Randall Williams


Showman,  Optical Illusionist,  Ghost Illusion  and  Cinematograph Exhibitor

Randall Kay Williams (July 17, 1846 - November 11, 1898) was a British showman best known for his ghost illusion show and early cinematograph exhibition. He was also an outspoken advocate for the travelling show community and a founding member of the Van Dwellers Protection Association, the same organization known today as The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain.

Randall was well-known throughout Britain, first for his Great Ghost Show, and then for his Cinematograph and Animated Pictures exhibition. He reached the height of his career in 1897 when he was invited by the famous showman-entrepreneur, Imre Kiralfy, to exhibit his show in London at the Victorian Era Exhibition as part of the celebration of Queen Victoria's sixty-year reign. Randall's show was specifically designed that year to pay homage to the Queen and his program included an "original Pepper's Ghost" performance, a tableaux vivante presentation, and a series of films taken on the 22nd of June of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Procession. Randall's Victorian Era show was patronized by members of the royal family and was such a huge success that by the end of the summer, he had become known as 'The King of Showmen.'

During his career, Randall travelled extensively throughout England, Scotland and Wales and exhibited at all the major fairs, including Hull Fair, Nottingham Goose Fair, Birmingham Onion Fair, and the World's Fair in London.


Family and Early Life

Randall was born in Liverpool in 1846 and came from an extended family of Victorian-era showmen with roots in Warrington. The first generation  of Williams travellers were the sons and daughter of Nancy and Robert Williams and included Robert, John, Thomas (Randall’s father), Moses, Henry and Martha. The family began travelling in the mid 1840s and their various amusements included mechanical exhibitions, photography booths, fine art exhibitions, ghost illusion shows, waxwork exhibits, and cinematograph exhibitions. (See The Williams Family Showmen)

Randall's childhood was spent travelling with his family around the various fairs, feasts and wakes in Lancashire, Cheshire and North Wales. His career as a showmen began with a small stage show when he was in his early twenties. He had a particular interest in optical illusions and one of his earliest shows featured a "living head" based on Stodare's Sphinx,  an illusionary trick first performed at the Egyptian Hall in London in the 1860s. Randall's interest in illusions led him to start his own "Ghost Show" in 1872, a move that set him on course to becoming one of Victorian Britain's most popular showmen.

Ghost Illusion Show

The type of show that Randall is most commonly associated with is a ghost illusion show, a type of stage show that combined theatrical representations with the optical effect known as Pepper's ghost. His show was part ghost illusion theatre, part variety show, and what made it so popular with the public, was its witty, lighthearted, and socially-current content. Much of Randall's success came from keeping his show fresh and on trend. The artists he employed included actors, song and dance teams, magicians, ballet dancers, and comedians like the Great Little Titch. He also hired international acts such as The Brothers LaFayette (American tight rope walkers) and Professor Howard (an American illusionist). (See Exhibits) Another key attraction was Randall himself. It was said that his public appeal was so great, that when he stood at the front of his show prior to opening, he was like a giant magnet; and that by simply adjusting the tone of his voice, he could attract huge crowds of people and move them en masse towards the pay-box.

Ghost illusions were the mainstay of Randall's show for a quarter of a century. His 'ghost' made its last appearance at Nottingham Goose Fair the first week of October in 1897. One week later at Hull Fair, his show had been turned over entirely to films.

Ghost Show Names

The Great Hobgoblinscope (1872 - 1885): first noted at Barnsley Market Place, Yorkshire in December 1872. The 'Hobgoblinscope' was the opening act at the newly-built Pembroke Hall in Liverpool in December 1874.
The Great Ghost Show (1881 - 1895): first noted at Peterhead, Scotland in late September 1881
Randall Williams Grand Palace of Entertainment (1878): noted at Birmingham Onion Fair in September 1878
The Electroscope (May 1895 - May 1897): first noted at Boston May Fair in May 1895; at Hull Fair in October 1895
Randall Williams's Great Phantoscopical Exhibition of Living Pictures: noted at World's Fair, London in December 1894
Randall Williams' Original Pepper's Ghost (May 1897 - October 1897): the name of the show at the Victorian Era Exhibition in the summer of 1897
Randall Williams No. 2 Show: first noted in 1890. Its main attraction in 1895 was the American illusionist, Professor Howard. The show was converted to film exhibition in 1897 and toured under the name Randall Williams Living Pictures. The show was managed by Randall's nephew, Reuben Williams, and travelled mainly the Lancashire and Yorkshire circuit.

Note: One tribute to Randall's popularity and oratory skills was that he was unanimously elected as chairman and master of ceremony for the Showmen's Annual Supper and Ball, held each year at the end of the World's Fair, every year from 1895 until his death.

Early Film Exhibition

The cinema began in Britain on February 20, 1896, the day that Felicien Trewey presented the Cinematographe Lumiere at the London Royal Polytechnic. The Polytechnic had a long history of introducing the latest optical novelties to the public (magic lantern shows, Pepper’s Ghost, etc.) and Trewey's film exhibition in February 1896 was the first time that 'living pictures' were shown in Britain solely for the purpose of entertaining an audience. Just two weeks later, moving pictures made their debut on the London theatrical scene when the Cinematographe Lumiere was featured as part of the program at the Empire Theatre of Varieties in Leicester Square.

In the months following the Polytechnic, a few enterprising theatre and music hall proprietors promoted the cinematograph as a new form of entertainment, but for the most part it remained the domain of that class of exhibitor who demonstrated at science and trade fairs. It was not until travelling show proprietors saw the potential in adding films to their own shows that the cinema in Britain really began to take off. It was the showmen who introduced the new medium to the wider general public in their fairground shows and their early involvement in film exhibition was a leading factor in the rapid growth of the cinema in Britain at the end of the 19th Century.

Randall Williams is often credited as being the first showman to exhibit films on the fairgrounds, but that distinction probably belongs to rival showman, Tom Norman, who opened with a Ghost and Cinematograph Exhibition on Deptford Fairground in July 1896.* However, while Randall may not have been the first showman to exhibit films on the fairground, he was certainly the first to make a success of it and, his show was so popular with audiences, that once he started with films, it began a new trend on the fairgrounds. The first reference to Randall's "cinematographe" exhibition was at Rotherham Statute Fair on November 2, 1896. The next month, he became the first showman to exhibit films at the annual World’s Fair in London, where his opening show featured two short films lasting ten minutes (Queen of the Antipodes and a Fisheries Exhibition). Two weeks later he was advertising that he had "Fifty of the latest Animated Pictures" to chose from. Following the World's Fair, Randall's first stop was the Valentine's Fair at King's Lynn, Norfolk in February 1897, where it was reported that the "Randall Williams’ Cinematographe Pavilion did immense business." Randall continued to exhibit films until his death in November 1898.

The Randall Williams Cinematograph Show

In the early years of the cinema, moving picture shows were referred to by a variety of terms, including cinematograph exhibitions, living pictures, animated pictures, animated photographs, and bioscope shows. Randall's was one of the earliest shows, so his advertising reflects how early film exhibitors peddled the new "novelty" of moving pictures to the public:

Rotherham, November, 1896: Randall Williams' No. 1 show with the Cinematograph
Boston May Fair, 1897: Randall Williams' Electric Animated Photographs; The Only real Electric Cinematograph or moving pictures
Summer, 1897: Randall Williams' Living Pictures; Williams’s cinematograph theatre (the No. 2 show)
Nottingham Goose Fair, 1897: Randall Williams' Cinematographe or Animated Photographs
Hull Fair, 1897:  Randall Williams Famous Bioscope or Animated Photographs: "More clear, distinct, and without the flicker of the Cinematograph
Bury St Edmunds, March 1898: Grand American Bioscope
Hull Fair, 1898: Randall Williams’ New Improved American Bioscope

The "Randall Williams' Cinematograph Show" carried on successfully after Randall's death in the hands of his daughter and son-in-law, Carrie and Dick Monte. The show had been a central gathering place for showmen’s meetings and official visits in Randall's time and it remained so in Dick and Carrie's time. A demonstration of the show's continued prominence on the fairground are the events that took place on Fair Sunday at Hull Fair in October 1907. During the day, city officials, including the Mayor and Mayoress, city councilors and aldermen, paid an official visit to the show; the Rev. Thomas Horne gave a sermon on the platform at the front of the show (under the banner The Showmen's Cathedral); and The Sons of Temperance Prize Band performed a program of sacred music at the steps of the show. Later that evening, the Annual Meeting of the Showmen’s Guild (officiated by the Mayor) was held in the show's interior. A correspondent from The Era (trade paper for theatres, showmen, etc.) also visited the show at Hull Fair that year and, his comments are a testimony to the show's continuing high standards:
"Randall Williams's show (a prime favourite at Hull Fair) is alongside Wombwell's, in the great show line. For beauty of design, for artistic completeness, this show-front still keeps its proud position in the first flight of great exhibitions." (Era, 12 Oct 1907)

Contrary to popular belief, Randall did not convert his show over entirely to film exhibition in 1896. Like many of his contemporaries, he travelled a 'combined show' (e.g. a ghost illusion exhibition with films added as a short secondary feature) for the better part of a year (from October 1896 until October 1897).

* Tom Norman's cinematograph exhibition in July 1896 may have been a one-off as there were no further references to him exhibiting films in The Era or any other contemporary newspapers. It is interesting to note, however, that just weeks after his July exhibition, Norman posted a message in The Era requesting that Randall Williams send his address to him immediately at the Show Grounds, Deptford. (Era, 15 Aug 1896)

Haydon & Urry, Ltd.

Randall’s films of Queen Victoria's Jubilee Procession (filmed June 22, 1897) were his main draw in 1897, but he introduced a new film at the World’s Fair that December which was of particular interest to London audiences - the funeral procession of William Terriss. Terriss was a popular actor murdered by a jealous rival outside the Adelphi Theatre on December 16, 1897. His funeral procession to Brompton Cemetery on December 21 was filmed exclusively by Haydon & Urry, Ltd., the London firm that supplied films and cinematographs (motion picture projectors) to many of the earliest fairground  film show exhibitors. There is no known source identifying the supplier of Randall's first film projector (late 1896), but there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that suggests, that in early 1897, he was using one provided by Haydon & Urry (See Haydon & Urry).

Randall’s association with Haydon & Urry was an important element in his success as a film exhibitor. The company had a history of supplying the amusement trade with various mechanical devices and, in late 1896, at the same time that Randall was reportedly having problems with his 'Electroscope' (his first projector) at the World’s Fair, they were in the process of developing their own cinematograph. The company had just moved their offices and showroom to 353 Upper Street, Islington, locating them directly across the street from the Royal Agricultural Hall where Randall was exhibiting. Randall was already associated with at least one member of the firm having met James Monte (an employee) in late 1895, when James had been acting as assistant secretary for the showmen’s annual supper (Era, 12 Jan 1895). By early 1897, Haydon & Urry were ready to start marketing their new cinematograph and they invited a number of showmen to attend a private demonstration of the machine. Randall was among those in attendance and he apparently left the viewing with a complete outfit from the firm as well as a supply of films (Merry-Go-Round, Vol. IX, No. 6, Oct, 1956, pp 93-94).

Getting Randall on board with their new cinematograph was no doubt  a major coup for Haydon & Urry. They applied for a patent (no. 3572) for their apparatus on February 10, 1897 - just as the World's Fair was coming to a close - and just five days prior to Randall opening the fairground season at King Lynn's Mart. The projector used by Randall at King's Lynn would have been the firm's earliest model, and it would have been the same model he used throughout the summer at the Victorian Era Exhibition - leading Haydon & Urry to claim in their advertising that their projector had been "used with unqualified success at the Victorian Era Exhibition all Last Season." (Era, 25 Feb 1898)

Showman Lessee

By the latter half of the nineteenth century, the commercial aspect of many fairs had passed from merchants and traders to the proprietors of amusements and funfairs. As a result, many of the established fairs were convened under the auspices of a 'showman lessee,' an amusement caterer who leased the grounds from the municipal corporation. The lessee was responsible for organizing the layout of the fair, sub-letting grounds and allotments to other showmen, and generally maintaining good order. As time went on, 'standing rights' for prime allotments became established and were often passed down in families from one generation to the next. Randall acted as lessee of several fun fairs including: Aston, Birmingham (1875-77); Pomona Palace and Grounds, Manchester (1877); Aberdeen (1880); Bingley Hall Christmas Fair, Birmingham (1886-87); Manchester ("10 minutes walk from the Exchange"), 1883); and Stockport (1888).


