The Twigdon Showmen

The Twigdons were a well-known fairground family who achieved considerable success, both with their rides and their bioscope shows. There are few records of the earliest Twigdon travellers, but the family was providing fairground amusements as early as 1855 and have been credited with bringing the first roundabout to the British Fairground.  George Twigdon and his sons Arthur and Alfred are probably the most familiar names. 

Extracts from
Merry-Go-Round, the magazine of the Friendship Circle of Showland Fans:

"Twigdon's Amusements:  Well-known nowadays in connection with one of the three big Amusement Parks at Rhyl, the name of Twigdon was a famous one in the early days of the century, mostly in the North and East Midlands, and especially at Nottingham Goose Fair, where, up to 1908, the family had provided some of the main riding machines for a great many years.  The senior member of the firm was George Twigdon. His first ride was a Sea-on-Land roundabout, which he continued to travel up to 1900.  He had a big standing top Switchback, which had gilded chariot cars at first, that were later changed to Venetian Gondolas. The organ on this ride was unique, having eleven figures on it. Two of them, one each side were life-sized and held the drums. In 1889, he had a Savage Three-abreast centre engine No. 479. During the Boer War the horses on this were given generals' heads.

Another famous Twigdon was Arthur, who also had a Gondola Switchback (spinning top), which had a fine paper organ in 1899, one of the first lot to come over here from Gavioli's. At Lynn Mart in 1899 he had two brand new attractions, a Bioscope Show and a Four-abreast set of Ostriches, opened there for the first time. The Bioscope Show was owned jointly by him and John Proctor, and as Twigdon and Proctor's Show, was at the Goose Fair in 1900 and 1901, and also at St. Giles' Fair, Oxford, in 1901. Then John Proctor acquired a new show of his own in 1902, which stood near to Twigdon's at Nottingham that year.  Twigdon's Show was at Oxford again in 1904. Other places visited were Coventry, Leicester, Lincoln, Burton and Birmingham (1902).

By 1906 Arthur Twigdon changed his two wagon fronted show to a big organ front, with one of the big 110 Key Gavioli organs. This show was named Wonderland. This show and the Twigdon riding machines made their last appearance at Nottingham Goose Fair in 1908."  (Merry-Go-Round, Vol. X, No. 1, Dec. 1956)

"A. Twigdon's Mammoth Eliseum:  Previous to 1900 Mr. A. Twigdon (proprietor of some large roundabouts) was in partnership with Mr. J. Proctor in travelling a cinematograph show. At the time of King Edward's Coronation, J. Proctor took over the show, as Proctor's Royal Bioscope. Twigdon's started another show, a new large size 89 Key golden Gavioli organ forming the front. With this show travelled a Foster enginer No. 3053 "Samson", new with it in 1905.  The show and organ went to Hollands while the engine went to Harry Wallis (Liverpool)." (Merry-Go-Round, Vol. VII, No. 7, May 1952)

"Twigdon's No. 1 and No. 2 Venetian Gondolas:  These, one with standing top, and the other a spinning top machine, was very popular over a wide area.  I have a picture of the former, taken in 1899 at the last street fair to be held in Northampton. The machine on that occasion was bereft of rounding boards. Arthur Twigdon who also travelled a fine Picture Show, had two beautiful Burrell engines, named Emperor and Empress.  Twigdon's rides and shows ceased travelling about 1910." (by Father Greville: Famous Steam Switchbacks: Merry-Go-Round, Vol. VI, No. 7, October, 1949)

“One of the best shows that ever travelled (if not the best) was Albert Holland’s “Wonderland.” which according to notes beside me, had a “massive organ front 55 feet long, 15 feet wide and 21 feet high. Originally built for Mr. Arthur Twigdon by Orton and Spooner, the booth itself was 63 feet long, 48 feet wide and seated 600 people, there also being room for 400 standing, and was superbly decorated inside and out.” The projection equipment is not mentioned, but the “show front comprised a magnificent organ, which was equipped with two drums, side and bass, and contained pipes that were made of both wood and brass. Owing to the enormous wind pressure that was required to supply the innumerable pipe sections in the instrument, bellows were superseded by four compressed air pumps. This exhibition travelled Derbyshire, Northants, Notts, Staffs, Cambs, Warwickshire, Leicestershire and Buckinghamshire. " (Showmen’s Enterprise as Film Exhibitors, by R. S. Taylor: Merry Go Round, Vol. IV, No. 3, March, 1945)

Dunton Bassett, Leicestershire (census)
John Twigdon, 38, Dunton
Mary (Burdett) Twigdon, wife, 36, Littlethorpe
Sarah Twigdon, daughter, 14, Dunton
Mary Ann Twigdon, daughter, 12
George Twigdon, son, 6
Hannah Twigdon, daughter, 4

Nottingham Goose Fair: "The first big roundabout, Twigdon's Riding Machine, turned by hand, comes to the fair."

