Projects > The Big Grin 2012

'The Big Grin' comes to Buxton



May 2012 marked the 350th birthday of Punch & Judy in the UK: it was first mentioned in the diary of Samuel Pepys in 1662. To celebrate, events took place all over the country from May to October in a project called 'The Big Grin', co-ordinated by PuppetLink and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Funny Wonders presented the Buxton events which took place during the Buxton Puppet Festival 2012.

Buxton formed a special part of this national celebration as, what is believed to be the first ever moving image film of a Punch & Judy show, recorded in 1901, was performed by a Buxton-based Professor, namely Henry Bailey, who lived on Bennett Street. 'The Big Grin' wanted to celebrate this. The delightful little film allows today’s performers and public to see the skills of a Victorian Punch Professor at the top of the game: it still entertains despite being silent. We continue to research Henry and his family – if you have any information please get in touch.

We presented a variety of activities during the week. Below is an overview.


Talk & Exhibition

The film was shown at the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery alongside a small exhibition which detailed the history of Punch & Judy and Henry Bailey. Geoff Felix, a Punch Professor and historian, gave a lecture telling the fascinating story of Henry Bailey and his family; his father James was regarded as the best Punch-man of the Victorian Era.

Street Performances


Geoff also performed outside the Buxton Opera House. These attracted large audiences and he gave an extra show to appease the demand, which he dedicated to Bailey. The screaming delight of the children and begrudged laughter of the adults shows Punch & Judy is still able to entertain all ages and is seemingly untouched by political correctness or censoring.

The Big Grin Buxton Heritage Trail 2012
The Big Grin Buxton Heritage Trail 2012
Heritage Trail

We organised a Heritage Town Trail around Buxton linking activities, places of interest for the Bailey family and locations to recreate photographs of Henry taken in Buxton in the 19th Century, some of which pictures  provided by Picture the Past.


Can you work out where the photos were taken? Click on them to make them bigger.

Punch Professor Harry (Henry) Bailey with son c1896 in Buxton
Punch Professor Harry (Henry) Bailey performing in Buxton
Punch Professor Harry (Henry) Bailey performing in Buxton
Punch Professor Harry (Henry) Bailey with son c1900 in Buxton

Light Installation Boxes

The trail included some light box installations in shop windows around the town with different Punch characters and scenes. Trail-walkers were invited to find the boxes with their locations only indicated by a dot on the map. We thank the participating shops which can now be revealed: Scrivener's Books, Potters, Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe, David Russell art shop, Edinburgh Woollen Mill, W Appleyard & Son toy shop, CR Clowes & Son chemists.

'That's The Way To Do It' Workshop

We also ran a Punch puppet-making workshop as part of the Festival programme where we made glove puppets of some of the Punch characters. There were lots of participants who made some wonderful Mr Punchs, Judys, clowns, devils, ghosts and crocodiles. At the end of the workshop there was the opportunity to perform in a show tent - obviously, in true Punch & Judy style, this often declined into a boxing match.

'The Big Grin' Roadshow

'The Big Grin' Roadshow made it to Buxton for the Friday of the Puppet Festival and set up on the Pavilion Gardens promenade. Amongst other activities, the public were invited to take photos as the puppets, sign Mr Punch’s six-foot-tall 350th Birthday Card and see the longest string of sausages one might ever see!

Funny Wonders Inc. Community Interest Company #06814964

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