Randall liked to keep one step ahead of his rivals and was quick to make use of the latest technological innovations. Many of the upgrades and improvements he made to his own show were adopted by other show proprietors and contributed to modernizing the fairground industry at the end of the 19th Century.

Transport by rail

Randall was reportedly one of the first showmen to transport his show exclusively by rail. His main stomping grounds in the early 1870s were the fairs in Liverpool, Rotherham, Bradford and Hull which were all located a short travel distance from his home base in Manchester. However, once he customized his vans for railway transport (c.1873), he started travelling further afield and began attending such venues as the Onion Fair in Birmingham, Glasgow Fair in Scotland, and the World's Fair in London.

Electric Lighting

Randall is credited as being the first showman to use electricity on the fairgrounds. He began using electricity in his own show in 1894 when he bought his first portable electric light engine (#1755) from the Leeds firm of Thomas Green and Son. However, the first reference to electricity in Randall's advertising was at a fair he organized in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1880. Randall billed the venue as Professor Williams American Feta and Gala Combination and advertised in the local paper that the show ground was "illuminated by electric light."

The Electroscope

Randall was likely the first, and perhaps the only showman, to equip his show with a revolving search light. He introduced the light at Boston May Fair in 1895 and advertised it as "The Electroscope.' Electric search lights were a new development in the mid 1890s. The illumination from Randall's light was produced by an arc lamp (a type of lamp that produces light by means of an electric arc) driven by an 8 h.p. dynamo-electric engine (dynamos were the first electrical generators capable of producing power). The strong light produced by the arc lamp made it possible to illuminate large areas, while the electricity generated by the dynamo made it possible to sustain the light for indefinite periods.

Randall advertised his show as the "Randall Williams' Electroscope" from May 1895 until mid 1897.

Note: Randall initially used the name Electroscope  as a reference to his search light, but later on he used the name as a reference to his first cinematograph (late 1896). 

Stream Traction Engines  

Randall is also credited as being the first showman to utilize a steam traction engine for road haulage. Traction engines were a costly piece of equipment in the late 1800s and only the more affluent showmen could afford them. Randall bought his first engine from John Fowler and Co. of Leeds in February 1896 at a cost of more than £700, and apparently, it was his exacerbation over high railway tariffs that motivated him to invest in one.

Cinematograph Exhibition

The history of the fairground cinema (the travelling bioscope shows) is a relatively short one: it began in 1896 and ended at the start of the Great War in 1914.  When Randall started out with films, the cinema was still in its infancy, but it was advancing quickly. His first cinematograph exhibition in 1896 was little more than a series of "filmclips," but his later films were longer and contained a story line. (For a list of some of the films exhibited by Randall see Exhibits )  They were also of much higher quality ("without the flicker") due to film standardization and improvements made to projection equipment. Randall's run as a film exhibitor lasted only two years, but during that period he led the way for other travelling film show exhibitors. He played a lead role in introducing "the pictures" to the general public and earned himself a place in the history of the early cinema trade in Britain.

Showman Activist

Randall advocated for the rights of showmen and other occupational travellers his entire career. From the 1870s onwards, he was in a constant battle with the railway companies over the rates they charged travelling amusement caterers. He was also one of a small group of showmen who met at the Black Lion Hotel in Salford in late 1890 to organize a protest against the Moveable Dwellings Bill. The bill had been initiated by child welfare reformer, George Smith, and was described as “providing for the regulation of vans, vehicles and tents used as dwellings.” The real objective of the bill, however, was to regulate and control the gypsy population and to force itinerant parents to send their children to school. There were some commendable aspects to the bill, but had it passed, it would have imposed unfair and undue restrictions on show proprietors and other travellers who lived and earned their living “on the road.” One outcome of the protest over the bill was that it led to the formation of the Van Dwellers' Protection Association at a meeting in circus proprietor, George Sanger's Amphitheatre in London on February 12, 1891. Randall was heavily involved in the new  association as a committee member and as one of the Vice Presidents for the Manchester Section.

The United Van Dwellers' Protection Association

The United Van Dwellers' Protection Association formed in February 1891 and became known as The Showmen's Guild in 1900. It is now known as The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain.

The following report published in The Stage newspaper on February 19, 1891 describes the meeting at which the association was formed:
“Van-Dwellers in Conclave. A Showmen’s Association. On Thursday morning a meeting, called at the instance of Mr. George Sanger, took place at Sanger’s Amphitheatre, for the purpose of forming a Protection Association of Showmen and Travellers . . .

Mr. George Sanger was voted to the chair. The Chairman said the meeting had not been convened to discuss the Moveable Dwellings Bill. That question had been threshed out; it had been beaten almost to rags. It was doubtful if the Bill would be read this Session. The opposition from the Travellers themselves, almost unanimously supported by the Press, had resulted in the thing being completely swamped. Notwithstanding that fact, they were met to make arrangements for the defence against any attempted oppression. In defending themselves against anything which might arise, funds must be raised.  An association must be formed to that end. Then by contributing annually a very small sum, the poorest amongst the van-dwellers, if he was called upon to defend his honour, honesty or character, would receive the assistance of a qualified legal man, and be otherwise benefited as a member of the Association. In concluding a speech that had been frequently applauded, the Chairman remarked that he had received twenty or thirty letters from travellers and showmen in the country who could not attend, who sympathised with the object of the meeting. The Chairman said he intended to subscribe £50 annually to the funds of the Association.

 Mr. A. Olliver, called upon by the chairman, then read the following resolution: -- That an Association be formed to comprise all respectable showmen and travellers through the whole of England, Wales and Scotland, and a committee formed to draw up a code of rules and consider the amount to be paid as an annual subscription. That the Association shall take into consideration any case whereby the moveable dwelling public may be called upon to defend themselves against any civil action, the said civil action to be submitted to a quorum of four or more of the said committee, and if approved, to be defended out of the funds of the Association; the penalty imposed (if any) to be paid by the defendants, the defence only coming out of the funds of the Association. That there shall be in every county of the United Kingdom an appointed consul, selected from travellers, and elected annually, who shall be empowered to hold meetings, give advice, and report progress to the central organization in London. That the money subscribed shall be deposited in a bank, the said deposit to be call the Showmen and Travellers’ Protection Fund. The committee, to be hereinafter appointed, shall fix the amount of subscription to be paid, and whether half-yearly or in any other way they may consider advisable. That the chairman, committee, and delegates shall give their services free, but all travelling and out of pocket expenses shall be defrayed from the funds of the Association. That delegates shall be appointed from time to time from the various counties of England to wait upon Members of Parliament regarding anything detrimental to the interests of showmen and travellers. That an annual general meeting shall be held in London, on or about the first or second week in January in each year, when the balance-sheet of the Association shall be read by the appointed secretary. That the question of the political voting of those who have property, and at certain periods of the year make their living carriage their home, and like subjects shall be discussed so that Parliamentary parties may be strengthened by the votes of the travellers possessing house property, who may be counted by their thousands.

Mr. James Norman moved, and Mr. Frank Bailey seconded, a resolution to the effect that an association upon these lines should be formed. Mr. W. Crofts, from the Liberty and Property Defence League, addressed the meeting, chiefly in respect of the League he represented and of the Moveable Dwellings Bill. The motion was then unanimously approved. . . ." (Stage, 19 February 1891)  (Note: fuller details of the formation of the Van Dwellers' Protection Association can be found in Wanted, a Few Useful People for the Ghost Business)

Death and Legacy

Randall's last show was at the Freeman Street Market in Great Grimsby, Lincolnshire, where he died of typhoid fever on November 14, 1898. He was buried at Weaste Cemetery in Salford on November 18.  Manchester had been Randall's home-base since the late 1806s so his funeral procession was a huge event for locals who turned out in the hundreds to pay their last respects to one of their own. The funeral service at Weaste Cemetery was attended by showmen from across Britain and was conducted by Rev. Thomas Horne. It was a sad day for Rev. Horne. He was one of the travelling show community's most ardent advocates and he had lost a close friend and ally in Randall. Both men had fought for the rights of showmen and travellers, and both were veterans of the war with George Smith over the Moveable Dwellings Bill.
“The funeral of Randall Williams was more than a local event. Although here in Manchester his name and fame, "king of showmen" are locally household words, great crowds of Manchester and Salford people lined the roadway along which the funeral cortege moved, and there was a great gathering of representative showmen from all parts of the kingdom.  The Van Dwellers Association was represented by the chief executive officers, amongst whom we noticed Messrs. Dean, Whiting, Bailey, Wallis, Cornell, George Green, Wm. Mitchell, T. Payne, R. Dixon, James Norman and Watson Wright, Esq. solicitor.  The President of the Association, Mr. John Walker, and many others were waiting at the cemetery to join in the last solemn obsequies at the graveside.  The funeral cortege, consisting of an open hearse containing the body (literally buried already beneath the wealth of floral tributes of love and esteem sent from all parts of the country) and some thirty mourning coaches and private carriages, left the Commercial Hotel, Salford, at a little before 3.00 o'clock, and reached the cemetery, the Weaste, at 3.30. (Era, 26 Nov 1898)
Randall was survived by long-time companion, Annie Radford Williams; sons, Randall, Thomas, George and Albert Edward, and daughters, Annie and Caroline. Following his death, his No. 2 show passed to his daughter, Annie, and her husband Reuben Williams (see The Williams Family Showmen), while his main bioscope show went to his daughter, Carrie, and her new husband, Dick Monte (see The Monte Williams Showmen).


There were literally hundreds of entries (advertisements and commentaries) for Randall's show to be found in contemporary newspapers. Not only do they map out the history of the show, but they also provide a fascinating insight into the lives of travelling showmen during the latter half of the 19th Century.

The following timeline provides only a small sampling from original sources. It also includes many of the entries that have found since publishing Wanted a Few Useful People for the Ghost Business


Randall Kay Williams was born on St. Martin's Street, Liverpool on July 17, 1846. He was the son of travelling show proprietors, Sarah (nee Glassbrook of Wigan) and Thomas Williams (of Warrington). He was baptised at St. Mary, Oldham, Lancashire on August 30, 1846.

At the time of the census in April 1861, Randall (aged 14) and his family were located at St. Helens, Lancashire. His father, Thomas, was the proprietor of a travelling show.

Randall's mother died in the mid 1860s, and his father, Thomas, moved to Salford, where he and Randall founded the Flat Iron Showground. The Flat Iron Showground wasn't a formal fairground, but rather a piece of vacant ground across from the Flat Iron Market (formally Trinity Market) where  showmen set up shows, rides, and other amusements.

August: Bradford, Yorkshire: Randall (aged 24), married Mary Ann (Polly) Hough (aged 18). Mary Ann was the daughter of swing-boat proprietors, Caroline (Dyson) and Henry Hough, and the grand-daughter of showman, David Dyson, who sued The Manchester, Sheffield and Lancashire Railway Co. in 1865:
"The Showman's Merry Go Round. D. Dyson v. The Manchester, Sheffield and Lancashire Railway Company. Mr. Picker Q.C. and Mr Pope appeared for the Plaintiff, a travelling showman who lived at Fartown, near Huddersfield, who sued the Company represented by Mr. J. A. Russell and Mr Meller, for damage done to his hobby horse, merry-go-round, and carriage on the 12 June, between Sheffield and Huddersfield.  The plaintiff had engaged five trucks, got four, and sent a number of painted and gilded wooden horses, a "Newfoundland dog," a "giraffe," a "stag," and a large carriage.  One of the trucks took fire and the "animals" were injured, and the carriage destroyed for the plaintiff's purposes. The Company had paid £20 into court, and, after the plaintiff had been examined, they consent to pay the plaintiff £37 10s.- £17 10s in addition to the sum paid into court. A verdict for this amount was taken." (Leeds Mercury, 12 Dec 1865)

Randall brought out his own ghost illusion show in 1871. Ghost illusions were a type of stage show based on the special optical effect known as "Pepper's Ghost."  It was a technique used to create the illusion of a 'ghost' appearing onstage as if out of nowhere. A ghost show drama typically ended with some sort of transformation scene depicting the final passage from this life to the next. Ghost illusion shows became popular in British theatres in 1863, but did not appear on the fairgrounds until the early 1870s. Other fairground showmen who travelled early ghost illusion shows included George Wall, George Biddall, Harry Hammersley, and Williams Wallser.


