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School of Arts, Languages and Cultures

From freak show to music hall - public performance of the 19th century

Manchester academic Ann Featherstone turns her research into popular historical fiction, now translated into three languages.

Dr Ann Featherstone's research on performance and theatre during the 1800s has attracted significant media attention and founded strong relationships with producers of BBC Radio and TV. She brings her findings to life through her increasingly popular historical novels.

With two books now published and sales rising, Dr Ann Featherstone has brought her historical research to the general public. Her insights into the 19th century culture of public performance and theatre have also been covered by mainstream media, with articles helping to raise public understanding of her work and linking her findings to contemporary issues. 

Multiple editions

Walking in Pimlico book cover
Italian versions of Walking in Pimlico and The Newgate Jig have sold combined totals of more than 15,000 copies.

The two novels 'Walking in Pimlico' and 'The Newgate Jig' have a broad and growing readership:

  • English language versions have been published in hardback, paperback and on Amazon Kindle
  • 'The Newgate Jig' has been republished in large print and as an audiobook
  • Italian versions have sold combined totals of more than 15,000 copies and were promoted through online advertising
  • The books are also translated into French and a Portuguese version of 'Walking in Pimlico' is available

Appearances

Featherstone's research and other publications have led to adaptations for Radio 4, online essays, an iPhone app and invitations to advise a range of broadcasters on and off the screen at the BBC. She has promoted the findings of her research frequently on BBC radio and acted as a consultant to Norfox Young People's Theatre.

The research has led to a broader impact in terms of the value of creative writing. Featherstone has run commissioned workshops around the UK to encourage discussion of creative writing and promotion of understanding of how organisations can best work with authors.

Our research

Whilst the process of research has not altered, the means by which it has been shaped for broader consumption, and therefore its impact potential, have developed.

Dr Ann Featherstone / Lecturer

This very original research has refocused attention onto the working experiences of professional as well as amateur performers in both rural and urban settings in the 19th century, highlighting marginal forms such as circus, fairground booth and music hall.

Key sources:

  • Theatre and performance archives
  • Periodical and trade papers
  • Letters and personal diaries of performers and audience members, many sourced from descendants of their authors

Our research and writing was directly informed by media interest from Channel 4, the BBC and RTE, which highlighted the extent of public interest in 'forgotten' performance traditions.

Findings of the research have been drawn on directly by lead researcher, Dr Ann Featherstone, in her popular historical novels, 'Walking in Pimlico' and 'The Newgate Jig' to locate working-class performers in a new vision of popular cultural history.

Lead academic