This section of The Bloxidge Tallygraph has been launched to coincide with the 150th birthday celebrations of someone who may justifiably be called the greatest fairground entrepreneur of all time – Pat Collins. This is our sincere tribute to a remarkable man, the true ‘King of Showmen’ who made himself a unique part of life in Bloxwich and Walsall and who is remembered with fondness in Bloxwich in particular to the present day. We hope you will enjoy reading about him!
The main feature offered here is the concise biography of Pat Collins which was written by Bloxwich Historian Mr. E.J. Homeshaw for presentation to Pat’s second wife and widow Clara on the centenary of Pat’s birth in 1959. This is not available anywhere else online and has never been published; it was one of many sources used by Freda Allen and Ned Williams for their remarkable 1991 biography ‘Pat Collins – King of Showmen’ which is long out of print.
Mrs. Clara Collins receives the E.J. Homeshaw (right) biography at T.P. Riley School, Bloxwich, on 28 May 1959. ‘Walsall John’ looks on, before saying a few words on Clara’s behalf. Behind Clara is David Barlow, the calligrapher who hand-scribed the presentation copy. (PCKS, collection of Norman Pearson & Pat Coyne)
A number of other related features as indicated below are linked from this page for your interest. The feature on Captain Clarke in particular is unique on the web. Other items and articles will be added over time as more information comes to hand.
Illustrations in this section are mostly from the collections of Walsall Local History Centre (WLHC), with thanks to the Centre; from the book ‘Pat Collins – King of Showmen’ (PCKS) – by kind permission of Mr. Ned Williams, and from the papers of the late Captain Herbert Clarke (CHC) with thanks to his youngest son and daughter-in-law Mr. Michael and Mrs. Margaret Clarke. Most recently, Mr. Kevin Scrivens has kindly allowed us to reproduce pictures of Pat Collins operations in 1949-50, from photographs believed to be by Mr.Jack Mellor. Where known, specific sources will be acknowledged individually.
An appeal: Photographs of Pat Collins rides, fairs and his yards and works in Walsall and Bloxwich are very scarce. If you have any pictures of these which you may be willing to scan and email to us, or loan for copying, please contact The Edditer, Stuart Williams, by email to: email@example.com
Apart from the Pat Collins biography, below, The Bloxidge Tallygraph also offers the following Pat Collins-related features linked here. Other items will be added as and when opportunity and time permits.
Uralia Press, 1991.
The definitive story of Pat’s life and work, who was associated with him, and what came after.
(out of print but available occasionally second-hand and may be referred to at
Walsall Local History Centre or borrowed from Bloxwich Library)
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A concise biography written by Bloxwich historian Mr. E. J. Homeshaw
for presentation to Mrs. Clara Collins
on 28 May 1959 at T.P. Riley School, Bloxwich, in honour of the Centenary of Pat’s birth.
Unpublished and never before seen on the internet – until today.
On 12 May 1859 there was born to Norah Collins, nee McDermott, and John Collins, at that time an agricultural labourer, a son who was christened Patrick in St. Werburgh’s Catholic Church, Chester. They lived on the outskirts of the town at Boughton Heath. John soon gave up his life as a farm labourer to become a travelling chapman with a crock shop opposite the small house where Pat was born. John was interested in any form of trading, having a rag store at 51, Stephens street and a yard at Filken Lane. Here he stored in the winter a ‘one boat yacht’, which he drove about the surrounding counties in the season of fairs, from February to November.
John sent his son to St. Werburgh’s School and the boy, with blue-grey eyes and a mass of brown hair, was well educated, for he learned the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic before school attendance was made compulsory. His mother encouraged him to attend school and church which was often difficult on account of their seasonal, nomadic life. There was bred in him a love of fair play and a simple faith which never faltered throughout his life. He loved his mother and St. Werburgh’s and was thankful for mercies received. At the age of 35 he expressed these thanks by giving the church a richly carved marble pulpit with the inscription “Pray for Patrick Collins who gave this pulpit”. People still refer to St. Werburgh’s as Pat’s church.