January: New Year’s Fair, Bolton Market Place: “Williams Mechanical Exhibition and Williams’s ghost show” (Bolton Chronicle, 16 Dec 1871)

December: Barnsley, Yorkshire: Randall Williams, "A Ghost Proprietor," was in court at Barnsley Town Hall, charged with failing to take down his booth. (Sheffield Independent, 13 Dec 1872, p3)

December: Sheffield: Randall got caught in a snow storm on his way to Sheffield.

During the year, Randall began transporting his show by rail.

January:  Bolton New Year’s Fair

June: Halifax, Yorkshire: birth of Randall and Polly's son, Thomas Henry, born June 6, baptised at Halifax on June 29.

September:  Great Horton Feast, Yorkshire (Bradford Observer, 8 Nov 1873)

September: Lockwood Feast, Yorkshire: Randall attended Lockwood Feast with two new show carriages. 

September:  Lockwood: death of Polly and Randall's son, Thomas Henry, on September 27, burial at Woodhouse (near Huddersfield) on September 29

November: Bradford, Yorkshire:  Randall was sued by another showman for breach of contract: "A Showmen's Dispute -- At Bradford County Court, yesterday, a case was tried before M. W. T. S. Daniel, Q.C., Judge, and a jury in which a travelling showman named Josiah Procter Cluderay, sued Randall Williams, another man in the same profession, for £40, for damages resulting from a breach of contract on the part of the defendant. Mr. Berry appeared for the plaintiff, and Mr. Spurr, solicitor, of Hull, for the defendant. Mr Berry said the plaintiff was a travelling showman, and when he had a local habitation at all he resided as Idle.  The defendant followed the same profession. It appeared that on the 6th of September, both parties were at Great Horton Feast, and some conversation took place between them relative to the plaintiff buying two carriages, and eventually the plaintiff agreed to buy "two living carries with their fittings and parades," which latter he supposed was the platform upon which the showmen walked about to invite attention.  The price agreed upon was £55.  The defendant ordered two new carriages, but was not at the time in possession of them, and it was agreed that he should keep possession of the carriages, which he had agreed to sell, until Lockwood feast, which took place about a fortnight later. The plaintiff paid  £1 on account, for which a receipt was given, and on the 22nd of September, the balance was paid and the carriages delivered. The sale was complete, the money paid, and the only question which would arise would be whether or not the vehicles were delivered in the same condition in which they were sold. The plaintiff said they were not, for after delivery, when he came to examine them, he found to his great astonishment that certain articles had been removed. These included fourteen cornice pieces, two centre pieces, about 80 feet of carved moulding, and the value of these things was £16 18s. These articles were fitted on the new waggons which Williams had bought, and plaintiff made application for the things to be given to him, but he had got nothing. -- The plaintiff was then examined in support of his case. Mr Berry:  What is your particular line of business -- an exhibitor of natural curiosities?"  Plaintiff: An adaptation of Pepper's Ghost illusion.  Mr. Berry:  What is Mr. Williams?  Plaintiff:  Exactly in the same line. -- Br. Berry:  You are both in the ghostly line?  Plaintiff: Yes (laughter).  Mr. Berry: In the flesh did you enter into a bargain with him? Plaintiff: I did.  Plaintiff then proceeded to state the terms of the contract, and said that the fittings included the ornamental work outside which had been taken away.  They had been screwed and nailed on, and some of the nails and screws were left in the waggons in consequence of the things being pulled off.  There were two indentations in one of the waggons.  In consequences of the want of ornamental work he had been unable to compete with others in the profession, and had had to miss Leeds, Halifax and Wakefield fairs because he had not got the ornamental work which ought to have been there.  Mr. Berry:  The outside of the show had to make up a good deal for the inside?  Plaintiff said that it had. He calculated that he would have lost £5 a week in consequence of the want of the vehicles, and he had had to order some new ones. -- In cross-examination plaintiff said he could not say that the ornamentation was off the carriages before they were delivered and he did not find out until it was pointed out to him after the carriages were delivered. One of the carriages was occupied by his children for three or four days before he completed the bargain, but he did not know whether the ornamentation had at that time been taken away from the waggons. Mr. Spurr:  Were there not some stoves in the carriages?  Mr. Berry: He says one was stove in in two places (laughter). -- Plaintiff in further cross-examination stated that such things as the bed-place, stove, cupboard, and shelving were certainly intended to go with the carriages, and were "fittings" as applied to the inside.  The proscenium and wings was not included in the "fittings."  Evidence was called in support of the plaintiff's case, and as to the value of the articles. Mr. Spurr addressed the jury for the defence, and contended that the articles which his client had kept possession were never intended to be included in the term "fitting" used in the agreement, but were extra ornaments put on by the proprietor to suit his own taste. He contended that the value of the ornamentation had been much exaggerated, and that the charge for loss of business out not to be allowed, because it was evident that the ornamentation could not be materially attractive to the public if the plaintiff could not miss the ornaments until the absence of them was pointed out to him.  --- The defendant [Randall] and other witnesses were called to prove that the ornamentation was not a permanent part of the carriages, but the outside ornaments were made on a separate order.  The carriages made with outside ornamentation, proscenium &c. were called "outside" carriages and not living carriages.  --- The Judge having summed up, the jury retired and considered their verdict. After consulting about ten minutes, they gave a verdict for the plaintiff -- damages of £10."  (Bradford Observer, 8 Nov 1873)

December: London: “Williams’ ghost and illusion show” at the Royal Agricultural Hall Christmas Fair and Bazaar (Era, 11 Jan 1874)

January: World's Fair, London: Williams Ghost Show (Era, Jan 11, 1874)

April: Boston (Lincolnshire) (Era, 26 April 1874)

May: Boston Pleasure Fair: "a "ghost" show which bears the designation of "Hobgoblinscope" (Stamford Mercury, 8 May 1874, p4)

May:  Leicester Pleasure Fair: "Hobgoblinscope" (Leicester Journal, 15 May 1874, p8)

September: birth of Polly and Randall’s first daughter, Annietta

October: Hull Fair: Williams Ghost Show with a performance of “Crackskull Abbey” and the death of “Little Jim” (Hull Packet & East Riding Times, 16 Oct 1874)

November: Eastwood: christening of Randall and Polly’s daughter, Annietta (International Genealogy Index)

November: Liverpool: “Randall Williams’s Great Hobgoblinscope” at Pembroke Hall (Era, 1 Nov 1874)

November: Sheffield Fair: "Strolling further we find a ghost exhibition dignified by the grandiloquent title of "Hobgoblinscope." (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 25 Nov 1874, p3)

December: Liverpool: Pembroke Hall: “Mr. Randall Williams's great optical exhibition entitled "The Hobgoblinscope"  . . . The legend of "The Misanthrope," the poem of "Little Jim," "The Aerial Phenomenon," and "Chawbacon's Troubles" were all illustrated in a very surprising manner and the entertainment was greatly enhanced by the efforts of Mr. F. Lover, the Brothers Williams and Mr. S. Lawrence." (Provincial Theatricals, Era, 26 Dec 1874)

April: Lincoln April Fair: “Williams Ghost Show” (Lincolnshire Chronicle, 23 April 1875)

September: Leeds (Era, 5 Sept 1875)

October: Nottingham Goose Fair: "Randall Williams, with his spectro-scope, was well patronised" (Era, 17 Oct 1875)

October: Birmingham Pleasure Fair, Aston Road (Sept 30 - Oct 2): "Applications for ground to Randall Williams" (Era, 5 Sept 1875; also Birmingham Gazette)

April: Manchester: "send applications for Onion Fair (Birmingham) to Randall Williams" (Era, 9 Apr 1876)

March: Bury March Fair

June: Birmingham Whitsuntide Fair, Aston Road. Sole Lessee Mr. Randle Williams (Birmingham Gazette, 10 June 1876, p4)

September: Birmingham Pleasure Fair (Era, 3 Sept 1876)

October: Nottingham Goose Fair: "the Hobgoblinsope where spectres were to be seen, not in haunted Alloway Kirk, but in front of an illuminated transparency, representing High Mass at St Peters" (Nottingham Guardian, 6 Oct 1876, p3)

November: Darlington Market Place: Birth of daughter Sara (birth certificate)

December: Wicker Parish, Sheffield: christening of daughter, Sarah (International Genealogy Index). Randall and Polly's residence was listed as 7 Cumberland Place, Chester Road, Manchester.

Bury Cemetery


Daughter of Randal and Mary Ann Williams
Who died, March 13th 1876, aged 1 year and 5 months.
    We had a little daughter dear,
    She was our grateful pride,
    We love her, ah! perhaps to well,
    For soon she slept and died.

Also ALICE, their daughter
Who died August 11th 1879
Aged 1 year & 8 months.

Also SARAH, their daughter
Who died December 4th 1881, aged 7 years.

Also MARY ANN, wife of Randal Williams
Who died January 4th 1884, aged 32 years.

Photo by Helen Walmsley

Randall and Polly lost their little daughter, Annietta, on Bury Fairground in March 1876.
The couple had seven children, five daughters and two sons, but only Annie and Caroline were still alive at the time of Polly's death in 1884.  


The year saw the start of Randall's dispute with the railway companies over rates that lasted two decades.

February: Manchester: "Knott Mill Fair will be held at the Pomona Palace and Grounds" (contact Randall Williams) (Era, 14 Feb 1877)

June: Halifax Fair (Halifax Courier, 30 June 1877)

August: Halifax:  “Ah, there is that Hobgoblinscope again. Though it is high time for us to put away childish things, we confess to a weakness for apparitions, and this may be pleaded in excuse for our venturing into spiritland this evening. We reach the front seats just in time for the performance of “Little Jim.”The scene is a cottage, the interior of which is hardly in keeping with the description in the poem. The walls are in a bad state of repair, and a broken picture and an onion net are the chief articles of furniture. A red-faced gentleman advances to where the orchestra is supposed to be: pulls off his hat in profound veneration for the subject, and begins to recite in a very plaintive strain the poem of the collier’s lad. After the first verse an organ (nothing can be done without it) plays St. Ann’s, and excepting the stage, so closely does this proceeding resemble a tent service, that we wouldn’t be surprised to hear the audience commence singing the lines given out. In the second verse he describes with great pathos the mother kneeling beside the bed of her dying child. The lights are turned low, all is hushed; the organ doles out its contribution, and the cue having been whispered to the shades below, the phantoms do duly appear, and in the woolly head of Little Jim, peeping out of a linen basket, we recognise the merry urchin who was dancing a hornpipe outside five minutes ago. His mother, not withstanding her constant watching and care, looks in remarkably good health and humour, leans over the linen basket in fond admiration of her son. There is a general feeling of sympathy, manifested especially amongst the weaker sex. The figures gradually dissolve and the poem is resumed. At the sixth verse where the mother kneels and raises her hands in intercession for her boy, the reader’s voice grows tremulous with excitement, the organ changes to a more melancholy tune, the attitude of the phantom is more touching than before, and tears suffuse the eyes of not a few present. Then follows verse 12: The cottage door was open’d, The collier’s step was heard; The mother and the father met, Yet neither spake a word. The reader’s utterances are choked with emotion, the lights grow dimmer, the organ gradually works itself up to a state of proper melancholy, women are sobbing, children screaming, and the sleeve of many a fustian jacket is applied to the optics of the wearer. The cue is whispered. No response. Still louder, yet the vision appeareth not. Meanwhile all this good emotional feeling is evaporating. Rushing to the side of the stage to which he administers an impatient kick, and looking down into the orchestra, where the paraphernalia for raising ghosts appears to be deposited, the plaintive gentleman angrily demands in a whisper (which everybody of course can hear) “what the (placed paved with good intentions) are you doing?” (Halifax Courier, 11 Aug 1877)

