VINTAGE FAIRGROUND AMUSEMENTS HERITAGE PAGE

Welcome to our Old Tyme Heritage Fairground History Page.
Please note that there are many, many photographs further down this page for your delectation...

Due to the interest shown in our Old Tyme Fairground Amusements section... I have been requested by many Fairground Enthusiasts, to provide a Potted History of the British Fairground.

The Word "Fair" derives from the Latin "Feria" or Holiday, Feast, Festa. One of the very first references to any type of Fair or annual gathering of people, was almost 900 years ago, with the Feast of St. Bartholomew, Originating in 1173. This was a collection of Traders, selling their wares, including Wool, Cloth, Pewter ware, Sheep & Poultry, Food & Drink etc. It was held annually on the 24/25th of August, in the grounds of St. Bartholomew's Monastery, which occupied the site of the Present Day "Smithfields" in the City of London.

By the 18th Century, it had rapidly grown, both in size & popularity, occupying several surrounding Streets & being extended to 2 weeks. It attracted many more Traders, plus various Itinerant Performers... Acrobats, Fire-Eaters, Tumblers, Musicians, Wild Animal Displays & Travelling Troupes of Actors etc. During this time, some very basic "Rides" were introduced..including Swings, Hand Turned Wooden Roundabouts & Overboats, Forerunner of the Big Wheel (see illustrations below) The Fair became very rough & rowdy with fighting amongst drink-fuelled revellers, & was eventually closed by a Public Order Act of 1855. Along with many other Feasts & Fairs around the Country over this period...the seeds of the travelling Fair were sown!!

The main milestones of the development of the Travelling Fair were the introductions of STEAM Power & ELECTRICITY.

Three famous names were mainly responsible for the introductions of the greatest innovations to the Travelling Fairground... Frederick Savage, Ride Builder & Steam Engine Builders, Charles Burrell & John Fowler. Until the 1850's...any kind of Travelling Ride was limited to the fact that it had to be powered by hand & be transported by Horse Power.

STEAM

In the 1860's... Frederick Savage, an Agricultural Engineer from Kings Lynn in Norfolk, produced a Roundabout powered by a Stationary Steam Engine, supplied by Charles Burrell, another Agricultural Engineer & Steam Engine Manufacturer in Thetford, Norfolk. The Ride consisted of a centre four-wheeled truck containing a Steam Engine, With a central rotating column branching out to a circular frame, from which was suspended a circular platform & rods supporting wooden horses. Normally 36 mounts, 3 abreast. These were later made to rise up & down by means of a series of crankshafts geared from the top frame as the ride rotated. This ride was known as The "Gallopers". Gallopers differed from the newly manufactured Continental "Carousel" in the fact that that the horses moved, rather than being attached to the platform.

The problem soon arose...how to move such a large Steam Powered ride from Town to Town? The first Agricultural Portable Steam Engine was produced around 1846 to power Farm Equipment, such as Threshing Machines, Log Saws etc. They were pulled by horses, from field to field. In 1872, Burrell invented a Steam Engine that could move itself by a series of gears to the Road Wheels & with a Steering Mechanism. THUS the Basic Steam Traction Engine was Born!! These Engines were Basically for Agricultural use.

In 1875, Burrell produced his First "Showman's" Traction Engine. This was a very large Basic Traction Engine with an ornate full-length wooden canopy above. The Engine was elaborately painted with polished brass fittings & twisted brass rods supporting the canopy. These were incredibly powerful machines, capable of hauling very heavy loads.

Now the problems of Mechanical Power & Transport were solved... It was time to produce bigger & more elaborate Fairground Rides!

Following the creation of the Gallopers Roundabout... In 1885, Savage produced the Fabulous "Switchback" Ride. This was a completely different format to the Gallopers. It had a centre truck with a driving frame, but instead of a suspended platform & horses..it had a circular undulating "Railway" Track, built on the ground, with a series of 2 or 3 hills & dips. (See below) On the Track were several varieties of Decorated Cars or Floats in the form of Gondolas, Mythical Beasts, Motor Cars, Boats etc. These were pulled around the track by the moving frame. There were many variations of this ride which can be seen in the photographs below.

