Meet North Walsham magician Roy Davenport, creator of Britain’s largest magic museum
11:30 14 October 2013
Archant Norfolk 2013
Magician Roy Davenport is a hard-working man.
He learned his trade through grafting countless hours each day in order to perfect its secrets and has spent the past nine years flat out planning and creating Davenport’s Magic Kingdom.
The 15,000 sq ft North Walsham attraction opened its doors in May, boasting that it is Britain’s largest collection of magical memorabilia, also incorporating a theatre for live magic shows, shop and cafe.
“I last had a day off in April,” said Roy, 41. “I sometimes think talent isn’t about ability, it’s about a willingness to practise, and practise some more.”
And Roy should know. His earliest memories are of finding things to play with in the family’s London magic shop while his mother served customers.
At six he had taught himself his first tricks and gave his first public performance aged 10, working with Hungarian magician The Great Kovari at the Polka Theatre, in Wimbledon.
At 11 he was “totally bitten by the manipulation bug” – tricks involving sleight of hand – and spent 12 hours a day practising and then honing his skills to music.
He has won countless competitions in Britain and abroad, including the British Magical Championships at which he stunned everyone by taking the title aged just 15 – the contest was for adults.
The culmination for Roy came in 1997 when he took the manipulation prize at the World Magic Championships; the only Briton to do so since the overall prize was won in the 1950s by Geoffrey Buckingham, one of Roy’s magician idols.
But his chief sources of inspiration are his great-grandfather and grandfather, Lewis and Gilly Davenport, and his parents, Fergus and Betty Roy.
East-ender Lewis became the family breadwinner aged just eight when his father died.
The family were among 22 people sharing three rooms. Lewis eked out his wage as a cooper by juggling in pubs for a few farthings.
His skills grew and he began both performing magic and making tricks to sell. In 1908 he opened the family shop, Davenport’s Magic in the Mile End Road. It is still going strong today, now run by Roy’s brother Bill in Charing Cross.
By 1929 enterprising Lewis had bought a 16-bedroomed mansion in Kent and his vintage Rolls Royce is among the attractions at Davenport’s Magic Kingdom.
Lewis began the unique magical collection which the family has added to over the years.
Unwanted samples sent to the magic shop, collections sold by other magicians and grand illusions, which fell out of favour with the demise of Music Hall, are among its myriad treasures.
At one time it filled the 5,000 sq ft crypt of Holy Trinity Church in High Holburn.
It was when the church was deconsecrated in 1984, and the collection had to be moved, that Roy’s father Fergus began thinking about showing it to the public.
His 30-year effort to establish a museum in London, Manchester, Bristol and Cornwall were all thwarted but he did manage to secure the right to use the words “magic kingdom” from the Disney corporation.
Roy kept his father’s dream alive and while appearing in the 1999 Cromer Seaside Special show, he and his wife decided to make the county their home and move the collection to Norfolk.
While much of it is now on display in the museum, much is still stored in 6,000 sq ft of warehousing, awaiting its turn for display.
“I realised that North Walsham would be an excellent place for the museum because it’s at a centre of tourism, with the Broads, coast and Great Yarmouth all nearby,” said Roy.
Family members have invested £1.15m in the project and Roy is delighted that after its first season, Davenport’s Magic Kingdom has been ranked 21st out of 260 Norfolk attractions by online review site TripAdvisor, beating favourites including Bewilderwood and Norwich Castle.
“When I was setting this up everyone was telling me reasons why it wouldn’t work,” he said. “I hope I’ve proved them wrong.”