library into the National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield.
His interest stemmed from his discovery that Hengler’s Grand Cirque had once flourished in Hull, Liverpool and other provincial towns as well as in the Metropolis. Initially he collected information on the many performers and showmen of the Victorian period later continuing his research to include performers in the twentieth century. His aim was to produce a definitive series of source-books on the history of British circus which could be used by others to discover more about this popular form of entertainment. He continued his research right up until his sudden death . It is good that his research and database has now gone to the NFA enabling others to continue to be able to access the information that he painstakingly worked to gather.
John’s circus publications included:-
- Historical Hengler’s circus. Pt. 1-5, 1780 to 1856 /
- History of Ginnett’s circus
- James Newsome : genius of the ring
- Twentieth century circus people : a dictionary of British circus biography /. Vol.1-4, 1901-1950
- Wombwell’s travelling menagerie
- Black Victorians / Black Victoriana / edited by Gretchen Holbrook Gerzina
- National Fairground Archive, University of Sheffield Library
Professor Vanessa Toulmin, the Director of the National Fairground Archive at the University of Sheffield first met John when studying for her doctorate in 1993. John was her mentor and an original supporter of the National Fairground Archive when it was founded in 1994. He would have been very proud to have attended her inaugural professorial speech in December this year and to know that his books and data are being used by all aspects of University research both nationally and internationally and by family historians.