Sudbury Hall NT

Sudbury Hall NT Blog

Hidden Treasures – The Circus Comes to Town

When going through the records of all the objects in the museum one by one, sometimes something catches your eye; piques your interest. Today I was intrigued by a little set of Corgi vehicles. They are an incomplete set, of what we call ‘well played with’ toys. What struck me was firstly the name printed across them; ‘Chipperfields Circus’, and secondly the unusual shape of one of the vehicles. The vehicle (once you know what you are looking for its obvious) turned out to be a ‘Giraffe Transporter’. What we have on the record turns out to be a small selection of the ‘Circus Vehicle’ models made by Corgi in the 1960s. You may well recognise some of them from your own collections.

Chipperfields Circus Giraffe Transporter

Chipperfields Circus Giraffe Transporter

 As we go through the records, we begin by editing basic information, such as the material an object is made of, and the measurements, to help you the viewer ‘see’ the object online in all it’s, accurate, glory. What we are also hoping to do is to catch your attention, and make you want to learn a little bit more about some of the wonderful collections here at the Museumof Childhood, both those on display, and in store. With Corgi models, and indeed Matchbox ones too, some are based on real vehicles, and others are simply made up or concept vehicles. I wanted to just find out, forgive my ignorance, if there really was or is a ‘Chipperfield Circus’. It turns out that they were just about one of the most famous troupes in England!

Chipperfielcs Circus model made by Corgi

Chipperfielcs Circus model made by Corgi


The Circus was a family affair, and was started by James Chipperfield who exhibited some animals at the Thames Frost Fair in 1684. Across 300 years, the circus passed through the Chipperfield family, growing and evolving as it toured throughout Englandin the 19th Century. It’s height came in the early 20th century when after World War II, under the management of brothers Dick and Jimmy Chipperfield it became one of the biggest circus’s in Europe. The name ‘Jimmy Chipperfield’ remained associated with animals into the 1960s as he branched into Safari Parks such as Longleat and Woburn Abbey. The circus slowed and almost ceased to exist, blighted by accusations of animal cruelty and stunted by dwindling audiences.  There came something of a revival n the late 1990s and it is now run by Dick Chipperfield’s descendents into the modern age; with just one major difference; without animals.


Today circuses can be a controversial subject, but whatever your views, good or bad, you can’t help but admire the craftsmanship on these wonderful little models, and it is clear that they were certainly well loved by their original owners.

 Have a look online at our online  collection and see if you can spot anything else that catches your eye, or you remember from your childhood. 



Hanging on a Wire – The Lilliput Marionettes

This week we have been editing records on a rather wonderful collection of puppets, or marionettes. They were all part of the ‘Lilliput Marionette’ Theatre’ that toured around the Midlands schools in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and we think they are too interesting not to share.

The company formed when a group of five non-professional puppeteers set up a touring company at the beginning of World War II.  Bernard Lewis (later the director of the company) met Edward Hellawell (the maker of the puppets) in Wormwood Scrubs when they were serving time as conscientious objectors. It is understood, from cast recollections, that other like minded pacifists joined the group and they began touring. The company toured much of the Midlands, mainly appearing in schools, from their base in Wolverhampton, and a review from the ‘Hampshire Chronicle’  and ‘Isle of Wight Press’ suggests they also had successes further afield.

Some of the plays they performed included ‘Hansel and Gretel’, ‘The Little Mermaid’ and ‘Faust’. The puppets themselves range from this rather adorable rabbit from Hansel and Gretal;

Rabbit from Hansel and Gretel

Rabbit from Hansel and Gretel

To the slightly scarier looking characters from Faust such as Mephistopholes; 

Marrionette from Faust

Marrionette from Faust



Do you remember the ‘Lilliput Marionette Theatre Company’ coming to your school ? There is still so much we don’t know about these amazing puppets and we would love to know more. Have a look at the collection and see if you can help us out, or simply have a browse. Just click on the link, and search for ‘Lilliput Marionette’ in our collection.



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