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Woodcut planks - Pine woodcut planks carved with a fairground scene
  • Pine woodcut planks carved with a fairground scene
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Pine woodcut planks carved with a fairground scene

  • Object:

    Woodcut planks

  • Place of origin:

    Great Britain (carved)

  • Date:

    ca.1850 (carved)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Hand-carved pine

  • Credit Line:

    Gabrielle Enthoven Collection

  • Museum number:

    S.541:1 to 2-2018

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

These two meticulously hand-carved pine planks, clamped together one above the other, were inked and pressed onto paper to make an image of a bustling, noisy mid-19th century fairground scene, packed with fascinating, closely-observed detail. The painted front of the menagerie booth, carved in the upper plank, advertises the wonders on show within, including images of a monkey, a lion and snakes, as well as a giraffe. This means the woodcuts could not have been produced before about 1830 when the craze for seeing giraffes in England took hold. The first giraffe ever seen in England arrived in 1827, sent to George IV by the Pasha of Egypt as a diplomatic gift.

The woodcuts depict many of the typical booth entertainments popular in fairgrounds of the day including theatre and circus, as well as menagerie. A 'barker' on the steps of the circus booth is touting for an audience, while musicians, equestrians and acrobats stand on the platform by the ticket booth. A band plays on another booth platform, where a figure dressed as Mr. Punch appears, while people are seen dancing in the Crown and Anchor dancing booth in the carving in the lower plank. A slack-wire performer sits on a wire above ground where sellers of food and drink ply their trade in the foreground, and people sit at tables near a food preparation table. Hundreds of people surround the booths and fairground rides, two of which are operated by the horses and riders on the outer rims of the rides, and the swing seat ride is operated by a man on a platform turning a wheel.

Considering the amount of time it would have taken for the craftsman to produce this woodcut, it must have been especially galling for him to realise, when it was finished, that he had omitted the second letter 't' from the word 'Theatre' above the theatre booth!

The original purpose of the print made by these two woodcuts is unknown. Its size means that it would have been unlikely to have been used as an illustration on a letterpress poster, or for a poster in its own right since fairgrounds of the time would not have had poster advertising. The planks were inked and printed in the 1980s to create a print for the collection, numbered S.542-2018.

Physical description

Two hand-carved pine planks carved to be put together to print a woodcut image of a fairground scene showing menagerie, theatre and other entertainment booths, fairground rides and fair-goers eating and drinking in a British fairground, ca.1850. The upper plank has two holes drilled, one at each top corner, and an illegible inscription verso. There are remnants of paper glued to the verso of both planks.

Place of Origin

Great Britain (carved)


ca.1850 (carved)

Materials and Techniques

Hand-carved pine

Marks and inscriptions

Illegible inscription verso in white lettering, but possibly including the words 'J. Morison' and 'ordered'. If so it may be a note relating to the production of the woodcut.


Height: 22.5 cm Upper plank, Length: 66.3 Upper plank, Depth: 2.2 cm Upper plank, Height: 22.7 cm Lower plank, Length: 66.3 cm Lower plank, Depth: 2.3 cm Lower plank

Descriptive line

Two pine planks comprising a two-plank woodcut carved with a fairground scene and inked with printer's black ink. British ca.1850. Gabrielle Enthoven Collection






Entertainment & Leisure; Fairs; Menagerie; Circus; Woodcuts; Printmaking techniques


Theatre and Performance Collection

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