European Variety & Novelty

America had its circuses, carnivals, dime museums and vaudeville theatres to present all manner of human curiosities, and all manner of novelty and variety acts.

Europe's older tradition presented these same acts, perhaps beginning in England at the annual Bartholomew Fair which had its premier in 1133 AD. While Bartholomew ended in 1855 by royal decree, the performance tradition had seeded itself already in taverns, pubs, penny gaff shops, and later as Music Hall entertainment.

France likewise had places for these types of acts-- annual fairs held at Foire Saint-Germain which first appears in 1176 AD, and Foire Saint-Laurent in 1183 AD.

Fast forwarding to the 19th-Century, penny gaff shops, situated in London were storefront venues which presented all manner of acts, including the famed Elephant Man, Joseph Merrick. The shops were popular from about 1830 to around 1870. (An excellent article on penny gaffs can be found here:

Music Hall originated as a British theatrical entertainment popular from about 1849 until it lost its luster in the 1920s. Later dubbed Variety, European theatre presented these same acts in a manner very close to American vaudeville.

In Germany the same stages were found inside so-called Panopticons, the first being a waxworks known as Castan’s Panopticon in Berlin, which opened in 1869.

Fairground and seaside European shows are also included here.