September: Manchester: Royal Pomona Palace: Grand Fancy Bazaar and thoroughly Old English Fair: Randall Williams's "Hobgoblinscope" (Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 13 Sept 1877, p1) 

September: Brierley Hill (nearly Dudley), Staffordshire: Randall Williams was letting out grounds for Brierley-hill Fair Ground (Era, 23 Sept 1877)

October:  Hull Fair (York Herald, 12 Oct 1877)

October: “Wanted, to inform all Fellow-Travellers, and those interested in Railway Travelling, that they should at once write to Mr. Needham, Superintendent of the Line, Derby, saying how many Carriages they have, likewise how many Passengers, and that you cannot afford to pay Ninepence per Mile, but are willing to pay the Sixpence as heretofore. Randall Williams. (Era, 21 Oct 1877)

November: Stockton, Co. Durham: Thomas Higgins, a butcher, was charged with "assaulting John Mustard and Randall Williams, proprietors of a show at the hirings . . ." (A Stockton Butcher at the Hirings, South Durham and Cleveland Mercury, 17 Nov 1877)

December:  Sheffield: Christmas Fair (starting Christmas Eve):  "At Williams' Hobgoblinscope was a horn, from which sound is produced on a new principle and which was perhaps as great a novelty as the exhibitions." (Sheffield Independent, 29 Dec 1877)

January: Stretford:  Birth of daughter, Alice (birth certificate)

September: Birmingham Pleasure Fair: Randall Williams’ “Grand Palace of Entertainment” (Birmingham Onion Fair, p.14)

 April: Hulme, Lancashire: birth of daughter, Annie (birth certificate)

August: Hulme: death of daughter, Alice (18 months) (death certificate)

November: Manchester: “Randall Williams’s Professional Home at 66 Quay-street(apartments to let) (Era, 16 Nov 1879; 30 Nov 1879)

February: Manchester: Randall was renting apartments to show people at several locations including 66 Quay-street; 40 Grosvenor-street; 47 Grosvenor-street; and 157 Bury New-road (Stage, 1 Feb 1880)

July: Greenock, Scotland: birth of daughter, Caroline, on Ladyburn Showground during Greenock Fair (birth certificate)
July: Greenock: Randall’s “Pepper’s Ghost” was one of the more notable shows at Greenock Fair (Greenock Telegraph & Clyde Shipping Gazette, 1 July 1880)

July: Glasgow Fair (where the son of Randall’s leading actor and advance man, George King, was born) (birth certificate)

August: Barrhead, Scotland (Era, 8 Aug 1880)

August:  Dundee, Scotland: The Great Show of the World. The first time in Dundee. Open every evening in the Old Cattle Market.  Everybody should see Professor Williams' Great Hobgoblinscope and Congress of Spirits. This is by far the Largest and most Magnificent Exhibition ever seen in Dundee.  Illuminated every evening by the Electric Light. (Dundee Evening Telegraph, 28 Aug 1880)

September: Aberdeen: “Professor Williams' American Fete & Gala Combination” (Aberdeen Weekly Journal, 20-22 Sept 1880)

October: Aberdeen: “Professor Williams’s Ghost Show.” (Era, 3 Oct 1880)

November: York Martinmas Fair: “Every person visiting York Martinmas Fair should not miss paying a visit to Randall Williams’ Great Hobgoblinscope, which is situated between Jubbergate and Market-Street. This Exhibition can be easily recognised by its splendid carved front. The entertainment provided for the public cannot fail to please all denominations. This Day, Faust and Marguerite, Or the Devil and the Doctor. Followed by a Laughable Farce. Beware spurious imitations." (York Herald, 24 Nov 1880)

“Randall Williams, showman, 256 Chester Road, Hulme” (Salford Directory, 1881)

“Randall Williams, traveller, 66 Quay St, Deansgate, Manchester” (Salford Directory, 1881)

January:  Manchester: death of Randall's father, Thomas, at 66 Quay St (Era, 12 Feb 1881) (death certificate)

April: Manchester: at the time of the census, Randall and family were at their permanent residence on 66 Quay St.

April: Randall's foreman, George King, and several other employees were in Stamford at the end of the Mid Lent Fair (census)

May: Liverpool (Era, 14 May 1881)

June: Milton, Cumberland (Era, 14 Sept 1881)

September: Peterhead, Scotland: “Professor Randall Williams’ Great Ghost Show of The World”, on Broad Street" (East Aberdeenshire Observer, 23 Sept 1881)       

October; Hull Fair (Hull Packet & East Riding Times, 14 Oct 1881)

December: Bacup, Lancashire: death of daughter, Sarah (5 years) at the Ghost-Caravan, Market Ground, Bacup (death certificate)

November: York Martinmas Fair: “Professor Randall Williams’ Great Ghost Show” (York Herald, 24 Nov 1881, p1)

December: Manchester: “Randall Williams’s Hobgoblinscope” at the 1st Annual St. James’s Grand Christmas and New Year’s Fair (Manchester Evening News, 22 Dec 1881, p1)

January:  The Great St. James's Hall, Oxford-Street, Manchester: New Year's Fair: Williams's Ghost Illusion (Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser, 6 Jan 1882)

January:  St. James's Hall, Manchester:  Last Week: Williams' Ghost Illusion (Manchester Evening News, 27 Jan 1882)

September: Preston Guild Festival (20 year celebration, Sept 4–9)

September: Soothill, Dewsbury: “Yesterday morning a shocking accident took place at Batley, by which a travelling showman named George King, 35 years, lost his life. The deceased was the foreman for Mr. Randall Williams, proprietor of a ghost and hobgoblin show, which was coming to Batley Feast.” (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 14 Sept 1882, p2)

November: Rotherham Statute Fair: “Robbery from a Ghost Show” (Sheffield Independent, 9 Nov 1882, p7)

Preston 1882

         Showmen at Preston Guild Festival, 1882 

Back row (left to right): Harry Cunningham, John Cooper, unknown. Front row: Randall Williams, John McIndoe, John Whiting, John Symonds.

Photographed by Henry J. Wallis.

[Ann Cadman, Poole, Dorset]


“Randall Williams, traveller, 12 Lower Byrom St, Quay St” (Slater’s Directory of Manchester & Salford, 1883)

January: Sheffield Quarter Sessions: “Serious Charge of Theft. Elizabeth Hough, 23, spinster, was indicted for having stolen the sum of £16. 15s. 2d., the property of Randall Williams, at Rotherham, on the 7th November, and John Gavin, 32, baker, was indicted for having feloniously received the money knowing it to have been stolen.  Mr. Ellis appeared for the prosecution, and Mr. Blackburn defended both prisoners.  The prosecutor and his wife, Mary Ann Williams, are the owners of a “travelling ghost show,” which would appear to be a very profitable enterprise, a "good day" realizing from £30 to £40. The prisoners lived together as man and wife, the former and his brother exhibiting a six-legged horse, and the woman being the proprietress of a "Billy Fairplay," a kind of "roundabout,"  On the 6th November, all parties were at Rotherham Statutes Fair, the prosecutor's wife, who acted as treasurer, having taken about 26 during the day, whilst the female prisoner had been remarkable unsuccessful, having taken only a few shillings. Shortly before midnight, Hough, according to the story of the prosecution, went into one of Williams' vans, and asked his wife if she might warm herself.  Mrs. Williams, who had known her for many years, consented, and shortly afterwards left the van to see her husband.  She hung up in a corner her ulster, in one of the pockets of which was the money taken during the day, consisting entirely of silver.  Hough then asked her son, a little boy of 12, to fetch her some water. He went out, but looking through the chinks saw Hough with her hand in the ulster, and leaning over a bucket pretending to be sick. She then went away, and Mrs. Williams, on searching the pocket found £16 15s. 2d. missing. Hough was followed to a public-house, where her husband was in bed, and in his possession was found a quantity of silver corresponding with the amount stole from the ulster. Prisoners were found guilty and were each committed to goal for four months hard labour."  (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 6 Jan1883)

March:  Manchester: "Wanted, my fellow travellers to know that I, the undersigned, having taken a large plot of land within ten minutes' walk of the Exchange, Manchester, will hold a Monstre Fair the week after Easter.  The public will be admitted to the ground free. The town will be thoroughly advertised.  All applications to be made to Randall Williams, 12 Lower Byrom-street, Manchester. (Era, 10 March 1883)

June: Scholes (Liversedge to Halifax) West Yorkshire: “A Sad Accident occurred on Sunday at Scholes, when a girl of fifteen was killed near West Field Inn. Deceased was picked up in Manchester six months ago by a travelling showman named Williams with whom she has travelled as nurse girl. On Sunday the party were travelling by road from Hightown Feast, Liversedge to Halifax, via Scholes, the girl walking. When approaching the inn rain began to fall. She attempted to enter the van whilst in motion, slipped, and fell with her head under one of the wheels, which passed over her, causing instantaneous death.  – An inquest was held on Monday as to the death of the girl, whose name was Mary Jane Jones. Randal Williams deposed that the girl, who was between fifteen and sixteen, had travelled with him as servant for about five months. Witness picked her up in Manchester, and knew nothing about her father. On Sunday the company were travelling from Liversedge to Halifax, via Scholes. Deceased had been riding, and got out of the van and walked. Witness did not see her alive again. – William Burnett, agent for Williams, said he saw the girl attempt to get into one of the vans whilst it was in motion. She slipped, and before the driver could pull up the first wheel of the van, passed over her head, causing instantaneous death. A verdict of “Accidental death” was returned. (Leeds Times, 30 June 1883, p3)

July: Bradford Pleasure Fair, Yorkshire: Showmen’s meeting held in Randall’s show during the fair (Era, 7 July, 1883)

September: Armley, Yorkshire (Era, 1 Sept 1883)

January: Manchester: death of Randall’s wife, Mary Ann Williams, age 33 (death certificate)

March: Manchester: (Era, 29 March 1884)

August: Tallucruty nr Balagh: Scotland: (Era, 16 Aug 1884)

September: Aberdeen: "Randall Williams' Great Ghost or Optical Show. Reclaimed Ground, every evening. This exhibition should be seen by all, as it is the largest and grandest now travelling, the Frontage costing over £2000. To-Night -- Faust and a laughable farce . . .  " (Aberdeen Evening Express, 20 Sept 1884; 29 Sept 1884)

November: Sheffield: Wanted, to arrange for Ground, for Bolton Fair, 50tft. front and 60 ft. back. Russell Williams and others write. Address Randall Williams, Post Office, Sheffield. Would like to hear from friends." (Era, 22 Nov 1884)

December: Chesterfield Market Place: Randall Williams Great Ghost Show . . . “The Mistletoe Bough”; “Faust, or The Devil and The Doctor”; “Little Jim, The Collier`s Dying Child” (advertisement, Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, 6 Dec 1884, p4)

December: World’s Fair, London: Randall Williams’s “Great Ghost Show” (Era, 27 Dec 1884)

Polly Hough

Polly Williams,  early 1880s.

Mary Ann Hough  (1870-1885)

Randall married Mary Ann (Polly) Hough in 1870. Polly was was the daughter of swings proprietors, Caroline and Henry Hough. She and Randall had two sons and five daughters.

Polly died in Manchester in January 1884 and was buried in Bury Cemetery with her three eldest daughters - Annietta, Alice and Sarah. Her two surviving daughters, Annie and Caroline, were only five and four years old.

Photo: from the late Caroline Monte Tindale collection.

