The Mackney Family

The Mackney Family

The Mackneys are perhaps best known for their three generations as fairground travellers. However, that doesn’t really tell us much about them as it is a generic term to describe any of the multitude of different acts that appeared, and still do appear, at travelling fairs.

The Mackney family often travelled in separate family groups and probably weren’t all in the same place very often.

As far as the fairground part of the family is concerned, the founder was Thomas Mackney. He is originally a wood turner (up to at least his marriage in 186), but by 1871 he is a clown.

It was probably shortly after marrying Margaret Lomas that he changed profession as Margaret was already a seasoned traveller. Her father was as Showman at least as far back as 1861.

The basic staple of the Mackneys was the performing of plays. The plays would be performed by family members. This form of entertainment was very popular at the time and had the advantage of being able to retain the same programme as they moved around the country.

They initially had strong connections with the Manchester area but in later years the focus changed to the North East.

Most of their touring appears to have covered the North of England but also much of Scotland.

From about 1895 the family business was more focussed on The Ghost Show or Ghost Pavilion.

The Ghost show was popularised by John Henry Pepper in about 1862 and is generally referred to as Pepper’s Ghost. It is basically a case of ‘smoke and mirrors’.  The Mackneys acting skills could be put to good use here.

Simply put, there are 2 rooms (the main stage plus another space, either to the side or below) The ‘real actors’ performed on the stage and the ‘ghost’ acted in the second room. The image of the ghost was projected onto a sheet of glass that was positioned between the stage and the audience this making it look as though the ghost was amongst the actors.

See this ywebsite for an explanation:

They also showed films as many places still didn’t have cinemas.

The Mackneys continued travelling with one form of act or another until at least 1911 and probably for a while after although things were starting to change and more and more cinemas were appearing in towns.

The name Mackney is also of interest, as it wasn’t original their real name.

In 1825 James McNair a bricklayer from Scotland, married Mary Wilton. They went on to have 7 children between 1827 and 1837. Mary died in 1838 leaving James with 3 children (aged 11, 9 and 4) to bring up.

In steps Mary’s sister, Hannah.

In the 1841 Hannah is listed as McNair but I can find no evidence of them getting married. James and Hannah have two children (Thomas and Elijah).

In 1851 Hannah is still living with James but she is now listed as Hannah Wilton, Sister-in-law.

James McNair dies in 1860 and in 1861 we find Hannah and her two sons living together as Wilton although the boys have McN as a middle name.

The ‘Mackney’ first appears in 1863 when Thomas marries Margaret Lomas as Thomas Mackney Wilton. He lists his father as James Wilton.

Thomas’ brother remains Wilton all his life.

Thomas and Margaret go on to have 14 children.

Some are born as Wilton and some as Mackney and some as Mackney-Wilton.

All in all an interesting family.