Another popular ride of this era were the "Steam Yachts" introduced in 1894. Two giant Swinging Cabins, driven independently by a lever mechanism attached to the Steam Engine in the centre.

ELECTRICITY!

The next big innovation was the introduction of Electrical Power & Lighting, which the Fairground Ride Operators were quick to embrace. The problem of "Portable" Power was solved by the fitting of a Powerful Dynamo to a bracket on the Traction Engine's Boiler, powered by a leather or canvas belt from the Engine's giant flywheel. This was easily capable of driving & lighting the largest ride.

The Successor to the Steam Switchback, was the electrically driven "Scenic Railway" (not to be confused with the American "Big Dipper") the "Scenics" were similar in design to the Switchback, except that the "Cars" could power themselves. This meant that the whole top structure could remain stationary. This was highly decorated with fabulous carved "Rounding Boards" encircling the Ride. To attract customers or "Punters", fabulous Mechanical Fairground Organs were installed in the Centre of the ride. These were manufactured by mainly French Organ Builders, such as Gavioli, Marenghi, & later..Limonaire & Chiappa (of London). These instruments were driven by compressed air bellows & a punched card passing through a key frame operating the air valves to the pipes. The keys also operated percussion instruments & moving figures on the decorated Organ front.

Along with the new Rides, were many Travelling Shows...Freak Shows, Variety Shows, Illusion & Magic Shows, Animal Shows, including the Huge Bostock & Wombwell's Travelling Menagerie! An unbelievable sight of Lions, Elephants, Camels, Giraffe & all varieties of Exotic Beasts all appearing in your local Town Square!!

CINEMA

In 1845 in Paris, The Lumiere Brothers invented the Moving Picture Projector. This was adapted from an earlier invention by Randall Williams. The Fairground "Showmen" were quick to grasp this amazing new Attraction, & at the turn of the 20th  Century (around 1900) introduced "The Wonder of the Age".... The Electric Bioscope Cinematograph Moving Picture Show!! (see below). The Show consisted of a massive wooden Front Facade, with a Stage & Gigantic Organ, usually in the centre. These Organs could be much larger than the Ride Organs which were limited by space in the centre of the Ride. The whole "Show Front" was covered in fabulous Rococo & Baroque style carved woodwork & paintings. Dancing Girls would grace the Stage, dancing to the Giant Organ attracting the crowds to the Show. On payment of 2 or 3 pence, The Punter could enter this Amazing Auditorium!!....which was actually a tent at the back, & watch a few minutes of Flickering Silent Moving Images. The Projector was a rather unreliable piece of apparatus, powered by a variety of light sources, including Calcium Oxide (Lime-Light). A Calcium Carbide Burner, or the rather more superior Carbon Arc. All these methods were highly unpredictable & quite frankly...dangerous! Often resulting in explosions, burning down the entire Show! (which is probably why NO original Shows still exist. Alfred Ball's Bioscope, pictured below, built in 1905 was struck by lightning, shortly after the picture was taken!

There were many famous names presenting Bioscopes & Fairground Shows...many of which survive to the present day... Chittock's, Wadbrook's, Taylor's, Ball's, Thurston's, Crichton's, Anderton & Rowland's, Clark's, Murphy's, Holland's, Biddall's, Chipperfield's, Norman's, Hancock's, Shufflebottom's etc. etc. (Please excuse any I've missed with my research & failing Memory!)

20th CENTURY!!

