As Gorton Monastery hosts
a 2 day event on Belle Vue on Sun 19th and Mon 20th
March, Jane Donaldson writes about the oral history recordings that formed part
of the Manchester Histories exhibition in 2014.
The Belle Vue: Showground of the World exhibition was a collaboration
between the National Fairground and Circus Archive and Manchester Histories and
part of a wider project on Belle Vue Pleasure Gardens. It was supported by the
Heritage Lottery Fund as part of Manchester Histories Festival (MHF) in 2014. The exhibition celebrated the heady days of
Belle Vue Zoological Gardens looking at the Zoo, Circus, Sports, Entertainment
and Funfair. There were other events and projects that took place around the
exhibition and this included an oral history project.
its height, Belle Vue attracted over 2 million visitors a year. Founded in 1836 by John Jennison, at its peak
it occupied over 165 acres and attracted two million people a year. People
flocked to the Gorton site for the zoo, circus, fair, speedway, dancing, boxing,
wrestling, fireworks and music for over 150 years. The exhibition focused mainly on the 1950s
until it closed in the early 80s as it was decided that this would be the
period which would bring back memories of people’s time there.
involved in the exhibition would be inundated by tales from people they met who
had memories of their visits to the Showground, and the passion and love that
came across as they recounted theses tales was a pleasure to hear.There were so many stories, of bands that played, of sneaking in, the
buses that went there, the dancing, feeding the hippos-the list went on and
on. Even younger generations told
stories from their relatives and it seemed that everyone had a story to tell of
Belle Vue, whether they came from Manchester or had visited it from another
part of the UK.
Prior to the exhibition
in 2014, a number of interviews were taken by volunteers in order to provide
content for the listening devices that formed part of the exhibition.
The volunteers were
able to take part in a workshop led by Fiona Cussons (then at MMU) in order to
gain the skills needed to conduct the interviews. Individuals had been identified who would
provide content in order to support the five different areas of the exhibition.
Speedway racers, sign riders, people who worked in the entertainment buildings,
sideshow performers, DJs, photographers, wall of death riders, collectors, From
the workshops, and with basic information provided, the volunteers were able to
go off, devices and questions in hand to meet with interviewees and find out
more about their fascinating times at Belle Vue.
Among the recordings
you can listen to Derek Adrian, who worked at Belle Vue
with his dad, first as sign writer then moving on to creating fibre glass for
the speedway bikes, who recalls
the arrival of Jonah the whale. Pat Pearson talks about working on the Globe of Death. She also worked at the box office, married one of the
senior staff and lived on-site, Bernard Collier, who used to ride for the
Speedway Aces at Belle Vue mainly in the 1970s, and many more recalling
memories of fairground rides, fireworks, dancing, brass band competitions, the
flea circus, the Top Ten Club and the music and bands that performed at Belle
collected were then edited by Karen Gabay and transferred onto handheld devices
that visitors could use to further enhance their exhibition experience. This provided another aspect to the exhibition
and further bringing to life the items in the cases to reinforce the love of
all things Belle Vue.
During the festival,
more interviews were taken and these included many of the stories that people
wanted to tell, their memories lifted by seeing the items in the exhibition. The
recordings were due to be deposited with the North West Sound Archive, but soon
after the exhibition, the Sound Archive announced its closure. As a lot of the North West Sound Archives
were moved to Archives+ at Manchester Central Library and they agreed to take
on the recordings after they had been catalogued.
The items are now
available to listen to at Central Library on listening devices for visitors to
hear and are accessible during the library opening times. They have been made
available via Soundcloud.
More information in
the exhibition including some clips from the recordings can be found here.
A selection can be found
on the Archives+ Soundcloud https://soundcloud.com/archivesplus and the catalogue can be sccessed through the
Sound archive pages of Manhcester Central Library http://www.manchester.gov.uk/soundarchive