"It was the Twigdon's who, in 1855 introduced their 'Riding Machine". It was primitive in the extreme, nothing more than a pivoted wooden platform fitted with model horses and with the platform being pushed around manually by the operator". (The Great Nottingham Goose Fair).

Dunton Bassett, Lutterworth, Leicestershire (census)
John Twigdon, head, 47, Dunton, Leicestershire, carrier
Mary Twigdon, wife, 48, Little Thorpe, Leicestershire
Maryann Twigdon, daughter, 23, Dunton (married showman Henry Bishop)
George Twigdon, son, 17, Dunton
Hannah Twigdon, daughter, 14, Dunton
Thomas Twigdon, son, 8, Dunton

Leicester Street, Melton Mowbray, Leicestershire (census)
George Twigdon, 27, head, Dunton Bassett, travellers
Elizabeth Twigdon, 24, wife, Leicestershire
William Twigdon, 3, son, Dunton Bassett
Arthur Twigdon, 1, son, Dunton Bassett

George Twigdon was travelling a Sea-on-Land until 1903. This had been new in 1881 with a Savage traction centre engine . . .  The ride was rebuilt in 1904, emerging as a spinning top Swichback. With carved rounding boards, canvas shutters and sporting a set of Gondolas with square copolas. Scenes were painted in the panels of the roundings, except the two front boards which were lettered "Arthur Twigdon" (The Circular Steam Switchback, p83)

Grantham, Lincolnshire (census)
George Twigdon, head, 36, Leicester, Steam Roundabout
Elizabeth Twigdon, wife, 33, Leicester, Show Woman
Arthur Twigdon, son, 11, Dunton Bassett, Leicester
Mary Twigdon, daughter, 3, Dunton Bassett, Leicester

Living In Van, Geddington, Northampton (census)
William Twigdon, head, 27, Dunton Bassett, Leicester, Traveller (Hawker)
Sarah Twigdon, wife, 27, Ashby Magna, Leicester
John Elsom, 56, Blacksmith

Lincoln April Fair:  Twigdons (Merry Go Round, Vol. VII, No. 15, New Year, 1954)


Woodhouse:  Travelling showman Robert West murdered his wife and " .. . about half past 5 on Saturday morning, West went to a neighbouring caravan and told the man, Warwick, and another man, named Twigdon, that he had killed his wife. On going to the caravan they found Mrs. West on the bed with her throat cut  . . (The Times, August 19, 1889)

Arthur Cross Twigdon married Maria Proctor at Sheffield. Maria was the daughter of circus proprietors Maria Codman and Robert Proctor (Proctor's Circus).


"Built for George Twigdon in about February, 1891, the second of the Chariot Switchbacks built that year. It is not clear which centre engine was fitted but an organ engine (505) seems likely to have been supplied with the machine to drive the trumpet organ with its nine figures and two drummers. Two car trucks were also built for Twigdons by Savages. An Electric light engine (560) was new from Savage to George Twigdon [bought by Randall Williams in 1895] . . . Gondola cars replaced the Chariots, and it was later travelled by Arthur Twigdon"  (The Circular Steam Switchback, p 29)

Caravans, Morledge, St. Peters Derby, Derbyshire (census)
Thomas Twigdon, head, 40, proprietor roundabout horses, NK
Thomas Monks, boarder, unmarried, 20, roundabout horse assist, Dunton Bassett
Alfred Bartlett, boarder, unmarried, 18, Dunton Bassett

Arthur Twigdon, head, 27, prop switchback, Dunton Bassett
Maria, 25, Grimsby, Lincolnshire
Elizabeth, daughter, 5 m, Dunton Bassett

George Twigdon, head, 45, proprietor “Sea on Land”, Dunton Bassett
Harry Bishop, boarder, 50 galloping horses assist, Bilmorton
Mary A Bishop, boarder, 42, NK