The New Century brought many changes. In the 1920's..the Bioscope Shows were replaced by the Permanent Cinemas. Some of which were owned by Fairground Showmen such as Charles Thurston. Also.. people wanted newer & faster rides. In 1911, Frederick Savage's Company closed, leaving a large void in the manufacture of Riding Machines. Savages was bought by Orton & Spooner of Burton upon Trent, formerly, woodcarvers & Gypsy Caravan Manufacturers. Another engineering Company.. Lakin's of Bristol, also came onto the scene.

Although the Gallopers STILL survive to this day, the large, cumbersome Switchback & Scenic style Rides were replaced by Orton & Spooner's "Ark" ride. This was similar in structure to a Scenic & was the forerunner of today's "Waltzer". This was also a circular Ride with an undulating track, with 3 or 4 hills. Instead of Cars or other Carriages.. it had an entire "Moving Platform" on small wheels underneath. This was driven by a Worm Drive "Cheese Wheel" powered by a motor in the Centre Truck. The Organ was replaced by a Paybox/Control Box in the centre. The Organ replaced by popular Records of the day. Progress?? The Ride had a selection of Carved Animals & Chariots attached to the platform. The Ride rotated much faster & with more rises & falls, gave a far more exciting ride. The Animals were later replaced by Wooden Motor Bikes to keep up with the times. Later called the "Motorcycle Speedway". This was later replaced by the "Waltzer" with it's Spinning Tub/Cars. Still popular today!

Other more modern rides started appearing between the Wars.. including Chairoplanes from Germany around 1925. Orton & Spooner's Dodgems 1928. Moonrocket 1930. Big Wheel. Lakin's Skid (or Whip) 1929. Langwheels Jets 1950's. ALL these Rides are featured in our FAIRGROUND AMUSEMENTS (Old Tyme) Section.

The Bioscope Shows were replaced by Variety Shows, Striptease Shows, Wild West Shows, Freak & Curiosity Shows, Boxing Booths etc. Virtually all of which have now passed on into history.

Many Big Ride & Show Operators came along in the 20th Century, including... Wilson's, Thurston's, Edwards, Farrar's, Holland's, Collins, Harniess, Marshall's, White Bros. Crow's, Silcock's, Nicholls, Smart's, Wall's, Corrigan's, Pettygrove's, Sedgwick's, Remblance, Forrest's, Scarrott's, Summers, Armstrong's, Swales, Cole's, Shaw's etc. (Once again, please excuse any omissions. Additions from irate Showmen will be welcome!!)

POST WW II

The 50's & 60's were Boom Times once again for the Fairground Industry! However.. one sad casualty, was the demise of the iconic "Showman's Traction Engine" these were quickly replaced post War, by the powerful Ex W.D. Tractors of Scammell, Foden, & the Mighty US Army.."Diamond T". These were fitted with reliable Gardiner or Perkins Diesel Engines on the back, driving generators for all the Rides & Illumination.

From then on, almost all the Traditional British Ride Manufacturers Closed.. being replaced by Continental Manufacturers such as HUSS & FABBRI. With the aid of Modern Engineering Techniques, Hydraulics, Compressed Air, & Computerized Design Methods... Modern Machines can be made Faster, Higher, Safer & more stomach-churning than ever before!!

Thanks to the dedicated (& very rich) Enthusiasts & Traditionalists... many of these fabulous Early Rides, Engines, Organs & Amusements STILL Survive in Immaculate Condition & Working Order to the Present Day.

We are very proud & honoured to be able to supply a huge selection of these wonderful Rides & Amusements to your Vintage Event from our OLD TYME AMUSEMENTS & FAIRGROUND ORGANS pages of our Website.

Text Copyright: JON ANTON ENTERTAINMENTS 2008

I would like to dedicate this Heritage Page to the Memory of My Dear Father...
John "Jack" Perkins & his Colleague
Arthur F. Mills.
In recognition of their Immense Joint Contribution to the
World of Fairground Preservation.