At the age of ten Pat left school to help his father in the various trades he practised. Travelling encouraged a zest for new horizons and a deep-seated ambition to become his own master. The boy grew up on the showgrounds of Cheshire, Lancashire, Salop and North Staffordshire, helping his father and brother John to fight, often with bare fists, for their pitches for their hand-turned roundabout. He served his apprenticeship in the show business in the hard way and his education was secondary to his employment. He had more opportunities to sharpen his wits than improve his reading and writing and could use his fists to good advantage. The family property consisted of a ‘juvenile’ drawn by a pony and a ‘yacht’, which was a boat capable of holding twenty-five people and pulled by two horses. When set up the ‘yacht’ was operated by Pat and John who pulled alternatively at the ropes.
When Pat was sixteen his sense of independence was so strong that he persuaded his father to sell him the ‘juvenile’ roundabout for £80. Liverpool was his favourite pitch and it was there that he married his first wife, Flora, a seventeen year old girl from Wrexham. Pat was twenty one and so poor that he had to pawn his best suit and actually attend the ceremony in corduroys. Having only one shilling in his pocket he characteristically cast caution and the shilling to the winds and into the River Mersey.
by Pat in 1887 (PCKS, collection of Jim Boulton)
He set about obtaining a living for himself and his wife in partnership with his brother John. Savages of King’s Lynn had just introduced a new type of amusement and wishing to have the latest the brothers toured Merseyside with a roundabout called ‘The Sea on Land’, a kind of switchback.
Like a true showman Pat was determined to find new and more lucrative pitches and set out for the West Midlands with a ‘juvenile ride’ pulled by a pony. He moved to Walsall in 1882 and rested his caravan at ‘Shaw’s Leisure, in Birchills, close to Town End Bank. ‘Leisure’ is a local corruption of ‘leasow’. Michael Shawe in 1586 obtained from Queen Elizabeth I a Grant of lands for the benefit of the people of Walsall. When he died he left a pasture, the rent of which went to provide a charity for poor people. The mantle of Michael Shawe must have fallen on the young Patrick who was to give far more to charity than any Walsall merchant has ever done, especially to the sick and needy.
The Arcade stands between Bradford Street, Lower Hall Lane and Digbeth (WLHC)
Pat described Walsall people as good ‘punters’ and determined to settle here. He used a pitch on waste ground where now stands the Arcade in Bradford street but not without opposition. Walsall had always been known for its gangs out to exact maximum tribute from showmen. Patrick fought them with any weapons he could lay hands on and soon found that one of the most effective was the cooperation of his fellow showmen, He became well known for his ability to defend himself and as a leader of men determined to fight for his own interests and those of his friends. Patrick saved his money and began to provide an increasing number of amusements for the people on pitches where they could bring children without fear of their sustaining physical and moral damage. This was difficult in the Black Country which was filling up with emigrants from surrounding counties, Ireland and Wales, far quicker than houses were built to receive them. Saturday nights in Birchills were Hogarthian and thoroughly distasteful to respectable Walsallians. The police were few and it was the fittest and toughest that survived on the Fair grounds.
(PCKS, collection of Jane Ferrari nee Collins)
It was at the Old Pleck, Birmingham that Pat scored a great victory for decency and fair play. The Birmingham toughs were organised in three gangs: the Black Mask Gang, the Peaky Blinders and the Stool Boys. They not only refused to pay competition or entrance money but demanded protection money and, when refused, wrecked booths and stalls. Having seen these toughs operate without any intervention from the police, Pat determined on retaliation. He armed his men with knuckle dusters, lengths of rubber tubing and life preservers. The next challenge by the gangs brought about their downfall. This established his reputation in the West Midlands and gave heart to some ‘sheet’ men, who had previously paid tribute, to refuse and, in the event of attack, to appeal to Pat. Not that the battle was over after a single victory as more was needed than a fighting reputation to deal with men whose livelihoods were at stake. In 1889 there was formed the United Kingdom Showmen and Van Dwellers Protection Society, later to become the Showmen’s Guild.