Twigdon George, circus proprietor, Dunton Bassett, Lttrwrth (Kelly's Director of Leicestershire & Rusland, 1895, p 65, 462)


Birmingham Onion Fair: Twigdon's Sea on Land (Merry Go Round Vol. VI, No. 14, Late Autumn, 1950)

Loughborough:  A.Twigdon's Coliseum (Merry Go Round)

Oldham Wakes:  Twigdon's Sea-on-Land (Merry Go Round, Vol. X, No. 3, Aug/Sept 1957)

Bately: Twigdon's Gallopers (Merry Go Round, Vol. X, No. 3, Aug/Sept 1957)

1897: Hunslet Feast: Twigdon: Gondolas (Merry Go Round, Vol. IX, No. 6, October, 1956)

Bedworth Wakes: Twigdon's Gondolas (Merry Go Round Vol. X, No. 3, Aug/Sept 1957)

Manningham, Bradford (Bank Holiday Monday):  Geo. Twigdon’s Chinese junks (The Stage, 13 Aug 1898)

Hunslet town moor: Geo. Twigdon’s sea on land (The Stage, 13 Aug 1898)

Armley Feast: G. Twigdon's Sea on Land (Merry Go Round Vol. IX, No. 6, October, 1956)

Nottingham Goose Fair: George Twigdon's Sea on Land and gallopers, Arthur Twigdon's gondolas (Merry Go Round, Vol XI, No. 6, Oct/Nov 1958)

Twigdon George, circus proprietor, Dunton Bassett (Wright's Directory of Leicestershire & Rutland, 1899)

King's Lynn Mart:  Arthur Twigdon (now in partnership with John Proctor) presented “Twigdon’s Royal Show”.

King’s Lynn Mart: Arthur Twigdon: bioscope show; A. Twigdon: Four Abreast Ostriches (brand new this year) (Merry Go Round, Vol. VII, No. 6, March 25, 1952)

Bingley: G. Twigdon's Gondolas (Merry Go Round Vol. XII, No. 4, July 1959)

Nottingham Goose Fair: A. Twigdon's Gondolas, G. Twigdon's Sea on Land (Merry Go Round)

Halton Leeds:  Twigdon's Sea on Land (Merry Go Round Vol. IX, No. 6, October, 1956)

Woodhouse Feast, near Sheffield: Twigdon's Gondola Switchback (Merry Go Round, Vol. VI, No. 4, Whitsun, 1949)

Nuneaton May Fair:  A. Twigdon's Gondolas with grand new paper organ, also his bioscope show (Merry Go Round, Vol. XII, No. 2, Mar 1959)

Conventry Pot Fair:  Twigdon's Bioscope, George Twigdon's Gondolas, Sea on Land, and Gallopers (Merry Go Round Vol. XII, No. 3, May 1959)

A man was run over by a roundabout on Chesterfield Road, and later died in Mansfield Hospital. He was an employee of Twigdon's fairground showmen, who were sending the roundabout to Mansfield for repair. (Mansfield Reporter, July 7, 1899)


King's Lynn Mart:  A. Twigdon's Bioscope and A. Twigdon's Horses (four abreast) (Merry Go Round, Vol. VI, No. 9, February 1950)

Lincoln April Fair: G. Twigdon: Galloping Horses (Merry Go Round, Vol. VI, No. 9, Feb 1950)

Leicester: Twigdon: Gondolas (Vol. XIV, No. 4, Autumn 1960)

Woodhouse Feast, near Sheffield: Twigdon's Gondola Switchback (Merry Go Round, Vol. VI, No. 4, Whitsun, 1949)

Rotherham Wakes: "Arthur Twigdon's spinning top set of gondolas was a regular visitor to Rotherham Wakes from 1900 to 1905 as was his two-wagon fronted Bioscope Show and these were accompanied by Alfred Twigdon's little three-abreast." (Merry Go Round, Vol. VI, No. 4, Whitsun, 1949)

Nottingham Goose Fair:  A. Twigdon's Bioscope Show was new to the fair. (Merry Go Round)

Lincoln: A. Twigdon's Bioscope and Twigdon's Gallopers (Merry Go Round)

