LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, BOYS AND GIRLS... welcome to the big top blog of Douglas McPherson, author of CIRCUS MANIA, the book described by Gerry Cottle as "A passionate and up-to-date look at the circus and its people."

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Carter's Steam Fair Part Two: How it all Started

Carter's Steam Fair
in full swing

Many fairground families have been in the business for generations. But although Carter's Steam Fair operates probably the oldest rides in the country, as showmen and women they are new kids on the block.

The fair began in the 70s, when Anna Carter’s late husband John brought home a derelict set of gallopers dating from 1895.

At the time, the couple were promoting steam rallies, military vehicle rallies and collectors fairs. But John was a passionate collector in his own right.

“He collected everything, really,” Anna recalls. “American cars, gramophones, enamel signs. If it was old or interesting, he collected it.”

The purchase of the Tidman-built gallopers, however, was to be the beginning of a new passion that eclipsed all John’s many others.

Gallopers, incidentally, is the correct British name for what the uninitiated might call a merry-go-round - the kind where the horses go up and down on poles as it turns. According to Anna, the other commonly misapplied name, carousel, is what the Americans call them - and you can tell the difference because the American roundabouts rotate in an anti-clockwise direction while the British fairground horses always gallop clockwise.

A taste of the 50s
the Rock'n'roll Burger Bar
For months, the couple stripped, painted and restored the countless individual parts of the gallopers in a shanty town of sheds they constructed in the back garden of their rented farmhouse.

By luck they located the original steam engine that had powered the ride and, in the winter of 1976/77, they built up the huge elaborate fairground ride in their front garden.

As the smoke belched, the rows of multi-coloured light-bulbs glowed and the carved wooden horses rose and fell in time to the music, the ornately decorated rounding boards at the top of the mighty contraption missed the gutter of the house by inches.

Initially taking the gallopers to weekend shows, the couple quickly realised that the takings from one ride wouldn’t support their growing family. So, throughout the 80s, they added more and more vintage rides - a set of chair-o-planes from the 1920s,  a 1930s ‘ark,’ and a stomach-churning 1945 dive bomber first owned by circus showman Billy Smart.

The fairground today looks like a living film set, every brightly painted truck, ride, wagon, sign, slot machine, burger bar and ice cream van restored to its original period appearance.

The result is that the fair attracts a more genteel clientele than the typical modern funfair.

“We‘re much more family orientated,” says Anna. “I think everyone gets some yobs nowadays, but we don’t get so many, because the families swamp them out, and the music we play - 40s big band music and 50s rock’n’roll - doesn’t attract them. If we do get any yobs in we put Cliff Richard on. That soon drives them away.”

Click here for Part Three of the Carter’s Steam Fair Story, in which we’ll look at the hard work behind the fun of the fair.

And for a fictional look at life on a travelling fair, read the Fairground Girl and Other Attractions by Julia Douglas. Click here to but fro

No comments:

Post a Comment