January: Hull Borough Sessions: Charges against four young men for stealing £10 from Randall . . . . (Leeds Mercury, 9 Jan 1885)

May: Manchester: “Wanted, all Travellers to know that it is the intention of Randall Williams to try and reduce the present Railway Rates with the aid of his fellow travellers. . . .” (Era, 23 May 1885)

May: Aston Fair: “Randall Williams' Great Hobgoblinscope"– “This ‘Prince of showmen’ is now at the fair, exhibiting a gorgeous illusionary spectacle (sic), representing the "Fall of Khartoum" and the death of General Gordon. . .” (Aston Chronicle, 30 May 1885)

September: Leeds: “Wanted, at once, for Randall Williams’s Great Ghost Show. Useful People, in all Lines; also Twenty First-class Ballet Girls to parade outside. Must be good looking. Address for the above, Post-office Leeds.” (Era, 26 Sept 1885)

October: Hull Fair

October: Portsmouth, Hampshire:  Randall 's show van collided with a tramcar (Hampshire Telegraph & Sussex Chronicle, 30 Jan 1886)

December: London World’s Fair: “Randall Williams’s Great Ghost Show” (Era, 27 Dec 1885) (Reynold’s Newspaper, 20 Dec 1885)

January: Portsmouth County Court: A Collision – Randall Williams v. Tramway Company (Hampshire Telegraph & Sussex Chronicle, 30 Jan 1886)

February: Fulham Fairground: "Randall Williams Ghost Exhibition” (Era, 27 Feb 1886)

June: Normanton, Yorkshire (Era, 5 June 1886)

June: Wolverhampton (Era, 5 June 1886)

August: Drypool Feast Ground, Hull (Era, 7 Aug 1886)
September: Sowerby Rushbearing Festival: "Williams" Phantoscope, or Ghost Show" (Hebden Bridge Times & Calder Vale Gazette, 1886)

September: Bradford (Era, 25 Sept 1886)

December: Birmingham: Randall held a fair at Bingley Hall in Birmingham from Dec 25, 1886 to Feb 12, 1887 (Birmingham Daily Post, 25 Dec 1886, p3

January: Birmingham (Era, 22 Jan 1887)

February: Birmingham (Era, 12 Feb 1887)

March: Batley: (Era, 5 Mar 1887)

April: Aston Fair: (Era, 2 Apr 1887)

May: Knighton, Radnorshire (Era, 14 May 1887)

May: Mountain Ash (Era, 28 May 1887)

May: Bryn Mawr, Breconshire (Era, 28 May 1887)

June: South Wales: “Treorky Fair, Commencing on 4th and 6th June. TREALAW, Wednesday and Thursday, June 8 and 9. PORTH, commencing on Saturday June 11 and following days. FERNDALE, June 18 and following days. Studt’s Great World’s Fair this Jubilee Year . . . . Professor Randall Williams’s Great Ghost Show (first visit to South Wales). Everybody should see this Grand Exhibition, the front alone having cost over £2000.” (Western Mail, 27 May 1887, p1)

June: Newport, Monmouthshire (Era, 25 June 1887) 

August: Pontypridd (Era, 13 Aug 1887)

September: Port Talbot: (Era, 3 Sept 1887)

October: Swansea: (Era, 1 Oct 1887; 8 Oct 1887; 22 Oct 1887)

December:  Swansea: Donation in aid of Mr. Lingwood, Police Band Master, Randall Williams Ghost Show £2 2s.(Cambrian, 30 Dec 1887)


March: Mountain Ash (Era, 24 Mar 1888)

April: Aberdare (Era, 14 Apr 1888)

May: Kington (Era, 12 May 1888)

June: Stockport (Era, 23 June 1888)

July: Haworth near Keighley (Era, 28 July 1888)

August: Birstal, Yorkshire (Era, 18 Aug 1888)

September: Holbeck Feast, Leeds: (Era, 8 Sept 1888)

October: Wibsey near Bradford (Era, 6 Oct 1888)

October: Hull Fair Ground: “Williams Ghost Show” (Era, 20 Oct 1888)

December: Stockport, Cheshire: Randall was proprietor of a Christmas Carnival commencing December 22 at the Borough Fairground, Portwood, Stockport. An incident during the show on its opening night lead to a stabbing after the show was over. (Stabbing Affray on the Fairground: A Sequel to a Ghost Show, County News & Chronicle, 24 Dec 1888; A Ghost Show Story: Incident at the Christmas Fair, Stockport Advertiser, 28 Dec 1888).
January: Bolton: New Year’s Fair: (Era, 8 Dec 1888) 

March: Liverpool (Era, 2 Mar 1889)

May: Bootle (Stage, 3 May 1889)

July: Warrington Pleasure Fair: “Randall Williams’ Ghost Show” (Era, 27 July 1889)

August: Skipton, Yorkshire: "Wanted, Useful People in all Branches, Knockabouts. Ground booth to sell. Cheap, new 24ft. wide, 20ft. back. Address of Harry Wallis required immediately. Randall Williams, Ghost Show, Skipton (Era, 31 Aug 1889)

September: Batley (Stage, 20 Sept 1889)

October: Wibsey, near Bradford (Era, 5 Oct 1889)

November: Hull: Paragon Station-yard (Stage, 1 Nov 1889)

November: Driffield, Yorkshire (Stage, 8 Nov 1889)

December: London World’s Fair: “Randall Williams’s Ghost Show” (Era, 28 Dec 1889)(The Times, 25 Dec 1889, p 7)

January: World's Fair, London

February:  Borough, South London: “Wanted, useful people for ghost show. Curtis McGuinness write in for my second show.  Address, Randall Williams, 31 Redcross-street, Union-street, Borough.” (Stage, 21 Feb 1890)

April: Bedford (Stage, 18 Apr 1890)

May: Coventry (Stage, 23 May 1890)

June: Halifax Fairground (Stage, 27 Jun 1890)

July: Bramley, Yorkshire (Era, 19 Jul 1890)

July: Knottingling, Yorkshire (Stage, 25 July 1890)

August: Birstal, Yorkshire (Stage, 22 Aug 1890)

September: London: birth of son, Randall (Randall’s first son with common-law wife, Annie Radford) (birth certificate)

October: Hull Fair: “Randall Williams’ Greatest Ghost Show In the World” (Hull Daily Mail, 11 Oct 1890)

November: Leeds (Stage, 21 Feb 1890)

November: Loughborough Fair: “Randall Williams’ Ghost Show” (Merry Go Round).

December:  Rochdale, Lancashire (Stage, 19 Dec 1890)

Randall's sons

Randall and Annie’s three eldest sons; Thomas, Albert Edward, and Randall, 1898.

Annie Radford


Randall’s second family was with Annie Radford. Annie was born in Bristol and was the daughter of shipwright, George Radford. She met Randall in London in the early 1890s.

Annie and Randall had five sons: Randall (died 1892); Randall, Thomas, Albert Edward, and George. The boys all settled in the London area with the exception of George, who immigrated to Australia.
[Photo: Randall Williams, Chellaston, Derbyshire]


The United Kingdom Van Dwellers' Protection Association formed in February 1891. Randall was both a committee member and Vice President, Manchester Section.

February: Free Trade Hall, Manchester: Randall spoke at a meeting of the Van Dwellers’ Defence League (Manchester Section): “Speaking as a showman, he said that he at one time took a permanent residence in Manchester and lived there eight years. During that period he buried all his children but two, his father, and his wife. The two surviving children he had since reared in a caravan. So much for the sanitary conditions of van dwellings as compared with fixed residences in large cities. As regarded education, he might say that he, like others of his class, took great pains to have his children properly educated. The difficulty lay not so much in the disinclination of van-dwellers to educate their children as in the unwillingness of schoolmasters to receive these temporarily . . .” (Era, 28 Feb 1891)

March: Black Lion Hotel, Salford (Stage, 12 March 1891)

April: Salford: “Randall Williams, 42, Illusionist (Ghost Show)” (census)

May: Kendal (Stage, 14 May, 1891)

May: Barrow-in-Furness (Stage, 21 May 1891)

July: Annfield Plain, Co. Durham (Stage, 9 July 1891)

August: Sheldon, Co. Durham (Stage, 13 Aug 1891)

August: Spennymoor, Co. Durham (Era, 22 Aug 1891)

October: Hull Fair: Randall attended a meeting of the Van Dwellers in Scott’s circus booth during Hull Fair (Era, 17 Oct 1891)

November: Malton (Stage, 19 Nov 1891)

December: Whitby, Yorkshire: "Professor Randall Williams" The renowned exponent of Hypnotism, Mesmerism, and Optical Illusions has the honour to announce a Special Performance on Friday at 43.0 o'clock for school children at this Great Ghost Show, Market Place, Whitby, when will be presented Little Jim, The Colliers Dying Child, and a very laughable Ghost Sketch. Admission to the performance 1d. each. N.B. This exhibition will remain here for a few days longer. An entire change of performance each evening. Two performances nightly at 7 o'clock and 8.30 respectively. Admission: Front seats 6d. Back seats 3d. (Whitby Gazette, 18 Dec 1891)

December: Whitby: "Randall Williams' Ghost Show. -- A large travelling show, taking up all available space has been erected in the Market Place, and since Monday night has attracted large audiences within its ghostly walls. "Professor" Williams certainly knows how to cater for his patrons, who are treated to dagger and ghost to a startling extent. We suppose ghosts have been associated with Christmas ever since the beginning of the Christmas era, and thus it may be termed a seasonable visit. The comic element is not forgotten, and roars of laughter greet the numerous sallies of the players. The ghost is really cleverly introduced and manipulated in the orthodox way, and, seeing that the establishment will remain a few days longer in town, a fair proportion of hoarded Christmas coppers may find their way into Mr. Williams' exchequer." (Whitby Gazette, 18 Dec 1891)

"Robbing a Ghost Show Proprietor
(Northern Echo, 4 Jan 1892) (Shield’s Daily Gazette, 4 Jan 1892)

January: Whitby, North Yorkshire (Northern Echo, 4 Jan 1892)

March: West Hartlepool: death of Randall’s son, Randall, 16 months (death certificate)

April: Donation to Hartlepool Hospital: Williams' ghost show: 10s. 3d. (Hartlepool Mail, 1 Apr 1892)

May: Northallerton Town Hall: “Randall Williams Ghost and Spectral Co.” (Stage, 5 May 1892, p15)

June: Sheffield: "Ghost Show! Randall Williams will visit Sheffield Whit Fair with his Great Ghost Show . . .” (Sheffield Independent, 3 June 1892, p1)

July: London: birth, of son, Thomas Randall (birth certificate)

October: Hull Fair: “Randall William’s Greatest Ghost Show” with Great Little Titch, Indian Basket Trick, etc. (Critic, 8 Oct 1892) [Note Little Titch was Alex Williamson of Beverley, Yorkshire. He died in January 1902]

November: Rotherham: “The Showmen’s Guild    On Sunday evening last, the Rev. Thomas Horne, Curate of Whiston, who is the son of a well-known showman, conducted a service in Mr. Randall Williams ghost show on the Rotherham Statute Fair Ground . . ." (Era, 12 Nov 1892)

November: Rotherham: “Meeting of Showmen at Rotherham, Educational Proposals. Speeches by the Vicar of Rotherham and the Rev. T. Horne. On Tuesday morning, a meeting of the showmen and others attending the Rotherham Statute Fair was held in Mr. Randall Williams’ ghost show, under the auspices of the Van Dweller’s Protection Society. The Rev. W. Law, M.A., Vicar of Rotherham, presided, and there were also present the Rev. T. Horne, curate of Whiston, and Mr. A.H. Foers. The convenors were Messrs. Randall Williams, J. Whiting, Thomas Horne, and Robert Williams . . .)” (Rotherham Advertiser, 12 Nov 1892, p2) (Copy provided by Archives & Local Studies, Environment & Development Services, Central Library, Walker Place, Rotherham).