Photo by Joe Caddick, American Studio, Brownhills
(PCKS, collection of Peter Hough)
Another threat to the showmen presented itself. This required fighting of a different type and pointed more than ever to the necessity of closer union. In 1889 George Smith, M.P., introduced the Moveable Dwellings Bill into the House of Commons, the effect of which would have compelled every living van to be registered with a local authority for a maximum period of three years, after which it could be refused. A police officer, or any other authorised person could enter any van, provided that he had a warrant from a J.P. The great showmen of the country such as Lord John Sanger, James Bostock, James Dean, Joseph Caddeck, F.T. Salva, Robert Dixon, Pat and John Collins and the Murphys decided to fight. Joe Caddeck’s pen became the showmen’s sword and many M.P.’s were lobbied. Meetings were held in all parts of the country, a fighting fund started, and showmen advised on how to enlist support from the general public. John and Pat Collins were elected to the national committee. The Bill was finally rejected in 1893 but vigilance was still necessary as the sponsors of the Bill were influential. Membership, however, tended to fall away when the initial battle had been won.
It soon became necessary to obtain legal advice and employ a Parliamentary agent to counteract the byelaws proposed by many Corporations, such as Coventry and West Bromwich, which sought to control the activities of the outdoor amusement caterers. Showmen were dispersed in different parts of the country and it was often difficult to assemble them in crucial times. The treasury began to run dry. Funds were rapidly collected and the offensive clauses in the Corporation Bills were defeated one by one.
Another cause of anxiety was that open spaces near the centres of towns were being built on and used as business premises. The new type of inland transport, steam and electric trams demanded more land for tracks and depots and fairs tended to be pushed to the outskirts. National intelligence on such matters was needed and the showmen’s own newspaper was started.
In 1907 the Guild was organised into District Committees. Prominent on the Birmingham committee were Pat and John Collins. In 1908 an attempt was made to resurrect the Moveable Dwelling Bill and the whole weight of the organisation had to be thrown against it. In January 1909 Patrick Collins succeeded Lord John Sanger as President of the Showmen’s Guild and held the office for twenty of the most momentous years the world has ever known. The fairground never produced a more eminent man to meet the new conditions. He had been in the Guild since it was formed and was ever in those places where the fight against showmen was hottest, never sparing himself, time, and money in the effort for the betterment and vindication of his fellow showmen, He carried the showmen through some lean years.
Pat’s rise to fame as a national figure in the Showmen’s Guild took place when great technical developments occurred of which the showmen were not slow to take advantage: the emergence of the steam traction engine for haulage work and motor power, the application of electricity to internal transport and lighting, and the development of the internal combustion engine. Greater colour and excitement than ever could be provided on the show ground. Pat knew that after a long day in the factory or mine this was what the people wanted. They were used to noise and liked the bustle, quick talk, and action of the fairground. They liked new things. There was a keen demand to see the animals brought from distant parts of the world: lions, tigers, hyenas, leopards, in fact, any thing or creature odd enough to attract people and make them say “Have you seen Pat’s latest?”
(PCKS, collection of Vanessa Forte)
He was born a showman and was a born showman: Mr. Collins to none and Pat to everyone. Each year he toured the country putting on bigger and better shows. A shrewd organiser and keen business man he knew how to extend his business. As soon as the motor car appeared he bought one for use and advertisement. With William Mullett he invented the first revolving electric light which was adapted to roundabouts.
By the turn of the century he was known all over England and Wales and the sight of long lines of traction engines, flats, and caravans excited crowds of children and adults. The work of bringing a fair to a pitch by a certain time needs careful planning and co-operation with the police but landowners could be difficult. He once commented, “I have been served with enough summonses to paper a house!”
He advertised his shows extensively in the local press which with the new machinery available could be purchased for a penny. “It pays to advertise” was another favourite saying of the Guv’nor as he was called on the fairground. Consequently any move to prevent the show’s appearance was deeply resented and thoroughly opposed. The story is still told of his wrath when the gates of a pitch near the Pinfold, Bloxwich, was denied to him at the last moment. “Drive that traction engine at that gate and keep moving”, was his order. The driver obeyed and the double gate swung back helplessly on its twisted hinges. Pat paid for the damage as he always did and the show went on.