Nottingham Goose Fair:  George Twigdon now had Boer War generals' heads on his Galloping Horses, A. Twidgdon had two Gondola Switchbacks at the fair this year. (Merry Go Round)

St. Giles Fair, Oxford:  A. Twigdon's Bioscope (Merry Go Round, Vol. XIV, No. 4, Sept-Oct 1961)

Ripley Fair:  Arthur Twigdon bioscope (exhibiting a film of a football match between Ripley and Pinxton (The Showman: 1 November 1901)

High Street, Swadlincote, Staffordshire (census)
Alfred Twigdon, 28, Dunton Bassett, steam horse proprietor
Minnie Twigdon, 29, wife, Nottingham
Elizabeth H Twigdon, daughter, 6

Easton on the Hill, Northants (census)
Willie Twigdon, 26, Dunton bassett, traction engine driver

3 Living Vans, Cattle Market, Loughborough, Leicester (census)
Arthur Twigdon, 28, Dunton Bassett, roundabout proprietor
Maria Twigdon, 31, wife, Grimsby
Minnie Twigdon, 3 months, daughter, Loughborough
Lilian, 4, daughter, Derby
Maria, 8, daughter, Derby
Maria Charlton, niece, 8, Cornwall Penzance
Rebecca Neal, 18, servant, Countesthorpe
George Twigdon, 56, roundabout proprietor
Bridget Twigdon, 44, Stamford
Nellie, 17, Derby
Martha, 13, Wakefield, Yorks
Lizzie, 19, Dunton Bassett

Arthur Twigdon acquired the “Anglo-British Living Picture Show”. (The Travelling Cinematograph Show)

Lincoln April Fair:  A. Twigdon's Bioscope, G. Twigdon's Horses, A. Twigdon's Gondolas (Merry Go Round, Vol. VII, No. 9, October 1952)

Birmingham Pleasure Fair: Aston: Proctor & Twigdon’s Anglo-American Show (The Birmingham Onion Fair)

Derby Fair: Twigdon's Bioscope Show: A. Twigdon's Gondolas and Horses: G. Twigdon's Horses (Merry Go Round, Vol. VII, No. 9, October 1952)

Birmingham Onion Fair: Proctor & Twigdon: Bioscope (Merry Go Round, Vol. VI, No. 14, Late Autumn, 1950)

Nottingham Goose Fair: A. Twigdon: Gondolas; G. Twigdon: Gallopers (Vol. XVI, No. 4, Nov-Dec 1963)

Rotherham Statutes Fair: Twigdon's Gondolas (Merry Go Round, Vol. VII, No. 9, October 1952)

Lincoln Fair: A. Twigdon: Gondolas (Vol. XVI, No. 6, April 1964)

Nottingham: A. Twigdon: Bioscope, two Gondolas and Three-abreast (Vol. XVI, No. 9, Oct 1964)

Burton-on-Trent Statute Fair: A. Twigdon and J. Proctor: Bioscope show, Twigdon’s Bigg Wheel (Merry Go Round, Vol. IX, No. 5, Aug 1956)

Arthur Twigdon with Motor Cars (Circular Steam Switchback)

Leicester May Fair: A. Twigdon: Bioscope: Twigdon: Gondolas (Merry Go Round, Vol. IX, No. 3, Apr 1956)

Coventry Pot Fair:  Twigdon's Gondolas (Merry Go Round: Vol. IX, No. 4, Midsummer 1956)

Nottingham Goose Fair: Twigdon: Bioscope, Big Wheel and two sets of Gondolas (Merry Go Round, Vol. XVII, No. 8, Sept-Oct 1966) (Gaumont Catalogue, Oct 1906)

Rotherham Statutes Fair: Twigdon: Gondolas (Merry Go Round, Vol. VII, No. 9, October, 1952)

World's Fair:  Arthur Twigdon brought his bioscope to the World's Fair in London where it opened with James Chittock's show.  London County Council Minutes indicate that in December 1906, the top of the cinematograph box did not open properly in Twigdon’s show and that the door to the cinematograph enclosure was not in place in Chittock’s.