November: Leeds: “On Thursday a complimentary dinner was given by Mr. Ernest Gambart to his old friend Mr. Randall Williams, and a select number of gentlemen at the Turk’s Head, Briggate, when an exceedingly pleasant evening was spent. Both gentlemen are well known public entertainers.” (Leeds Times, 19 Nov 1892, p5)

Randall was on the committee of the United Van Dwellers' Protection Association (Rule Book)

January: London: Meeting of the Van Dwellers Protection Association at the Royal Agricultural Hall (Showmen in Conference, Birmingham Daily Post, 26 Jan 1893)

April: Trafford-road Fair Ground, Salford (Era, 1 April 1893)

May: Higher Cambridge-street, Manchester (Stage, 25 May 1893)

June: Normanton (Stage, 1 June 1893, p 17)

June: Barnsley (Stage, 15 June 1893)

June: Barnsley, Yorkshire: “An Incident of the Lion’s Escape. Yesterday evening during the scare caused by the escape of a young lion at Day’s Menagerie, now performing in Church Field, Barnsley, Mrs. Williams, wife of the proprietor of a ghost show, was badly burnt on the left side of her face by the explosion of a small lamp which was filled with methylated spirits. The poor woman was in the act of lighting the lamp when the cry as to the escape of the lion arose and frightened her.” (Yorkshire Evening Post, 17 June 1893, p3)

July: London: birth of son, Thomas Henry (birth certificate)

August: Feast Ground, Brighouse (Stage, 10 Aug 1893)

August: Armley (Stage, 31 Aug 1893)

October: Hull Fair: Randall Williams Greatest Ghost Show of the World . . .  Little Titch . . . . New Scenery. Grand Effects.  . . . (Hull Daily Mail, 12 Oct 1893, p1)

November: Rotherham Statute Fair: "Showmen's Meeting at Rotherham: A special meeting was held yesterday afternoon in Williams' Ghost Show on the Fair Ground, Rotherham, under the auspices of the United Kingdom Van Dwellers Protection Association. Mr. B. T. Burnett presided, and he was supported by the Rev. T Horne (Chaplain to the showmen) and the following leaders of the movement: Messrs. Randall Williams, Robert Williams, J. Dean, Wm. Sedgwick, P. Collins, J. Whiting, Harry Hughes, J. Burton, Inshaws, Murphy, Newsome, Hancock, &c. The "show" was crowded, there being present besides "travellers" a number of trade unionists and inhabitants of the borough. -- The Chairman explained that the association was formed three years ago on the suggestion of the Liberty and Property Defence League to oppose the passing of the Movable Dwellings Bill through Parliament. He criticised the clauses of that bill, stating they would if passed, prevent showmen from carrying on their daily avocations. The results of the formation of the association had been gratifying. The first year they had 500 members, and at the present time 800. (Applause.) They had a great many friends in the House of Commons, some of them most influential, including two Cabinet Ministers. Criticising the bill, the speaker strongly condemned the proposal to confer the power on the police to inspect movable dwellings at any time from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. He did not see why they should be singled out to bear the inflections which the bill proposed. With regard to George Smith, of Coalville, he would not dwell upon that gentleman's past career. He refuted George Smiths' statement in his book, "How I went Gipsying," that three-fourths of the van dwellers lived in a state of concubinage. On the contrary, from his experience of 14 or 15 years, he asserted that they lived only in the bonds of holy matrimony. (Applause.) George Smith also had published that they nearly all lived on their children begging, borrowing, and stealing. That, too, was an infamous falsehood. (Applause.) -- Mr. J. Dean, one of the organisers of the society, also addressed the gathering. The Rev. T. Horne dwelt on the subject of the education of showmen's children. He repudiated wild statements of Mr. George Smith, of Coalville. He denied that there were 50,000 children in the country and 3000 showmen children outside the educational machinery. A statement like that of George Smith, of Coalville, was grossly false, and such a wild flight of imagination that he (the speaker) had sometimes marvelled that George Smith, of Coalville, had not found more profitable employment in trying to elaborate from his inner consciousness some popular penny novelette. (Laughter.) As a novelist and romancist he would be a great success." (Sheffield Independent, 6 Nov 1893, p2)

For the full story behind the formation of the Van Dwellers Protection Association (Showmen's Guild of Great Britain), the showmen involved, etc., see
"Wanted, a Few Useful People for the Ghost Business"


During the year an electric light engine (#1755) was delivered new to Randall in Manchester by Thomas Green & Son.

January: King’s Yard, Stretford-road, Manchester (Stage, 4 Jan 1894)

April: Lincoln Pleasure Fair (Lincolnshire Chronicle, 26 April 1895, p8)

May: Boston May Fair: “Professor Randall Williams` Electroscope” (Lincolnshire Echo, 9 May 1895, p1)

May: Sleaford (Lincolnshire): “Professor Randall Williams` Electroscope”(Lincolnshire Echo, 18 May 1895, p1)

May: Dalton-in-Furness (Stage, 10 May 1894)

June: Whitehaven: “Randall Williams Ghost Pavilion” (Stage, 14 June 1894)

June: Ayr, Scotland: “Randall Williams, Ghost Pavilion” (Stage, 28 June 1894)

August: Hetton-le-Hole (Stage, 9 Aug 1894)

September: Holbeck Feast (Leeds Mercury, 12 Sept 1894)

October: Hull Fair: Randall Williams (No. 1 Show): The Great Little Titch, Smallest Comedian in the World . . . ."Mr. R. W. wishes to inform his patrons that he will introduce his New Patent Search Light"    (Hull Daily Mail, 15 Oct 1894)

October:  Hull Fair: “Randall Williams’ No. 2 Show. . . Man in a Trance and Sleeping Beauty . . . “ (Hull Daily Mail, 9 Oct 1895)  )

October: Hull Fair: Randall Williams No. 2 Show . . . . “Last night a couple of hearses, containing, each, a coffin, paraded Anlaby-road, and were drawn through the Fair. . . .” (Hull Daily Mail, 11 Oct 1895, p4)

November: Rotherham Fair Ground: “Randall Williams Ghost Theatre” (Stage, 1 Nov 1894) (Stage, 15 Nov 1894)

November:  Sheffield: "Wanted, to arrange for Ground, for Bolton Fair, 50ft. front and 60ft. back. Russell Williams and others write. Address Randall Williams, Post Office Sheffield. Would like to hear from friends. (Era, 22 Nov 1894)

December:  London: World's Fair:  "Wanted, known, that Randall Williams's Great Phantoscopical Exhibition of Living Pictures, Past and Present, was the great success at the World's Fair, Royal Agricultural Hall, Boxing Day. 10,000 people paid for admission, 3d. and 6d. Randall Williams, Royal Agricultural Hall, Six Weeks Longer." (Era, 29 Dec 1894)

January: London: World’s Fair (Era, Jan 5, 1895)

February: London: birth of son, Albert Edward, in a Caravan at the Agricultural Hall (birth certificate)

April: Yarmouth: Randall Williams’ Electroscope (Stage, 18 Apr 1895)

April: Lincoln: Randall Williams’ Ghost Show (Stage, 18 April 1895)

May: Boson May Fair:  “Professor Randall Williams’s Exhibition is here for the first time for Twenty Years. The whole of this Exhibition will be brilliantly illuminated with the Electric Light. The Engine and Plant has been specifically designed by Messrs. Green and Son, Leeds and London. Everybody should see the New Patent Revolving ARC Lamp and Powerful Search Light. . . . The whole of this Magnificent Plant can be seen working on the outside of the building free of charge. . . . ” (Lincolnshire Echo, 3 May 1895, p3)

May: Sleaford, Lincolnshire: “The Show of the Century. Professor Randall Williams`s Electroscope will visit the Cross Keys Yard, Sleaford, To-Day (Saturday) and Monday, May 18, & 29. Everything worked by Electricity. Everybody should come and see the Arc Lamp and Powerful Search Lamp. The admiration of all beholders. Mr. Williams respectfully invites Engineers and Scientific Men to inspect the same. The whole of this Magnificent Plant can be seen working on the outside of the building free of charge. A Challenge to London for £1000.  To produce a series of Living Pictures equal to those shown at this Exhibition. An entire New Series of Tableaux Vivants has been specially designed and arranged for this tour, and will be produced on a costly scale of Magnitude, with Limelight, Scenic and Phantoscopical Effects, &c.” (advertisement, Lincolnshire Echo, 18 May 1895, p1)

June: Feast Ground, Elsecar, near Sheffield (Era, 8 Jun 1895; 15 Jun 1895)

July: Skelmonthorpe (Era, 13 July 1895)

August: Brighouse, Yorkshire (Era, 8 Aug 1895)

August: Leeds: Randall purchased a portable light engine (Enchantress, #7213) from John Fowler & Co. (Leeds) Limited.

September: Holbeck (Era, 7 Sept 1895)

September: Morley: Randall Williams Electroscope (Era, 14 Sept 1895)

September:  Feast Ground, Woodhouse, Leeds (Stage, 19 Sept 1895)
September: Featherstone (Era, 28 Sept 1895)

October: Nottingham Goose Fair: “Second Sight Show” (Randall’s No. 2 show)

October: Hull Fair (No. 1 Show):  "The only Electrosope in the World. Living Pictures and Tableaux Vivants. . . . See his New Patent Search Light, the greatest invention of modern times . . ." (Hull Daily Mail, 8 Oct 1895)

October: Hull Fair: “Royal Proclamation and Challenge to the Whole World. Randall Williams’ No. 2 Show. The Grandest and Greatest Exhibition of Sensational and Scientific Wonders. Will visit this town during the Fair, Exhibiting the Greatest London Sensations! Randall Williams has engaged the Original Prof. T. Howard with his Great London Sensations! . . .” (Hull Daily Mail, 9 Oct 1895, p4)

October: Hull Fair: “But the most sensational bit of business is in the possession of Randall Williams, and is at his No. 2 Show. . . Last night a couple of hearses, containing, each, a coffin, paraded Anlaby-road, and were drawn through the Fair. . . .” (Hull Daily Mail, 11 Oct 1895, p4)

November: Rotherham Status Fair: Randall attended the funeral of James Marsden; also a meeting of the Van Dwellers held at the Effingham Arms Hotel  (Era, 9 Nov 1895).

October, Rotherham Status Fair (Era, 26 Oct 1895)

November: Sheffield (Stage, 7 Nov 1895, p 17)

December:  Bolsover, Derbyshire (Era, 7 Dec 1895)

December (over Christmas): Barrow Hill, NE Derbyshire (Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald)

December: Eckington, Derbyshire:  "Eckington Petty Sessions. Monday. Before Ald. J. F. Swallow, Major Bowden, and Mr. R. Eyre. A Locomotive Without a License. Randall Williams was summoned for using a locomotive on the highway at Eckington on December 19th without having a license. Defendant said it wasn't his as he only had it on approval. Sergeant Mackenzie said on the date he saw the defendant with the engine and several trucks. Defendant's name was on the engine. He said he was going to Barrow Hill for a week. He went up Martin Hill. Defendant told him that it always went by rail. -- Superintendent Falkner saw them coming down Barborough Hill, and had to drive on the footpath to get past. -- Fined £1 and costs." (Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald, 28 Dec 1895)


Randall was on the committee of the United Van Dwellers' Protection Association (Rule Book)

January: London: World’s Fair: Randall was unanimously elected chairman of the Showmen’s Annual Supper and Ball for the second time (Era, 18 Jan 1896)

February: London: World’s Fair (Era, 1 Feb 1896)
February: London: Dalston Junction: Sale of Bostock and Wombwell's Menagerie: "It is said that a good looking bloodhound has been sold at Bostock and Wombell's Menagerie for 45, its purchaser being Mr. Randal Williams, a popular showman, who intends the hound to take part in the well-known adaptation from Mrs. Beecher Stowe's "Uncle Tom's Cabin." (Daily Gazette, Middlesbrough, 3 Mar 1896, p4)

February: King’s Lynn (Stage, 27 Feb 1896)

February: Leeds: Randall puchased a traction engine from John Fowler and Co. at a cost of more than £700 with payments extending from February 1896 to August 1899. (A Victorian Film Enterprise: History of the British Mutoscope & Bioscraph Co., p4)

February: Market Place, Wombwell, Yorkshire:  "Obstruction by Caravans [4 vans]. Randall Williams, showman, Manchester, was charged with having caused an obstruction on the highway at Wombwell on the 23 February. . . . The Bench said there was not the slightest doubt that he did cause an obstruction and he would be fined 10s, and costs." (Barnsley Chronicle, 7 March 1896)
March: Barnsley, Yorkshire: Strange Explosion in Barnsley Market: An extraordinary explosion, one which, though not clearly explained by the men concerned, seems to be of a character to merit inquiry by electricians, occurred in Beckett Square Market, Barnsley, on Saturday evening. An entertainment known as “Randall Williams’ Electroscope” had been stationed there during the week. Part of the attraction was an electric search-light, produced by a dynamo driven by an eight-horse power steam engine. On Saturday evening an electrician from Leeds, having been making some repairs to the dynamo and electric apparatus, preparations were made as usual for commencing. The power was turned on, the dynamo started, and after working a little while there came a slight explosion, the copper coils forming the battery were broken and thrown amongst the crowd, and the man who was making the repairs was rather badly cut about the head and face. The cause of the explosion is unknown, but the damage to the dynamo, battery, etc. is estimated at £150.(Sheffield Telegraph, 16 March 1896, p7)

April: Irvine, Scotland: Bogside Carnival (Irvine Herald, 17 Apr 1896)

April: Golborne: “Wanted, Manager for Mystic Swing” (Stage, 30 Apr 1896)

May: Bolton, Lancashire: Randall Williams Electroscope Fair (Stage, 28 May 1896) (Era, 30 May 1896)

September: London: birth of son, George (birth certificate)
October: Nottingham Goose Fair: “Randall Williams Trance and Second Sight Exhibition”  (his No. 2 show) (The Journals of Sydney Race, p 66).