                                                                                           

PRIMITIVE OVERBOATS - BARTHOLOMEW FAIR 1728

SELF-PROPELLED ROUNDABOUT - 1805

NOTTINGHAM GOOSE FAIR - 1908

NOTTINGHAM GOOSE FAIR - 1908

NOTTINGHAM GOOSE FAIR - 1908

OLDHAM WAKES FAIR. 1906. (Photo: Tommy Green Collection)

ST. GILES FAIR. OXFORD 1901

MITCHAM FAIR. AUGUST 1935

BOSTON MAY FAIR (Lincolnshire) Circa 1905

PAT COLLINS' No.2 BIOSCOPE CINEMATOGRAPH SHOW 1912
With MARENGHI ORGAN Pictured Below

PAT COLLINS' 98 KEY MARENGHI / CHIAPPA ORGAN
As Pictured in Pat Collins' BIOSCOPE SHOW Above

PRESIDENT KEMP'S "THEATRE UNIQUE" BIOSCOPE SHOW
Nottingham Goose Fair 1909

A. BALL & Sons "NEW LYCEUM" BIOSCOPE & VARIETY SHOW. Banbury Fair 1905

WILLIAM TAYLOR'S BIOSCOPE SHOW 1910

Click Banner above to visit external website

JOYLAND BOOKS. Britain's Leading On-line Store for Showland & Circus Memorabilia
(Click logo above to visit the website)

COLONEL CLARK'S BIOSCOPE & VARIETY SHOW - 1907

WADBROOK'S ROYAL ELECTROGRAPH (Circa 1905)

WADBROOK'S "PALACE OF LIGHT" BIOSCOPE & VARIETY SHOW - Stratford Mop Fair 1908

JOHN PROCTOR'S ROYAL BIOSCOPE SHOW - 1906

JACOB STUDT'S BIOSCOPE SHOW Cardiff. Circa 1905

EARLY BIOSCOPE PROJECTING LANTERN Circa 1900

BIOSCOPE PUBLICITY POSTER - 1899

CHARLES THURSTON'S "ROYAL SHOW" BIOSCOPE. St Giles' Fair. Oxford. Circa 1903

CHARLES THURSTON'S & JAMES CRICHTON'S BIOSCOPE SHOWS - NORWICH 1905

JAMES CRICHTON'S "PALACE OF VARIETIES" & BIOSCOPE SHOW - 1902

JAMES CRICHTON'S BIOSCOPE SHOW - 1902
(With Gavioli Organ pictured below)

JAMES CRICHTON'S 89 KEY GAVIOLI ORGAN
(Pictured with Crichton's Bioscope Shows above)

WHITE BROTHERS SCENIC DRAGONS GAVIOLI ORGAN
(Formerly Sidney White's ELECTRIC COLOSEUM 1909)

DEAN'S BIOSCOPE SHOW.. Recreated for The Great Dorset Steam Fair 2007

CHARLES THURSTON'S ELECTRIC CINEMA PALACE
One of the LAST Travelling Fairground Bioscope/Cinemas
Marking the Transition From Travelling Bioscope Shows To Permanent Cinemas
During the 1920's

PARKER'S GHOST ILLUSION SHOW - 1904

HANCOCK'S "BIO TABLEAU" VARIETY SHOW - 1890
(Later, Dooner's Bioscope Show)

CHIPPERFIELD'S WILD BEAST SHOW - 1934

BOSTOCK & WOMBWELL'S TRAVELLING MENAGERIE
(Image Courtesy: Geoffrey Younger)

BOSTOCK & WOMBWELL'S TRAVELLING MENAGERIE
(Image Courtesy: Geoffrey Younger)

BOSTOCK & WOMBWELL'S TRAVELLING MENAGERIE
Hull Fair 1897

BOSTOCK & WOMBWELL'S MENAGERIE "On the Move" 1914

J.M. CHIPPERFIELD'S ELECTROGRAPH BIOSCOPE SHOW
"On The Move" With Burrell Showman's Engine "Queen of the Midlands"
(Circa 1900)