The new equipment needed more room for storage and repair. More money was demanded for pitches. Lands and buildings were purchased at Shaw’s Leasow, Walsall where the Gondola Works were built. Pat left his caravan when he was in Walsall and lived in Chester House near the works. On tour, Pat’s caravan was a showpiece. Part of the land at Shaw’s Leasow was sold on 6 December 1918 to Messrs. Deacon and Boardman, builders, of Algernon Street, Walsall. The remaining lands and buildings were sold to the Walsall and District Co-operative Society (Transport Department) on 3 May 1933 and the offices and repair works were transferred to the Amusement Depot, Bloxwich.
Pat was of the view that a fairground without an organ was dead mutton. He spent many hours arguing with local authorities and pacifying those members of the public who did not like his fairs because they made too much noise. In 1917 he opened a new fairground at Sutton Coldfield where in 1924 he installed a roundabout with an organ which would play anything from grand opera to the latest jazz tunes, for which he paid £24,000, The old trumpet and bells, the drums and. cymbals, eventually gave way to the panotrope but Pat kept the large organ for the granddads and the kids. He travelled far in search of new attractions, musical and otherwise.
He was always on the move and his restless spirit hated to be still. “I can’t stand still”, he said, “if they tied me down, I should go mad”. And yet Pat did retire once, when he was 41. Within a few days he was back again in the fairground.
A keen judge of a fighter, he tipped Jim Driscoll, Owen Moran, Tom Thomas, and Jimmy Wilde before the outside world had heard of them for he had seen them in his boxing booths.
He was always fond of animals and his first dog was a Borzoi. He owned the best trotting horses in the world: King of Pearls and Lady R being amongst them.
On 29 April 1918 he was co-opted to the Walsall Borough Council as a councillor for Birchills. The resolution ran as follows:
During his membership of the Council he served on the under mentioned committees:
- Baths, Parks, and Cemeteries
- Electricity Supply
- Free Library and Art Gallery
- Old Age Pensions
- Public Assistance
- Public Works
- Trade Development
- Maternity and Child Welfare
- Mental Welfare; Transport
- Walsall Town Council and Staff Joint
It cannot be said that he had any political ambitions in the accepted sense and his co-option to the Borough Council was more a recognition of his services to the town than the result of a deliberate effort on his part to achieve civic honours.
He was a great benefactor and contributor to local hospitals and to every institution ministering to the sick and the infirm. His practice was to give to the Walsall General Hospital the full takings of one night at Bloxwich Wakes in August. If he was not satisfied with the takings, and Bloxwich periodically knew bad trade, he would go to each booth in turn and say “Harry, I want five pounds. Joe, your share is three”. Harry and Joe would not argue but hand over the money. Pat was the Guv’nor and what he said, they did. In this way he contributed to local hospitals large sums of money, the exact amount will never be known. Nor were his gifts made ostentatiously to organisations; his hand was ever ready to help the aged, the infirm, the family in trouble, the struggling small business man, and sometimes the unworthy. Pat’s favourite saying on charity was, “We only pass this way once; let us do what we can when we can”.
Walsall Free Press 10 August 1907
On 4 November 1922 he was asked to stand in the forthcoming General Election as the Liberal candidate for the Borough of Walsall. Unemployment was rife, with a minimum of one in five on the dole and many on short time. The main issues in the election were the decline in the export trade which was responsible for 9,457 unemployed in Walsall, the acute housing shortage, and the personality of Pat Collins.
In the photo are Pat, Cllr. Tibbetts, the Rt. Hon. T.J. MacNamara, Joseph Leckie (right)
and possibly Mr. Hawley (PCKS, collection of Millicent Gray)
Pat got down to the humanities from the start. “I am a worker and a fighter rather than an orator and please remember that whatever a Collins promises, he will carry out. Although I have merely learned the three R’s and talk a simple vernacular, I know what things are. There is only one object in my life and that is to see that people have fair play. Unless there is a move on in providing houses for the people, there will be the devil to pay when I get to Westminster. The children of the working classes do not get the educational facilities they ought to have. I am in favour of them staying at school until they are fifteen. Poor boys and girls should have an opportunity to get from an elementary school to the University. I am a simple man and you all know me. Just come and tell me what you want and I will do my best for you as I have always done”. On the problem of unemployment Pat considered that the major cost should be borne by the state and not by the ratepayers. “I am all out for the bottom dog,” he said, “breakfasts should be provided for the little children and Old Age Pensions should be granted before people are in their coffins”. At that time the lowest age for receipt of pensions was seventy.