 October: Hull Fair: “The only Electroscope In the World. Living Pictures and Tableaux Vivants . . .” (Hull Daily Mail, 13 Oct 1896)

November: Rotherham, Yorkshire: "Showmen's Meeting at Rotherham. Last night the travellers attending the Rotherham Statute Fair held a meeting at the Effingham Arms, Rotherham, the proceedings being under the auspices of the United Kingdom Showmen and Van Dwellers' Protection Association. Mr. Randall Williams presided. . . ." (Sheffield Daily Telegraph, 2 Nov 1896)

November: Rotherham Statute Fair: Randall Williams's No. 1 show with his Cinematograph and his No. 2 show with a mind reading performance by Professor Howard (Era, 7 Nov 1896 )

November: Chesterfield Hiring Fair: “Randall Williams’s ghost illusions” (Era, 28 Nov 1896)
December: London: World’s Fair: film exhibition, "Queen of the Antipodes, Fisheries Exhibition, &c.” (Islington Gazette, 29 Dec 1896)

December: London: interview with a Chums reporter (published the following year) (Chums, Issue 269, 3 Nov 1897)

Royal Agricultural Hall, Islington

Randall was the first showman to exhibit films at the World's Fair at the Royal Agricultural Hall in London. The films exhibited in 1896 included Queen of the Antipodes and a Fisheries Exhibition.

Other showmen who exhibited films at the World's Fair included: James Chittock at the start of the 1897-98 season; Carrie and Dick Monte, who took over Randall's main show during the 1898-99 season; William Taylor, who took over the space alloted for the 'Randall Williams' show during the 1901-02 season; and Arthur Twigdon who opened with Chittock's show during the 1906-07 season.

Royal Agricultural Hall, Upper Street, Islington, 1901 [author]

Note: A transcript of the London County Council inspection reports for Randall's show at the World's Fair  in 1897-98 are included in "Wanted, a Few Useful People for the Ghost Business."


 Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee celebration year. Randall spent the entire summer at the Victorian Era Exhibition in Earl’s Court, London (May 24 - Oct 30), where he billed his show as “Pepper’s Famous Ghost Show”. The show was specifically designed that year to pay tribute to Queen Victoria and it included films of her Jubilee Procession (added at the end of June), a tableau vivant presentation of the Queen surrounded by the flags of all nations, and a Pepper's Ghost performance which included amongst other titles, the short drama, “Adrian the Betrayer”.

Note:  The projector used by Randall at the Victorian Era Exhibition was supplied by Haydon & Urry (he started using their projector in early 1897), leading the company to claim in its advertising that their "Eragraph" had been used "with unqualified success at “Victorian Era Exhibition all Last Season.” (Era, Feb 26, 1898) 

January:  Randall started off the year with a brand new, dual-lobby show booth. It was built by George Orton of Burton-on-Trent and came with a beautiful front exterior carved and gilded by Charles Spooner. Randall's old show was converted into a bioscope and was managed by Randall's nephew, Reuben Williams.

January: World’s Fair: “Wanted, it Known that the Greatest Success ever known is the Cinematograph, now being shown in the Royal Agricultural Hall, London. Fifty latest Animated Pictures to select from. Open for Engagements. Apply, Randall Williams . . .” (Era, 16 Jan 1897       

Feburary London: World’s Fair: Showmen’s Supper and Ball (Stage, 4 Feb 1897, p 9)

February: London: Agricultural Hall (Van Dwellers Meeting): “Mr. Randall Willliams made one of vigorous speeches urging the showmen present to rally to the help of the society. . .” (Era, 7 Feb 1897, p20)

 February: King’s Lynn: Van-Dwellers Association meeting (Era, 27 Feb 1897)

 April: London: “The Bros. La Fayette, Modern Blondins . . . Full particulars, Randall Williams, 8, Claremont-square, Pentonville-road, London.” (Era, 10 April 1897)

 April: Grantham Pleasure Fair: “Mr. Randall Williams had engaged the old Butter Hall for his cinematograph, and here quite a number of novel, humorous and interesting pictures were displayed each evening. This was undoubtedly the greatest attraction of the Fair . . .(Grantham Journal, 10 April 1897, p8)

 April: Norwich: Randall gave evidence at the Coroner’s inquiry into the death of John Barker, the proprietor of a switchback railway (Era, 17 Apr 1897)

 April: Yarmouth Fair Ground (Stage, 22 April 1897)

 May: Boston May Fair: “Randall Williams. World-Famed Electroscope, and the only real electric cinematographe or Moving Photographs . . ." (Lincolnshire Echo, 5 May 1897) 

May: Boston:  Randall was looking for a phantoscope to perform 'Pepper's Ghost' at the Victorian Era Exhibition (Era, May 8, 1897)

May: Boston: The Sensation of the Fair. In consequence of the great success of Randall William's world-famed Electric Cinematograph or Moving Pictures. It will remove to Bargate Gree, Boston for a few days longer. Everything Bang Up to Date. Popular Prices. (Lincolnshire Echo, 14 May 1897, p1)

May: Old Butter Hall, Market Place, Grantham: Randall was looking for an engine driver competent to run a Dynamo (Grantham Journal, 15 May 1897)

May: Fulham, London: “Wanted, to inform those engaged by me for Pepper’s Ghost at Earl’s Court Victorian Era Exhibition, that they must be there not later than 9 a.m., Monday, for Rehearsal . . . Randall Williams, 38, Lillie Road, Fulham.” (Stage, 20 May 1897, p 17) 

 May: Victorian Era Exhibition, London: “Wanted, Known, that Randall Williams’s Pepper’s Ghost has been unanimously acknowledged by Public and Press to be the best Entertainment of the Coronation Fair in the Victorian Exhibition, Earl’s-court.” (Era, 29 May 1897)

June: Victorian Era Exhibition: “Pepper’s Famous Ghost Show” (Daily News, 10 June 1897)

June: Victorian Era Exhibition: “Wanted Known, that all records broken at Randall William’s Pepper’s Ghost, Victorian Era Exhibition, Earl’s Court. Over 9,000 passed the turnstiles on Whit Monday last. Patronised by Royalty on Wednesday, June 3rd, 1897. Good Old Randall!” (Stage, 10 June 1897)

 July: Victorian Era Exhibition: “Wanted, a Band of from Fifteen to Twenty Performers, to play in the Empress Theatre, Royal Victorian Era Exhibition, Earl’s-court, London. Apply Randall Williams.” (Era, 3 July 1897)

 July: Victorian Era Exhibition: “Wanted, Known, La Fayette Brothers, the successors of the late Chevalier Blondon, will open in the Empress Theatre, Exhibition, Earl’s-court, London, on July 15, 1897. Apply Randall Williams, King of Showmen, above. Well done, Randy.” (Era, 10 July 1897)

August: Victorian Era Exhibition: “Lafayette Brothers . . . in the Empress Theatre. For full particulars, etc. Apply Randall Williams, King of Showmen, their Sole Representative.” (Era, 7 Aug 1897)

 August: Yorkshire: Randall Williams’ Living Pictures (No. 2 show) in attendance at “the Yorkshire feasts around Leeds and Bradford.” (Era, 28 Aug 1897)  

 September: Victorian Era Exhibition: “Wanted, Divers, Tank Swimmers with own tank, Novelties of all kinds, for one of my side shows. Must be good. Share or certainty – Apply, Randall Williams, King of Showmen, Exhibition, Earl’s Court, London.” (Stage, 2 Sept 1897) 

 September: Bingley, Yorkshire: No. 2 show (Era, Sept 4, 1897)

September: Skipton, Yorkshire: “Williams’s “cinematograph theatre“ (No. 2 show) (Era, 11 Sept 1897)

September: Great Horton, Bradford: “Randall Williams with his living photography” (No. 2 show) (Era, 11 Sept 1897)

September: Holbeck Feast, South Leeds: Randall Williams Living Pictures (No. 2 show) (Era, 18 Sept 1897)

September: Morley: “living pictures show by Randall Williams” (No. 2 show) (Era, 25 Sept 1897)

 September: Hunslet Feast: Randall Williams Living Pictures (No. 2 show) (Merry Go Round, Vol. XIV, No. 4, Autumn, 1960)

 October: Woodhouse Feast: “Randall Williams cinematograph show” (No. 2 show) (Era, 2 Oct 1897)

 October: Victorian Era Exhibition: “Wanted, for one of my large side shows, Victorian Era Exhibition, Earl’s Court, London, a good swimming troupe or any Big Novelty that would suit this Exhibition. Apply Randall Williams, King of Showmen, as above. . .” (Era, 2 Oct 1897)

 October: Nottingham Goose Fair: Randall Williams’ Electroscope and Mammoth Phantoscopical Exhibition (this was to be the last time Randall’s ghost illusions exhibited at Nottingham) (Poster in Old Nottingham Goose Fair)

October: Hull Fair: “Randall Williams’ Cinematograph, on the Fairground, Walton-street” (Hull Daily Mail, 13 Oct 1897)

 November: Malton, Yorkshire: "Randall Williams’ Famous Cinematograph will visit Malton during the Hirings" (Hebden Times, 13 Nov 1897)

 December (over Christmas): Sheffield: Randall's No. 2 show

 December: World’s Fair, London: This was to be Randall's last show at the World's Fair. During the year his main feature had been the films of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee procession. However, he was showing a new film over the Christmas holiday period that would have been of particular interest to London audiences - the December 21st funeral procession of William Terriss, a popular actor just murdered by a jealous rival. The film was supplied by Haydon & Urry, Ltd (the only company known to have filmed the funeral).

