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England Art and Amusement Occupations (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Art and Amusement[edit | edit source]

Entertainment[edit | edit source]

As comprehensive background sources for early recreation and entertainment the works of Strutt (The Sports and Pastimes of the People of England. New edition by Charles COX 1903 (Methuen), reprint 1968 (Singing Tree Press). FHL film 0993775 item 3) and the Quennells (A History of Everyday Things in England 1066-1799. Batsford, London [Also published in 2 parts 1066-1499 and 1500-1799. Contains good selection of line drawings.] FHL books 942 H6h., 1918 are exemplary. Floate (My Ancestors Were Gypsies. Society of Genealogists, 1999 and No Fixed Abode: Sources for Ancestors Who Worked and Lived on the Move in The Family and Local History Handbook. 6th edition, page 82-85. Genealogical Services Directory, 2002) writes on peripatetic ancestors, this group including many types of entertainers. Street performers are well covered by Mayhew (Mayhew’s London, [a condensation of volumes I-III of London Labour and the London Poor]. Bracken Books, London. FHL book 942.1/L1 E6m) who described everything from jugglers to German street bands, and dancing dogs to pavement artists. An Entertainers’ Index exists. One thing to bear in mind with entertainers is that they often change their name, they don’t necessarily work in this field full-time or for a lifetime, and they can disappear on tour abroad for periods of time (Brazier)

Circus[edit | edit source]

If one of your ancestors wanted to escape from the responsibilities or injustices of his present existence one of the traditional methods was to run away and join the circus. He didn’t have to be a talented entertainer, as they employed dozens of grooms, baggage masters and labourers (Turner 1988). Some excellent articles covering the life of circus people and sources available for researching them are by Goddard (George Sanger Showman. Family Tree Magazine Vol 5 #7, page 4-5, 1989 and “Lord” George Sanger and Other Circus Families. Family Tree Magazine. Vol 10 #10, page 11, 1994), Newman (Great-grandfather Was a Clown. Family Tree Magazine Vol 11 #3, page 23), Pople (Sanger’s Circus: 1881 Census. Family Tree Magazine Vol 10 #12, page 5) and John Turner (Circus Family Histories. Family Tree Magazine Vol 4 #7, 1988; Circus Roots. Family Tree Magazine Vol 6 #12, page 19, 1990; and Circus and Fairground Ancestry. Family Tree Magazine Vol 13 #8, page 10, 1997). There is a Circus Historical Society, and Turner runs the Circus Friends Association and has published a directory of 19th century circus performers called The Victorian Arena. The Era magazine included circus people .

Fairgrounds[edit | edit source]

The National Fairground Archive, the Showmen’s Guild and the Fairground Society and Frances Brown’s book (Fairfield Folk: A History of the British Fairground and its People. Malvern Publishing Company) can provide information about fairground people.

Theatre[edit | edit source]

One thing likely to cause confusion in this profession is that a comedian was the old name for an actor who played in comedies, as opposed to tragedians who specialized in tragedies. Another is that during the 19th century actors typically moved to their next performance location on a Sunday, and as censuses were taken that night, they were often missed.

The British Theatre Association, the Theatre Museum and the Mander and Micheson Theatre Collection are good sources. The Guildhall Library in London maintains a collection of playbills, and there is a special collection of theatrical books and newspapers at Westminster Reference Library in London. An excellent article giving the history of the profession and many further references is that by Fearn (Was Your Ancestor in the Theatre? Family Tree Magazine Vol 15 #12, page 60-62, 1999). Douch (A Company of Comedians. Family Tree Magazine Vol 14 #8, page 3-4) describes the life of a Georgian theatrical couple. The weekly magazine for the theatrical profession 1838-1939, The Era, is now on CD (review by Cavell, The Era on CD-ROM. Family Tree Magazine Vol 18 #8, page 50.). There is also an annual digest 1868-1919 called The Era Almanac which forms a useful index. The Biographical Dictionary by Highfill et al. (A Biographical Dictionary of Actors, Actresses, Musicians, Dancers, Managers and Other Stage Personnel in London 1660-1800. Southern Illinois University Press. FHL book 942.1/L1 D3h) is most useful for careers in the period 1660-1800, and includes the support staff as illustrated in the chart below.

CHART: Listing in Biographical Dictionary of Actors. Actresses, musicians, Dancers, Managers and other Stage Personnel in London, 1660-1800.

DASHWOOD, [John?] [fl. 1799-1813] doorkeeper
Mr. Dashwood was a doorkeeper at Drury Lane from at least as early as the 1799-1800 season. His name appears in the account books through 1803-4 at a salary of 9s daily. He was at the Lyceum Theatre in 1811-12 and 1812-13, again, as a house servant, though his precise function there is not known. Perhaps the following entry in the St. Paul, Covent Garden, parish registers concerned him: John and Sarah Dashwood baptized their daughter Pamelia on 31 October 1803.

Music[edit | edit source]

A wide variety of materials exists on music and musicians, and most are easily found in libraries. A few of the less well-known are offered here:

  • Weir (Village and Town Bands. Shire Publications, 1981) has covered the early history of country, church and town bands, including the instruments, contests, and the 19th century development of brass bands and bandstands.
  • Bellringing is featured by John Camp (Discovering Bells and Bellringing. Shire Publications.), and Ketteringham.
  • The Biographical Dictionary by Highfill et al. is most useful for careers in the period 1660-1800.
  • Collections of ephemera, loose handwritten or printed sheets such as concert programmes, not intended for posterity, can be found at many archives and local history libraries.
  • The Music Hall is a popular subject of nostalgia, for example in Gandy’s 1999 article. One of several good books is that by Busby, and a British Music Hall Society exists.
  • Performers are well documented in the usual library sources. Some 18th century ones can be found in the 1765-1800 apprenticeships of the Musicians Company indexed by Webb (London Apprentices Volume 12. Makers of Playing Cards Company 1675-1760; Musicians Company 1765-1800; Saddlers Company 1657-66, 1800; Tobaccopipemakers Company 1800. Society of Genealogists, 1998).
  • Teachers usually termed themselves Professors of Music, and very few of these were university faculty members. Those who were can be tracked down through the appropriate university archives or the Royal Academy of Music Library (Manton). For those in one of the Services try the Royal Military School of Music.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

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