Arthur Twigdon "acquired an even more elaborate frontage. Twigdon’s show appeared at the World’s Fair held in the Agricultural Hall, Islington, in January 1907, where it opened with Chittock’s show. By October 1907 a larger organ fronted show was built around a 110 key Gavioli supplied by Chiappa & Sons, requiring a truck 35ft long and 16ft high to transport it."  (The Travelling Cinematograph Show)

Leicester May:  A. Twigdon's Bioscope and A. Twigdon's Gondolas (Merry Go Round, Vol. XII, No. 3, May 1959))

1907: Loughborough:A. Twigdon and Proctor: Coliseum (Merry Go Round, Vol. X, No. 6, Oct/Nov 1957)

Coventry Whit Fair: A. Twigdon: Gondolas (Merry Go Round, Vol. X, No. 4, June1957)

Mansfield:  Twigdon's Bioscope and Gondolas (Merry Go Round, Vol. X, No. 4, June 1957)

Nottingham Goose:

Arthur Twigdon to some seemed slow
But to Nottingham Goose Fair
Came his new Show
And Travellers they were mesmerized
He simply said, "Aren't you surprised?"
Some gave a stare
And then a glare
Thought they'd have to see a Doctor
But not to be done
Soon a better one
Was ordered by Mr.  _______   (The World's Fair, 12 October 1907)

"Wanted for Twigdon’s Picture Show, Two comedians, not to make themselves generally useful in the way that paraders take it, But who can parade and do what everybody on the show is supposed to do, viz., WORK. Wages 30s. Weekly" (advert in the World's Fair)

Leicester May Fair:  A. Twigdon's Bioscope, Twigdon's Gondolas (Merry Go Round)

Fair Ground, Market St, Oakengates, Wellington, Shropshire (census)
Arthur Cross Twigdon, head, 41, travelling showman, Dunton Basset
Maria Cross Twigdon, wife, 41, travelling showman, Grimsby, Lincolnshire
Lizzie Cross Twigdon, 20, travelling showman, Dunton Bassett
George Cross Twigdon, 18, travelling showman, Dunton Basset
Maria Cross Twigdon, 17, travelling showman, Derby
Violetta Cross Twigdon, 16, travelling showman, Derby
Lilian Cross Twigdon, 14, travelling showman, Derby
Minnie Cross Twigdon, 10, school, Derby
Arthur Cross Twigdon, 8, school, Derby
Florrie Cross Twigdon, 5, school, Topshelf, Derbyshire

Lincoln Easter Fair:  G. Twigdon (Merry Go Round, Vol. VII, No. 2, May 1951)

The Twigdon family on their way to a Proctor wedding
(early 1900s)

Left to right: unknown, Maria (nee Proctor), unknown, Arthur, Alf, & George Twigdon. Arthur and Maria's children in the back: Arthur (Sonny), Maria, and Elizabeth ("Lizzie")

Photo kindly provided by John Twigdon.

Savage: No. 229, 8 H.P. D.C. new 1880

Burrell:  No. 1876, 10 H.P., SC.C, new 1895, 'Emperor'

Burrell:  No. 2170, 8 H.P.,  D.C.C. new 1899, 'Empress'

Fowler: No. 7758, 6 H.P. new 1897, "War Horse", Arthur Twigdon 1902-1903 (Merry Go Round, Vol. XVI, No. 5, Jan-Feb, 1963)

Foster:  No. 3053. Named 'Samson', owned by Twigdon's 1908 - 1914

Burrell:  No. 2497, 8 H.P., S.C.C. new 1902, "Enterprise":acquired by Twigdons in 1915

Foster:  No. 13085, new 1913: acquired by Twigdon's in 1924.

Foster:  No. 14228. new 1919:  later sold to Arthur Twigdon.

(Primary Source: Merry-Go-Round, Vol. XV, No. 5, Jan-Feb, 1963)

Scrivens, K. & Smith, S., (1995) The Circular Steam Switchback: Fairground Assocation Great Britain, Ashton under Lyme.

Scrivens, K. & Smith, S., eds. (1999) The Travelling Cinematograph Show: New Era Publications, Tweedale.

Wilkes, P. (1989) The Great Nottingham Goose Fair: Trent Valley Publications.

Williams, Ned (2001) The Birmingham Onion Fair: Uralia Press, Wolverhampton.

I would like to thank John Twigdon of Rhyl for providing the wonderful pictures. John is the grandson of Maria Proctor and Arthur Twigdon.

The Twigdon Showmen are commonly associated with the village of Dunton Bassett and I am grateful to Wendy Warren and Ron Boot of the Dunton Bassett History Group for their assistance
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