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The stories

Pickard's scrapbooks return to Glasgow

By Judith Bowers

A.E. Pickard, the last owner of Britannia Panopticon (1906 - 1938), was a brilliant showman and great self-publicist. Having taken over the old "Brit" in 1906, he added carnival, freak show, wax-work exhibits and zoo to the entertainments on offer and renamed the building "Panopticon" (Pan= everything + Opti = to see), referring to the fact that you could see everything under the one roof and for the one ticket.

Much of what we know about the Panopticon has been gathered over the years from the archaeology found in the building, various archives, newspapers, journals and the testimonies of some very senior Glaswegians who remember it. However, we could never find any of Pickard's business records, contracts, letters, invoices etc (except for two battered, beaten, water stained old notebooks we found beneath the floorboards) – until the end of 2013 when I had the opportunity to see six of the fantastic scrap books which had belonged to A.E. Pickard and now belong to ephemera collector Norman Slark. He had purchased them at a collectors fair in Blackpool and thought I might be interested in seeing them. He kindly brought them all the way up from Bolton to Glasgow and I was delighted to see the collection of posters, postcards, advertisements, letters and photographs they contained. In fact, my eyes practically popped from my head when I saw the vivid assortment pasted to the ageing, green leaves.

The six books Norman showed me were from a collection of 26 and in early 2014 we collected 21 of them, plus a volume of letters, from Norman in Bolton so that they can return to their home - the Panopticon.

In 2015 we secured funding from the Heritage Lottery to bring this amazing collection online, so that many more people can enjoy the stories and pictures that have captivated us. The books were photographed at Glasgow University Library and catalogued by Gillian Moynagh. A team of volunteers have been hard at work building the website, which will continue to grow and improve with the help of its users. In this way, the preservation of this unique archive is guaranteed, and a fantastic source made available for anyone interested in popular entertainment, Glasgow history, or simply curious about a bygone era full of fascinating characters.