The trick to success
PUBLISHED: 06:15 15 September 2014
Archant Norfolk 2014
"My first memories are crawling around the back of our magic shop on Great Russell Street in London. As a toddler I would find masks and jump out at people visiting the British Museum opposite," laughs magician Roy Davenport, owner of Davenport's Magic Kingdom.
World of magic
“My first memories are crawling around the back of our magic shop on Great Russell Street in London. As a toddler I would find masks and jump out at people visiting the British Museum opposite,” laughs magician Roy Davenport, owner of Davenport’s Magic Kingdom.
Last year, he finally realised a family dream, to open a museum and tourist attraction breathing life into a vast collection of magic-related memorabilia. Davenport’s Magic Kingdom in North Walsham doesn’t just tell the story of magic, it is a trip through social and cultural history.
“We are such a one-off and I think people have to experience it to understand what it’s all about. What I want to achieve here is not just to display artefacts and tricks, but to bring them to life,” he says.
Roy’s family story began with the hard work and vision of his great grandfather Lewis. “His father died when he was eight years old and as the eldest child in the house, he had to try to earn some money as they were so poor. On one occasion they took in a lodger who started teaching him some basic tricks. Soon my great grandfather was performing them in different pubs in the East End,” says Roy. “In 1898, by the age of 16, he had started his own mail order business selling tricks he had made from old wood and bits and pieces.”
By 1929, Lewis was a millionaire, performing magic in theatres around the world and sharing a bill with internationally renowned magicians, including Houdini. At the same time his business grew into the largest retailer and wholesaler of magic in the world, says Roy.
“I think having been so poor, it drove him on. But also he just loved the thrill of magic. It was an extraordinary story and just so ahead of its time, especially given his desperately poor background.”
Following the death of Lewis and then his son Gilly, Roy’s mother Betty took over the family business and began working at the London shop.
“My brother and I were both babies and my father worked for a major company and was abroad a lot. Mum was an incredible woman, running a business with two small children, it was unheard of at the time. It was an amazing place to be as a small child. As a four year old I couldn’t read, but I would follow the pictures on the back of the tricks and teach myself. Then I would perform them for customers, hopefully persuading them to buy them.”
Roy went on to become a successful magician, performing on television and in theatres around the world, winning awards and competitions. With his wife Anne, who he met at drama school, he moved to Norfolk 15 years ago after falling in love with the county while performing at the Summer Seaside Special in Cromer.
The museum had been in the planning for more than 30 years, after Roy’s father Fergus began sorting through the seemingly endless boxes and packages.
“I don’t think it started as a collection, it was more that the family didn’t throw anything away for 100 years. We found the most amazing things, we didn’t know what treasure we would find next. Some were still unopened in boxes, and there were things from all over the world from famous magicians and theatres.”
Roy and his team perform magic as visitors walk around the museum, bringing the tricks to life, and the visit ends with a magic show in the theatre.
Davenport’s Magic Kingdom, Cromer Road, North Walsham, NR28 0NB; 01692 405254; davenportsmagickingdom.co.uk
We bought a zoo
With generations of farming and conservation experience to draw upon, the decision to take over Amazona Zoo was a simple one for Benjie Cabbell-Manners, owner of Cromer Hall, and his family.
“We already own the land which the zoo is on and, being a farmer, I have always been interested in wildlife and conversation. So when Ken Sims told us he planned to leave, we just felt it was the right thing. He has created a fantastic zoo here and we feel it had a really strong link with our farm. It has been a steep learning curve though,” says Benjie.
He has just visited South America to learn more about the species in his charge and cannot hide his enthusiasm about the experience.
“I hadn’t been to South America before and it was incredible. We started in the Amazon and it was absolutely fantastic to see just how dense the jungle is and the vastness of the river. To see some of the species we have here in their natural environment and to understand more about them was a real privilege.”
He says the family is committed to continuing the conservation work of Ken Sims, who still owns Thrigby Wildlife Gardens, near Great Yarmouth.
“As part of Ken’s commitment to the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums we own a piece of Mexican rainforest, so I can’t wait to visit it and see how we can develop the project. The bigger animals are all under threat in South America, like many of the big cats and the tapirs, so the visit made me really appreciate that what we have here are very precious.”
Benjie has many plans for the park and has already added an indoor play area and yurt for events, parties and education trips. “We also have exciting ideas for some new species as well – we have a toucan coming any day now,” he smiles.
Amazona Zoo, Hall Road, Cromer, NR27 9JG; 01263 510741; www.amazonazoo.co.uk
Large and small
For three generations of the same family, childhood nostalgia has inspired them to transform a hobby into a new business.
Sean, Ray and Robert Green have created what is said to be the largest model railway in the UK, in the heart of the Norfolk Broads. The displays at Wroxham Miniature Worlds are brought to life with buildings, trees, people and landscapes.
Sean, who runs a coach business with his father, Ray, says it is good for people to be able to show their children what they used to play with, in an age before technology. “It allows people to experience that warm feeling they once had when playing with their toys,” he explains.
The attraction also includes vintage toy displays, a collection of 80,000 Lego bricks and a vast display of Sindy memorabilia. It has taken a team of 30 people two years to complete and is a labour of love for everyone involved.
Wroxham Miniature Worlds, Station Business Park, Horning Road West, Hoveton, NR12 8QJ; 01603 781728; firstname.lastname@example.org