December: Royal Agricultural Hall, London (World's Fair): Randall’s show was inspected by officials from London County Council: “On inspection of the cinematograph in Williams’ Show this day it is found that the arc light is employed (as proposed) and that the film is rewound automatically upon another bobbin. The operator with an assistant manipulates the cinematograph in a corrugated iron enclosure at the back of the auditorium. A notice prohibiting smoking on the part of the audience is exhibited in the Show, compliance with which is insisted upon by Williams’ at the demonstration. Only two of the proposed regulations now remain uncomplied with, viz: - that the bobbin be covered and that the shutter should work automatically. A fireman is on duty at this and Chittock’s Show.” (On inspection of Cinematograph in Williams’ Show at the World’s Fair, 30 Dec 1897. London County Council, Chemical & Gas Department to the Theatres & Music Halls Committee, Agricultural Hall, Islington. Presented papers of the Theatres and Music Hall Committee relating to the Royal Agricultural Hall 1880-1899 (LCC/MIN/10,886) On file at London Metropolitan Archives, 40 Northampton Road, London)

January: London: World’s Fair: "Randall William's cinematograph show contains views of a snowballing match, and of the funeral of the late William Terriss, in which many faces well known in the theatrical profession may be recognised. There is also a representation of a young lady taking a bath. The usual Jubilee procession concludes the entertainment." (Era, 29 Jan 1898) [The Terriss funeral was filmed Dec 21]

January: Manchester: Randall attended an emergency meeting of the Van Dwellers Association at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, where he was elected one of the Vice Presidents (Era, 22 Jan 22, 1898)

February: London: Annual meeting of the United Kingdom Showmen and Van-Dwellers’ Protection Association (Stage, 3 Feb 1898) 

February: King’s Lynn: “The picturesque, old-fashioned town of King’s Lynn is en fête this week, for the fair is there, with that leading and popular showman, Mr. Randall Williams, as the centre of it, with his cinematographe. The animated pictures are some of the best ever shown, including sea waves in all their fury, a wrestling match, grand march past of the Royal Blues, an express train coming into a local station, bathing at Blackpool, the Queen’s Jubilee procession, and a number of other interesting subjects. It is a fine show that the energetic Mr. Williams provides for his patrons, who are not slow in “coming up” when so desired.”  (Stage, 17 Feb 1898, p 18) 

March:  Wisbech, Cambridgeshire (Stage, 3 March 1898)

March: Bury St. Edmonds, Suffolk:  V.R. Proclamation.  Randall Williams, King of Showmen, wishes to inform the Inhabitants of Bury that he will open his Grand Bioscope of Animated Pictures, on Friday, March 18th, 1898, upon the Play Field. Those who have only seen the Cinematographe should see this Grand American Bioscope, which has recently been exhibited at the Royal Albert Hall, also at Earls Court Exhibition, where it was three times patronised by Royalty, the King of Siam, the Colonel Premiers, and the Rajahs of India. Mr. R. W. wishes to give Notice to this Patrons that one of the Presentations given him will be on view in the window of the "Free Press" Office, Abbeygate Street, the Presentation being that of a magnificent Albert of 12 Lions' and Tigers' Claws mounted in pure gold and containing 42 diamonds valued at £500 and was presented to him by His Highness, the Rajah Tomshon. All are invited to see this grand and noble exhibition and not to miss the Greatest Treat of the Age. Pro Bono Public. Mullum im Parvel. Admission - 3d., 6d., and 1s. (Bury Free Press, 19 March 1898)

April: Norwich Tombland Fair (Easter) (The Picture House in East Anglia, p11)

April: Wanstead Flats Fair: Easter Sunday: Meeting of the Van Dweller`s Protection Society: “There was a large muster of showmen, presided over by Randall Williams, who had the support of Messrs. Bibby (the council`s delegate), H. Bailey, W. Storey, J. Ball, A. Ball, Sidney Milliss, H. Powell, Coxswain Terry, Mons. Le Neve, W. Brookes, W. Wright, W. H. Davies, J. Hill, and Mr. Watson Wright, the Society`s solicitor. The vexed question of the proposed Surrey bye-laws was the main topic of the meeting. Mr. Randall Williams introduced the subject in a few well chosen words . . .” (Era, 16 April 1898, p19)

May: Boston May Fair: “Randall Williams living pictures” (Boston Guardian & Lincolnshire Independent, 7 May 1898)

May: Newark: (Stage, 19 May 1898, p 2) 

May: Yorkshire Fairs: (Era, 21 May 21, 1898)

May:  Wanstead Flats, London: "Wanted, Musicians to play to large military organ; also Cinematograph operator that understands Lime and Electric Light. Randall Williams, Wanstead Flats. (Era, 28 May 1898)

June:  Gray's Inn, London:  "Wanted to sell, one electric motor, to drive a large organ; one new Lime Jet, gives 2,000 candle-power light; one new Black-tilt Fit Booth, 70 by 30; splendid films, £2 10s. each; Special Gladstone Funeral, £5 each. Apply at once, Randall Williams, Bioscope, Grays, London." (Stage, 2 June 1898)

June: Castleford (Era, 4 June 4, 1898)

June: Normanton, Yorkshire (Era, 4 June 4, 1898)

June: Christ Church, Pendlebuy, Lancashire:  christening:  Annie and Randall’s son Randall (15 June 1898)

June: York Gala: “Randall Williams exhibition” (Era, 25 June 1898)

July: Glasgow: “Wanted to Sell. Stage wagon . . . Apply, Randall Williams, Greens Barracks, Glasgow.” (Stage, 7 July 1898, p 18) 

August: Manningham, Bradford: Shocking Shooting Affair at Bradford. Late last night a shooting affair occurred at the Manningham Feast, Bradford. A number of boys were in the living picture show of Randolph (sic) Williams, showman, Manchester, when one picked up a loaded revolver which the proprietor had laid down and pointed it Edward Joseph McNorgan and fired, the charge hitting this boy in the mouth. Sawyer who fired the shot, ran off with the revolver, leaving McNorgan lying senseless on the floor. Dr. Mercer attended the injured lad, who is seriously hurt, and whose recovery is doubtful“ (the revolver was filled with blanks and was used for sound effects in an American war film) (Guardian, 2 Aug 1898)

August: Hunslet town moor: “Randall Williams with his Cinémato-life pictorial theatre” (Stage, 13 Aug 1898) 

August: Brighouse Feast (Era, 20 Aug 1898)

August: Yeadon Feast (Era, 27 Aug 1898)

September: Great Horton, Bradford (Stage, 1 Sept 1898) 

September: Pudsey (Era, 3 Sept 1898)

September: Armley Feast, Leeds (Era, 10 Sept 1898)

September: Holbeck Feast: “Randall Williams’s No. 1 Show the Magnet Cinematograph” (Era, 17 Sept 1898)

September: Morley Feast: “Randall Williams’s No. 2 concern” (Era, 24 Sept 1898)

September: Woodhouse, Leeds: "Wanted, a good Doorman and General Manager for one of my shows; also a good cinematograph operator; one that understands Electric and Lime Light. Good wages and constant shop to useful people. Randall Williams, Feast Ground, Woodhouse, Leeds." (Stage, 22 Sept 1898)

October: Leeds (Era, 1 Oct 1898)

October: Woodhouse Feast and Woodhouse Carr Feast (Era, 8 Oct 1898)

October: Nottingham Goose Fair (Oct 6-9):  “Randall Williams' living pictures” (Era, 15 Oct 1898)

October: Hull Fair:  "Randall Williams, New Improved American Bioscope, which is far better than the old cinematograph” (Hull Daily Mail, 10 Oct 1898, p 2)

October: Grimsby: Randall's last show was at Great Grimsby, Lincolnshire, where he exhibited at the Freeman Street Market.

November 14:  Grimsby: Randall died of typhoid fever on the morning of November 14, 1898. His show had been moved to Driffield (East Riding Yorkshire) for The Hirings fair, but did not open.
Death of Showman Williams: Mr Randall Williams, who is well-known as a purveyor of fair attractions, and whose establishment was only recently in the Freeman-street Market, died on Monday at Grimsby.  Mr. Williams was the proprietor of several of the most prominent shows at the recent Hull Fair, and has had a long and successful career as a showman.” (Grimsby Daily Telegraph, 16 Nov 1898) Details provided by North East Lincolnshire Council Library Service, Grimsby Reference and Local History Library, Town Hall Square, Grimsby, North East Lincolnshire.

"The Hirings. . . . One of the attractions was closed owing to the death of the proprietor - the well-known showman, Randall Williams - who died at Grimsby that morning, after being ill there for a short time." (Driffield Times, 19 Nov 1898)
November 18:  Randall's funeral at Weaste Cemetery, Salford.
Funeral of the King of Showmen. The remains of Randall Kay Williams, who was known as the King of Showmen, were interred at the Salford Cemetery on Friday. Williams who was 52 years of age, died at Grimsby on the 14th inst. On the following day, the body was removed to the Commercial Hotel, Trinity Market, Salford, in a pitchpine shell covered with lead and placed in a polished oak coffin with brass fittings. Williams and his father were the founders of the Flatiron Market Show Ground, Salford, and no one was better known than the deceased at the old Pomona Fair Ground, where he used to have his show decorated with the sign, “The Manchester Favourite”, which at that time he undoubtedly was. Two of the chief representatives of Barnum and Bailey’s show travelled from London to Salford to pay their last respects to the deceased. The funeral procession consisted of glass hearse and four horses, ten carriages, four broughams and several other conveyances.” (Salford City Reporter, 26 Nov 1898)
Randall's funeral was conducted by the Rev. Thomas Horne, a long time friend and associate of Randall's and, a man, who had stood shoulder to shoulder with the showmen in defending their rights and liberties.
Memories of Knott Mill Fair
Well do I remember Manchester's Great Fair
When the best in the Kingdom were gathered there
When the people flock in from the big towns around
When Great Wombwell and Pablo stood on their ground
"Choris Tommmie" with Dollics was just all the rage
When old Lomas, the Mummer with kids of the stage
When old Bill Strand started wild beast
When the bells of St Matthew range out Easter Feast
When the stalls lined Deansgate right up to the Fair
And Fearn's pannum stall was the entrance there
When young Randall Williams began his great life
With his two waggon load and clever young wife
I picture them now as they worked with a will
She danced in her tartan, he pattered with skill
He could ‘Tell the Tale’ for the people must know
The mystery and mirth of his conjuring show
  (The Rev. Thos Horne, The Ballads of Showland in Era, 6 March 1909)

Weaste Cemetery

The site of Randall's grave at Weaste Cemetery, Salford.  Unfortunately, the gravestone has disappeared. Randall's daughter, Caroline Williams Monte, is also buried here.

Photo kindly provided by Peter Kilvert, Secretary, The Friends of Salford Cemeteries Trust. See: Buried at Weaste Cemetery - Randall Kay Williams (1846-1898)


Randall died without a will, but on January 17, 1899, his two daughters, Annie (married to Reuben Williams) and Caroline (married to Dick Monte) met in London to make an Agreement dividing up his assets. It was agreed that Annie would take ownership of the caravan and other effects (Randall's No. 2 show) at Pendlebury (see The Williams Showmen) and that Caroline would take ownership of the caravan and other effects (the main bioscope) at the Royal Agricultural Hall in London (see The Monte Williams Showmen).


The late Carrie Monte Tindale of Abbotsford, B.C. (daughter of Carrie and Dick Monte). My mom was extremely proud of her family's fairground roots. These pages are for her and for all the other Monte and Williams descendents who want to know more about their showmen ancestors.

My cousin, the late Dick Monte of Huddersfield. Dick spent countless hours digging through the records and piecing together the family history. These pages wouldn't exist if it hadn't been for Dick.

Randall Williams of Chellaston (grandson of Annie Randford and Randall Williams) - my mom's cousin and still (and forever) my best find. Thank you for all your help with the research and for passing on the stories told to you by your Grandma Annie.

The late Peter Williams (grandson of Annie and Randall Williams) and his daugther Karen who began the original research in the early 1980s. Karen wrote some of the first articles on Randall.

Helen Walmsley (of the Williams/Cornwell line) who provided lots of vital details and photos.  

My cousin Ann Cadman of Poole (daughter of John Monte).

My cousin James Monte of Washington, Tyne & Wear (son of James Monte).

Wendy Monte - who researched a lot of the articles published about the family and who acted as a go between me and my Uncle Bob

James Towers Williams (son of Fanny Towers and Rufus Williams)

Related Pages

"Wanted, a Few Useful People for the Ghost Business"

Randall Williams Exhibits (ghost show farces and films)

The Williams Family Showmen (of Warrington)

The Monte Williams Showmen 

Haydon and Urry Ltd

Fairground Ancestors Home

Randall Williams, Monte Brothers, Haydon & Urry References

External Links

Who's Who of Victorian Cinema: Randall Williams

Weaste Cemetery Heritage Trail: Biography: Randall Kay Williams

National Fairground Archive: Bioscope Presenters: Randall Williams

Copyright Pauline Tindale, July 1, 2005, Revised November 20, 2011. Updated July 21, 2016. Contact Travellers UK