JACOB STUDT'S STEAM DRIVEN MOTOR CAR SWITCHBACK- 1906

ASPLAND & HOWDEN'S GONDOLAS & ORGAN - 1904

WILLIAM WILSON'S SPINNING TOP RODEO SWITCHBACK (Circa 1900)

STUART'S GOLDEN VENETIAN GONDOLAS
(Miniature Reproduction)

ASPLAND'S (Coles) VENETIAN GONDOLAS
(In Preservation. The Thursford Collection. Norfolk)
www.thursford.com/thursford-collection-main.aspx

 GEORGE GREEN'S GONDOLA RIDE - 1906

FRENCH GONDOLA SWITCHBACK - (Circa) 1912

CONTINENTAL CAROUSEL. Paris. Circa 1905.
(Photo Courtesy: Kevin Scrivens. The Fairground Society)

CARTER'S STEAM YACHTS "Columbia" and "Britannia"

Smith Brothers' "RAZZLE DAZZLE" Circa 1908
Built by Howcroft Wagon & Carriage Works West Hartlepool
In Preservation at Hollycombe Steam Museum, Liphook, Hants.
www.hollycombe.co.uk

JOE WHITE'S RAZZLE DAZZLE - Circa 1905

P. SHEERAN'S GALLOPERS (available for hire)

GRAHAM'S GOLDEN GALLOPERS

FRED COX'S FOUR ABREAST STEAM GALLOPERS - 1904

DOWN'S GOLDEN GALLOPERS WITH STEAM ENGINE

DOWN'S GOLDEN GALLOPERS WITH STEAM ENGINE (closer view)

DOWN'S GALLOPERS & ORGAN

HARRIS' NOAH'S ARK - Circa 1930

ATHA'S MOTORCYCLE SPEEDWAY - 1961

SHAW'S MOTORCYCLE SPEEDWAY

GIANT WHEEL - EARLS COURT - 1905

PAT COLLINS "BURRELL" SHOWMAN'S ENGINE No. 3865

TUBY'S BURRELL SCENIC SHOWMAN'S ENGINE - "EX-MAYOR" 1924

ANDERTON & ROWLANDS FOWLER SHOWMAN'S ENGINE - "THE LION" 1932

DYNAMO - providing Power on "BURRELL" SHOWMAN'S ENGINE

F BALL'S SWITCHBACK LOADS - 1893

G.T. WEST'S AMUSEMENTS - Circa 1920

CHARLES THURSTON'S DIAMOND 'T' TRACTOR "ALEXANDRA" & 'SKID' LOADS - 1968

EDWARDS' SCAMMELL "SHOWTRAC"

GEORGE - SCOTLAND'S TALLEST MAN - 1983

GEORGE - SCOTLAND'S TALLEST MAN - 1983

BETTY ALLEN'S SNAKE SHOW - 1983

RON TAYLOR'S FAMOUS BOXING & WRESTLING BOOTH - 1950s - 1980s

LIVING WAGON - 1910 (still requires painting)

BRINGING US RIGHT UP TO DATE. HULL FAIR 2010.
Photo Courtesy: MALCOLM FARRELLY Photography

HULL FAIR 2010 BY NIGHT
Photo Courtesy: MALCOLM FARRELLY Photography

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Members of The Fairground Association Of Great Britain
www.fagb.co.uk

Members of The Fairground Society
www.fairgroundsociety.co.uk

Member of The Association Of Independent Showmen
www.ais.me.uk

Member of
THE FAIR ORGAN PRESERVATION SOCIETY
www.fops.org

*PLEASE NOTE: ALL Design, Layout, Artwork & Text of this Website is Strictly COPYRIGHT to Jon Anton Entertainments.
ALL Logos, Images & Photographs are COPYRIGHT to Their Owners, & May Not be reproduced without Their Permission.

email: jon@antons-show.co.uk Mob: (+44) 7789 124055 UK: 07789 124055
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