His Parliamentary election campaign was a triumph of personality over politics. Thousands of the electorate regarded him as a kind of Santa Claus who provided the thrills which made life a little more bearable. His success was not assured, however, as many were not convinced that he would make as good a show in the House of Commons as he had done in the fairground. What was not generally appreciated was that the President of the Showmen’s Guild had to use a good deal of tact and diplomacy in dealing with delicate negotiations with such bodies as the County Councils Association which made serious attacks on the liberties of showmen.
As President, Pat had played a great part in clearing travelling show people from any stigma of crime, and had helped to remove the conception of some highly-placed Puritans that they needed special and invidious laws. When the Moveable Dwellings Act became law in 1914, its clauses were very much milder than they would have been without the intervention of Pat. He had to negotiate personally with the King’s Ministers of State over the Lighting Orders made necessary during the war to reduce the danger of enemy air attack. Prolonged negotiations took place with the Minister of Munitions on the necessity of having fairs as a means of brightening people’s lives. It had been planned to close down all fairs in munition areas but as Pat pointed out people worked better if they were given occasions to let themselves go as they did on the fairgrounds. He emphasised that the number of fairs had increased because the public wanted them. The result of his endeavours was that the policy of shutting down the fairs was abandoned by the Government but some local authorities did not hold them.
The Guild members knew the value of Pat’s great work for them and entered into the spirit of the election with enthusiasm, having travelled hundreds of miles that they might help. There was a heavy poll and a close result was expected. The result was announced by the Mayor of Walsall:
Lady Cooper 14,349
Robert Dennison 8,946
As the new M.P. came from the Town Hall wreathed in smiles, the crowd roared, “Good Old Pat!”.
The story that best illustrates how the election was won is that of the old man who went to vote and was asked by the political canvassers for whom he wanted to vote. “Lady Cooper?”. “No”. “Dennison?”. “No”. “Collins?”. “No”. “Then who do you want to vote for?” Said the old man, “Ah dunna want to vote for any of them, ah want to vote for Pat”.
He knew all the tricks of the thimble riggers, card sharpers, and race course touts but political craftsmen sometimes had him puzzled. The verbal cut and thrust of political life did not seem to lead anywhere. He was restless in the House of Commons but did his duty as a member and his services to the Liberal Party were acknowledged by the Rt. Hon. H. H. Asquith when he visited Walsall.
A Moveable Dwellings Bill promoted by the Rural District Councils Association proposed to give local authorities powers to provide for and prohibit gypsy encampments and squatters but not to interfere with the legitimate business of the travelling showmen. The Association agreed to an amendment that the Bill did not refer to canal boats, travelling showmen, proprietors of roundabouts and stall holders, not being pedlars or hawkers.
In 1923 the Conservative Government decided to test the electorate on the issue of protection of home industries. The Liberal Party stood firm on the tenets of Free Trade. The nation did not want a General Election and Pat Collins said, “We are having a General Election thrust on us at a time when there are signs of improving trade”. Considerable bitterness entered into the election campaign, engendered by the Conservative member for Wednesbury who declared, “Parliament is not a circus. Whatever is the use of sending a man to Parliament who cannot do his job. I have the greatest respect for him as a circus proprietor”. Pat defended his record in the House of Commons and claimed that he had done something for Walsall in securing orders for Talbot Stead tubes in the new battleships. He spoke in language which the people understood and won their hearts again. One of the most effective of his leaflets ran as follows:-
“We’ve lived together nigh on fifty years, And it hasn’t seemed too long at that; There’s not a fellow in the wide, wide world, We’d swop for our dear old Pat”.
