A Victorian Military Fair

Some old photographs recently passed to me by my mother included a few snaps of a Victorian Military Society fair that I attended sometime back in the mid 1980s. I think I might have attended two or three around this time and I suppose would have been aged between 13 and 16. The fair was been held, I very distinctly remember, at the Victory Services Club in London.

The Victory Services Club in London.

The Victory Services Club was opened in 1907 by Major Arthur Haggard, brother of the famous author H. Rider Haggard and moved to its current site on Seymour Street, near Marble Arch. My admittedly low quality photo below gives an impression of the fair with its crowd of visitors and stands.

Looking down from the balcony on to the main hall.

I could be wrong but one figure standing on the stage to the side I believe to be Colonel Peter Walton, who remains today the Victorian Military Society’s Vice-President, I’m happy to say.

Col. Peter Walton at a VMS Zulu War Seminar in London, 2019. I believe the chap in the background is the esteemed Zulu War author Ian Knight, whom I met at the VMS fair back in the 1980s. Photo: Victorian Military Society.

Looking at the photos, I well recall the range of stands offering all sorts of items for the Victorian military enthusiast including books, prints, old newspapers, clothing, militaria, model figures and more. I believe these items (a sword, bayonets and an assegai) are from the same event, though I can say no more about them.

It was from a VMS fair around this time that I purchased (for a whopping £1.50 pocket money) a Dorset MMS “Armies of the World” 54mm model yeomanry figure which I, as I blogged in 2018, I only recently got around to painting!

I remember at these fairs speaking to the military history authors Michael Barthorp, Ian Knight and Ian Castle. Peter Walton also gave a talk on his new volume of Richard Simkin prints called “Simkin’s Soldiers”.

My copy of Simkin’s Soldiers, Vol. 1.

The occasional re-enactor could be found stalking the floors or giving talks with both men and (judging from my hazy, dim photo of the whole floor) women too.

Upstairs could be found a large wargaming room in which this young visitor could only stand agog at the conflicts playing out before him with a range of wonderful figures. I still remember this skirmish below being played out by the Crimean War Research Group, presumably some sort of raid on the Sevastopol siege lines.

Above: What I think are Russian troops from Sevastapol advancing on British siege lines in a game organised by the Crimean War Research Group – a branch of the VMS. “Wargame will resume at 2.30…

I also have a vague impression of another featuring the 1880s Sudan campaign. Clearly, non-British conflicts were also covered too as this photo seems to show an American Civil War battle.

Above: A sizeable wargame featuring Union and Confederate troops from the Victorian Military Fair, 1980s.

My overall memories are of a thrilling day out for a young military history nerd who returned home on the train with bags of purchased ‘goodies’.

15 thoughts on “A Victorian Military Fair

  1. I remember going to this event in the early 80’s , Dave Cliff and I from the Crimean Group won an award for a Crimean wargame ‘Action at the Bulganac’ (?) using Peter Laing figures and WRG Horse and Musket rules .

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Great to hear from another visitor to the VMS fair! We may well have passed each other on an event. I was entranced by the figures and set up in the wargame room. I’d only been exposed to Airfix, etc and had never seen anything like it! Cheers


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  2. Brilliant post mate! there is nothing like a great walk down memory lane! I have to say I have seen a lot of military weapons in my time but I have never seen a bayonet in its scabbard, so thanks for showing me not one but two !!!

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      1. Well mate I have done the horses, ended up doing 135 , maybe a few to many 🤔, it’s been raining for days here so I haven’t been able to get any photos but when the sun shines again I’ll post them 🤓

        Liked by 1 person

  3. I was a regular at the VMS Fairs from about the late 1980s, as I joined the Continmental Wars Society (I was already a VMS member) at the first one I attended and helped with all or most of the CWS display games at the Fair until it ended. (I still do the CWS games, but at Salute these days).
    The Fair used to be great for buying books on 19th Century campaigns – one year I picked up an original (albeit in middling condition) full set of Nolan’s history of the Crimean War at a great price because the bookseller wanted to get packed up quickly!


    1. That’s fascinating to hear, Ian. The range of books and items I tended to return with was always worth a visit. I remember meeting the author Michael Barthorp (we used exchange Christmas cards for a while) and having Ian Knight and Ian Castle sign a newly published book for me. I even came back home with a Martini-Henry cartridge purportedly recovered from Kambula battlefield (all such relics are strictly forbidden now, of course).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I actually have the souveneir programmes from all the VMS fairs I attended from 1993 onwards. Looking at that first programme, I see that we shared the wargames space with the likes of Arthur Harman (Kriegspiel) and Bob Cordery (Wargames Developments) amongst others. Our game that year was the Battle of Vicenza in Italy in 1848

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