I was disappointed with what I discovered when I began researching the Showman’s Guild. I very quickly found an organization with that exact name. It was all so easy, too easy... so mundane and plain. No secret symbols, no secret knowledge just a regular trade organization.
In the National Fairground archives I got a good insight into the nature of the Showman’s Guild’s and it’s history.
The formation of ‘the United Kingdom showman and Van Dwellers' Protection Association’ in 1889 was and still is the decisive and important event in the history of travelling showpeople as a community.
In 1917 the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain, as it became known, was recognised as the trade association of the travelling funfair business and acquired the right to stand as representatives for the business at both local and national levels; a position it still occupies to this day.
Although claims for earlier organisations can be found in the pages of the World's Fair and other publications, these were usually temperance or charitable foundations more concerned with the moral and spiritual salvation of the showpeople than their everyday business and way of life! The incentive for the start of the van dwellers association was the proposed legislation by George Smith, a self styled expert and evangelist from Coalsville. He believed that his mission was to reform and educate all members of the itinerant community in the United Kingdom, whom he referred to as:
“Dregs of society, that will one day put a stop to the work of civilisation, and bring to an end the advance in arts, science, law and commerce that have been making such rapid strides in the country.”
This no doubt had been an important organization, but it was far from what I had hoped to find. As I perused the available information I didn't want it to be true. I was after was a secret brotherhood of showmen which sat on powerful knowledge about the showman’s craft. Not an organization which lobbies politicians, and contests and gets showmen exempt from regulations. I had hoped to find a secret society that would have the key to make my performance as meaningful as I had found uncle Certini’s shows. This was when I was about 17 or 18, still in school and at that point I felt silly for having believed the ramblings of a mad old magician. I was disappointed and through that I realize how much I wished for it to be true. It turned out I had found a trade organization when I wanted a secret society. At that point I thought I gave up. But little did I know, it would all come back to haunt me when I least expected it.