Although 64 Pat threw himself into the contest with a zest that secured the admiration of younger men. The Showmen’s Guild again helped. More people than ever voted and again Pat scored a personal triumph greater than in 1922:-
S. K. Lewis 14,141
A. C. Osborne 7,807
Pat introduced a Bill to transfer the right of abolishing fairs from the Home Secretary to the House of Commons because a number of Councils had attempted to abolish fairs. The Bill was introduced a number of times but did not have a Second Reading because there was always an objector. Unfortunately Parliament was dissolved before any progress could be made but Pat was successful in a motion to remove entertainment duty on admission fees up to sixpence, which proved a great boon to show proprietors. He was also closely associated with the Fairs Bill, the Moveable Dwellings Bill, and the Shop Hours Act.
Parliament was again dissolved in 1924 bringing about the third general election in two years. This was an age of rapid Parliamentary changes and of strong ideological conflicts between Capital and Labour which involved the decay of the Liberal Party in the House of Commons. Great importance was placed on the Walsall election. The fact the Rt. Hon. H. H. Asquith, K. C., and the Rt. Hon. D. Lloyd George both journeyed to Walsall and spoke at meetings in his interest showed that Pat was popular with his Party in the House of Commons. In a more stable era he might have represented the Borough a long time. Certainly no other Member has had to fight so many elections in such a short time.
In October 1924 four candidates presented themselves for election. The campaign was fought on strictly Party lines. It soon became obvious that since the last election some Labour supporters had transferred their affections in favour of supporting their own candidate. Both the Labour and the Conservative candidates increased their polls at Pat’s expense and the result was:-
Pat Collins 12,7311
Gladstone Small 11,474
J. J. Lynch 622
His Parliamentary years had been extremely strenuous and Pat was now over 65. He had owed much in the campaigns to the support and encouragement of his wife and his colleagues in the Showmen’s Guild. He decided that in view of the state of his health that he would not stand for Parliament again. In fact, he was not happy as an M.P. Of his experience in Parliament he said, “There are too many brakes on the wheels in Parliament. I like to get on with the job.” Political subtleties and delaying tactics were something beyond Pat’s ken. He was a fighter in temperament, outspoken and impulsive to a fault, with a degree of sentimentality unexpected in a man who had been brought up in such a hard school.
He never forgot his early lessons and his sympathies were with the poor. Nevertheless, the friends and connections which he had made in both Houses of Parliament proved to be of immense value to the Guild and its members, particularly in dealing with problems of Road Transport as the machines used on the fairgrounds grew heavier and did more damage to the roads.
The portrait, now in Committee Room 1.
In 1925 the Showmen’s Guild showed its appreciation of Pat’s services by having his portrait painted in oils. The painting was presented to the Corporation and is hung in Committee Room 2 as a reminder of the great services Pat rendered to the town as an M.P.
about 1915 and finally bought on 19 October 1926 when the estate
to which it belonged was auctioned. He had purchased the Wakes Ground
(Tenter’s Croft field) at the rear in 1911 (Express & Star)
Pat’s national responsibilities were not yet over. As President of the Guild he was involved in negotiations with Sir Harry Maybury on the matter of the rubbering of tractor wheels. Costs of show business were further increased when Road Fund Licences were doubled. The Guild succeeded in obtaining a rebate for certain classes of vehicles which had rubber wheels. In 1926 the Central Office of the Guild was established at Imperial Buildings, Bridge Street, Walsall. After much lobbying of members of the House of Commons, officials of the Guild won the concession that licence fees for steam and petrol vehicles over a certain weight should be charged at the same rate.
In 1928 showmen were exempted from the provisions respecting early closing. Private Bills deposited by Dudley, Wolverhampton, Warwick, and other corporations were opposed successfully. After twenty years in office Pat retired from the position of President of the Showmen’s Guild in 1929 at the age of seventy. His resignation was accepted with the greatest regret.
At that age many men have retired permanently from their business and handed over complete control to the younger generation. After sending both of his sons to public schools, Pat established them in the business and they played a great part in extending the interests of the firm in all its ramifications, but Pat was still the Guv’nor.
