No history of Walsall would be complete without a mention of the once well-known flamboyant showman, and civic figure, Pat Collins, who was once a household name.

Pat was born of Irish parentage, on 12th May, 1859 in Chester. At the age of ten, after attending St. Wedburgh’s School, he joined his father and his brother John, travelling around the fairs in Cheshire, Lancashire, North Wales, Shropshire, and Staffordshire, with small rides. On 20th July, 1880 he married Flora MacDonald Ross in Liverpool, and set himself up as a roundabout proprietor.

In 1882 Pat and Flora settled at Shaw’s Leasowe (also known as Shaw’s Leisure) in Birchills. They leased a small piece of land on which to park their showman’s van from Mr. David Bird. At the time, Pat owned a horse and a juvenile ride, and over the next few years acquired several more rides including his first steam gallopers in 1883, a second set of gallopers in 1886, a sea on land ride in 1887, and switchback gallopers in 1888. His business flourished, and he purchased two Burrell showmen’s engines, the first in 1894, the second in 1896.

By 1882 he ran many of the local fairs, including ones at Bloxwich, Darlaston, Oldbury, Smethwick, Wednesbury, West Bromwich, and the Birmingham Onion Fair. He also ran many others throughout the Midlands, becoming a successful businessman with a large empire.


Pat Collins.

Within a few years he moved into his first house, number 69 Stafford Street, Walsall, and in 1899 founded Pat Collins (Walsall) Limited.

He opened Gondola Works at Shaw’s Leasowe, on the corner of Algernon Street and Shaw Street in Walsall, to repair and maintain his vast range of fairground rides and equipment. Pat and Flora moved into nearby Chester House in Algernon Street.

Each year Pat travelled throughout the country putting on bigger and better shows, helped by his flair for giving the public what they wanted. He acquired animals from across the world including hyenas, leopards, lions, and tigers, becoming a well-known and well-respected personality.

Pat was a founder member of the 'Van Dweller's and Showmen's Protection Society', formed in 1889. It later became the Showmen's Guild, with Pat as its longest serving president, a post he held from 1909 until 1929.

In 1915 Pat and Flora moved to their final home, Lime Tree House in Bloxwich. It stood on the northern side of the ASDA car park, off High Street, roughly where the Sound Academy store is today.

On 29th April, 1918, Pat began another career when he was co-opted as councillor for Birchills, filling the vacancy left after the existing Liberal councillor, William Halford was elected Alderman. He had a successful political career, representing the Birchills Ward until 1930 when he was elected as an Alderman. From 1922 until 1924 he was elected as Liberal Member of Parliament for Walsall, winning the poll by just 325 votes. It had been a heavy turnout, nearly 38,000 people voted. In the 1923 election he increased his majority to 2,163. In one of his electioneering leaflets he stated that:

We've lived together nigh on forty years,
And it hasn't seemed too long at that;
There's not a fellow in the wide, wide, world,
We'd swap for our dear old Pat.

In 1924 he lost his seat to William Preston, a Conservative. Pat became Mayor of Walsall in 1938. He received his final civic accolade on 7th November, 1939 when he received the Freedom of the Borough of Walsall.

As part of his civic duties he served on many committees, including the Baths, Park and Cemeteries Committee, the Electricity Supply Committee, the Gas Committee, the Health Committee, the Library Committee, the Public Assistance Committee, the Public Works Committee, the Welfare Committee, and the Watch Committee.

Pat became fascinated with cinematography, and after including a bioscope in many of his fairs, he began to acquire cinemas, eventually owning thirteen of them, including three local cinemas, the Alhambra at Dudley Port, the Grosvenor at Bloxwich, and the Olympia at Darlaston. One of his early films showed the workers at Shannon's Mill leaving the factory.

1932 was sad year for Pat because on 8th April, Flora died at Limetree House. In 1933 he moved the Gondola Works to Bloxwich, to become his Amusement Depot, and sold the land at Birchills to the Walsall & District Co-operative Society to be used by their transport department.

Two years later Pat remarried. On 11th January, 1935 he married Clara Mullett at St. Patrick’s Church, Walsall. At the time he was seventy five years old, and she was fifty four. Clara had been associated with him for many years in business, and like Pat was a generous supporter of good causes.

Pat didn’t let the wartime blackout stop his funfair. In April 1940 he introduced his blackout fair at Darlaston and Walsall. It was a completely covered fair, with all of the usual attractions undercover.


From the Walsall Observer, 30th April, 1940.

By the time of his death in 1943 he had become known as ‘King of the Showmen’ and had a large empire. He died on 9th December, 1943 at Lime Tree House. He was eighty four years old. The funeral service took place at St. Patrick’s Church, and he was buried at Bloxwich Cemetery.

In 1955 the Bloxwich Carnival Committee erected the Pat Collins memorial clock in King George V Memorial Playing Fields. It was unveiled by the Mayor of Walsall on 29th October, 1955.

 

   

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