He was not worried as many aging men are by new undertakings. He took them in his stride. At the age of eighty he had 1000 men and women working in the business during the period of the annual fairs from February until November. He toured the country from Chester to Coventry and from Worcester across to Nottingham. All the statutory fairs in the West Midlands were covered besides scores of galas, carnivals, flower shows and the like. People were no longer satisfied with the old-time roundabouts. They wanted speed and speed Pat gave them.
He travelled far in search of new thrills. He went to Paris and bought the world’s greatest ‘ride’ at the Colonial Exhibition, the Big Dipper, with plenty of twists and turns, exciting without being dangerous. In the show business the wise promoter does not frighten the ‘flatties’. The Paris Ride cost about £15,000. It was dismantled, loaded onto barges, and sent down the River Seine and up the Channel to Great Yarmouth, Pat’s Lido, where it took thousands of pounds in a few years. Lord Inverclyde, being anxious to provide a popular ride for patrons of the 1938 Empire Exhibition at Glasgow, tested a variety of machines in France, Germany and Austria but settled on a modification of the Collins ride and in a few months had taken over £30,000.
Pat considered that the future of the amusement industry lay in the Big Stuff as he called it. To suit the travelling show it had to be mobile, easily taken down, packed and rebuilt in a short time. He had hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of rolling stock, including 20 traction engines and 36 motor lorries. It was wheels all the time even on the permanent pleasure parks at Barry Island, Crystal Palace at Sutton Coldfield, Colwyn Bay and Yarmouth.
Every season he travelled between 35,000 and 60,000 miles supervising, dealing with problems as they arose and by his judgement preventing others from arising. Every district had its Collins date. The people flocked to experience the new thrills; Atlantic Airways, Chairoplanes, the Electric Skid, the Electric Speedway Track, the Lambeth Walk, the Lightning Whip, the Moon Rocket, the Motor Cycle Speedway, the Rodeo Jungle, the Dodg’Ems and the Super Dodg’Ems, the Waltzer, and the Blackpool Wheel in addition to the more sober pleasures of the Cocks and Horses, the Helter Skelter and the Swing Boats. Every Place had its special charity to which Pat contributed.
(PCKS, collection of Molly Seldon)
On the death of his first wife Flora in 1933 Pat temporarily parted with his animals, the lions and tigers, the leopards and the Shetland ponies. They were eventually brought back by public request but the mummers, the bruisers, the freaks from Borneo, the double-headed chickens, and the midgets had gone for ever. Speed was in the air. There was no speed about the Fat Lady. Times changed and Pat changed with them his technical methods of amusing the public, but his delight in doing it, his love of the fairground, and his humanity were the same.
his living van, Birmingham, 1934
(PCKS, collection of John Pugh)
Throughout his life Pat had continually to acquire more land to house his amusements. “The biggest problem of the future”, he once said, “will be finding ground on which to put fairs”. He therefore became a landowner and watched its value rapidly increase. He also went in for purchasing other amusements: cinemas, theatres, skating rinks, and dance halls. He was one of the earliest showmen to realise the importance of the moving pictures. Even before the First World War he showed films of Shannon’s work people leaving the factory at Walsall.
Bloxwich High Street
Pat’s Grosvenor Cinema, Bloxwich High Street, 1920s
Pat and his cinema manager (WLHC)
By the 1930s he owned and operated the Cinema de Luxe at Chester, the Olympia at Darlaston, the Grosvenor cinemas at Bloxwich and Oakengates, the Alhambra at Dudley Port, and the Hippodrome at Warwick. So far as the Music Halls were concerned he owned Hippodromes at Burslem and Wallasey, the Tivoli at New Brighton, the Old Park Hall at Bloxwich and the old Gordon Theatre at Stoke-on-Trent. When indoor skating became popular he brought the skating rinks at Hanley and Sparkbrook, Birmingham. Hi Palais de Danse at Monument Road, Smethwick, became a Mecca for the dancing enthusiasts of the West Midlands.
Walsall Red Book 1939 (WLHC)
Pat was made an Alderman of the Borough of Walsall in 1930 and was elected Mayor in 1938. Although he was seventy-nine years of age he seemed to enjoy a new lease of life. He invited the civic heads of the places he visited during his year of office to ox roastings and employed a champion ox roaster to preside. The Chief Civic Dignitary cut the first slice of beef which was usually sold for £5 by auction, other slices realised less. The money was given to the hospitals and at two such ox roastings, Walsal1 and Bromsgrove, the amounts contributed reached £100. He invited the Corporation to the fairground at Bloxwich, and after they had sampled and paid generously for the beef, His Worship treated them to a whirlwind ride on a machine which gave them the ups-a-daisy feeling with a vengeance. Pat stood at the controls and let the machine rip as Aldermen, Councillors, and chief officials hung on like grim death.
In his official capacity the Mayor was no cheap jack but carried out his many duties with dignity and commonsense that meant much for the welfare of the town. He celebrated his eightieth birthday whilst he was Mayor and congratulatory letters and telegrams poured in from all parts of the world. National newspapers acclaimed him with such headlines as “His Worship the Showman”, “Pat Collins is eighty today”, and “Boxing Booth fighter to an M.P.” He gave this message to the press, “Don’t carry your wishbone where your backbone ought to be. Hard work is the secret of success”. The reporter found him working on his birthday and left him at it.
Of Walsall he said, “There is no better place under the sun. I love the old town and particularly this old village of Bloxwich”. After his customary day’s work, he celebrated his birthday in the parlour of the King’s Arms at Bloxwich.
The Showmen’s Guild sent him the following telegram:-
The Corporation of Walsall sent an inscribed resolution signed by all the members:
in Walsall Council Chamber, 1939 (WLHC)
At the conclusion of his term of office he was given Walsall’s greatest honour, the Freedom of the Borough. His mayoralty for the last six months was overshadowed by the threat of war, culminating in Great Britain’s declaration of war on Germany. The war brought many problems to the Showmen of England including the blackout and the call-up. The Collins organisation met these emergencies with the unconquerable optimism which Pat inspired. A great roof, 250 feet long by 150 feet wide, was built over the fair. It was always fine at the fair and the Black-out Blues were abolished for a time though outside hearts were broken when dear ones parted. Large sums were collected for the Comforts Fund and the Fighter Planes Fund. When Mr. Neville Chamberlain was Prime Minister it was intimated to Alderman Patrick Collins, J.P., Freeman of the Borough of Walsall and the City of Chester, that in recognition of his untold benefactions to hospitals in many parts of the country, a knighthood would be bestowed on him if he were prepared to accept it. He toyed for several days with the idea of becoming Sir Patrick but it seemed wrong to him. “No”, he said, “Patrick Collins I’ve always been and Pat I will remain”.
after the Freedom Ceremony, 1939 (WLHC)
Pat knew himself. He often spoke of himself as a simple man and so he was. Among the rugged qualities that were evident to all around him and the forcefulness of his will and passion, he had the gentleness and simplicity of a child, and it was that which endeared him to the people. He could go amongst them honoured and be greeted with friendly smiles and that was his reward. He could walk along the avenue in the King George V Memorial Ground which he, and his close friend, Will Wiggin, had done so much to promote and feel that he had improved upon Nature to the common good. He took delight in planting a tree there and when it died his son John had it replaced. It was fitting that a memorial should be erected where the children run in delight, the young men play, and the old sit at ease. It took the form of a clock mounted on a wrought iron frame which was presented to the Corporation by a committee presided over by Mr. Bert Brittain.
King George V Playing Fields, Bloxwich, 1938 (PCKS)
Pat Collins, king of showmen, died on 8 December 1943. For the last two years of his life Pat had been an invalid tended by his devoted second wife, formerly Clara Mullett who has carried on the Collins tradition of giving. Pat’s last words to his wife and son John were, “Keep the flag flying”. The excellent state of the Collins enterprises today shows that this had been done. To Mrs. Collins today we present this manuscript in memory of her lover.
This was his life. He will not be forgotten.
He is not forgotten.