Fair­ground At­trac­tion

The People's Friend Special - - CONTENTS -

Pat Coul­ter vis­its Devon’s Fair­ground Her­itage Cen­tre

For me, as a young­ster back in the 60s, the treat of vis­it­ing the an­nual trav­el­ling fair on my lo­cal vil­lage green was as ea­gerly an­tic­i­pated as Christ­mas. Dad would be try­ing his luck at the shoot­ing gallery, knock­ing down me­tal ducks with a sat­is­fy­ing “clang”. I’d be jump­ing up and down in glee claim­ing his cud­dly toy prize, and that was long be­fore TV’s “Gen­er­a­tion Game”!

My mum’s favourite was the hoopla stall. Many a live gold­fish was bagged in suc­cess, stock­ing our or­na­men­tal pond at home. Though none of us ever man­aged to knock that elu­sive co­conut off the shy.

Oh! The sights, sounds and aro­mas. What seemed to me like a mil­lion, colour­ful flash­ing bulbs, the hum of gen­er­a­tors pow­er­ing the rides, the beat of 60s mu­sic, lip-smack­ing hot dogs and fry­ing onions. Pink candyfloss stick­ing to my nose and crunchy tof­fee ap­ples stick­ing to my teeth!

I drove my first “car” at the fair­ground – the elec­tri­fy­ing dodgems – long be­fore pass­ing my test. Friends from way back then would say to this day my road sense is still fu­elled by those bumper-car rides of yes­ter­year!

Imag­ine my ex­cite­ment when I dis­cov­ered I could re­live those candyfloss days of child­hood. That’s just what I’m go­ing to do at the Fair­ground Her­itage Cen­tre near Oke­hamp­ton in deep­est Devon. Come along with me for a nos­tal­gic ride.

Turn­ing off the main A30 route into the south-west and just a pleas­ant five-minute drive down coun­try roads, I find my­self head­ing down a nar­row track, hap­pily re­as­sured by the well­sign­posted way.

Park­ing up, a stone barn snug­gled into a dell be­lies my ex­pec­ta­tions of a typ­i­cal fair­ground site. Through the en­trance, like Jonah swal­lowed by the leg­endary whale, I ven­ture into the cav­ernous in­te­rior.

All of a sud­den I’m that ex­cited six-year-old again and a big grin spreads across my face!

I’m greeted by Roger Al­ford, one of the Trustees and early devo­tee of the Fair­ground Her­itage Cen­tre, fondly known as “Din­gles”, since its in­cep­tion in 1986. He con­fides there’s an as­ton­ish­ing 45,000 square feet of fair­ground rides and at­trac­tions.

They’re all un­der­cover in agri­cul­tur­al­style build­ings, which seem to me large enough to house a fleet of jumbo jets.

Think­ing about it, it’s the per­fect venue for keep­ing the kids amused in­doors on a soggy day any time of year. Un­sur­pris­ingly, it’s a pop­u­lar at­trac­tion open seven days a week with around 20,000 cap­ti­vated visi­tors a year.

“The trust was set up to pro­tect ev­ery­thing to do with Bri­tain’s fair­ground tra­di­tions,” man­ager Roger says. “And what we have here is a work­ing mu­seum and at­trac­tion.”

The boy­hood en­chant­ment with the fair grew into a life­long pas­sion for Roger. He gets the chance to live his dream ev­ery day, the lucky chap. Roger is sup­ported by fel­low trustees and a band of like-minded vol­un­teers, many re­tired, some of whom bring their own spe­cial skills to keep the pro­ject run­ning smoothly, in­clud­ing a handy elec­tri­cian.

De­spite be­ing well sup­ported by a tight-knit team there’s al­ways the op­por­tu­nity for new­com­ers to join the en­thu­si­as­tic fair­ground devo­tees.

VISI­TorS all have their own spe­cial rea­son for com­ing. “Some just come for the rides, of course,” Roger says. “Oth­ers en­joy the me­chan­ics, the hand-painted art­work and the orig­i­nal stalls. Some visi­tors whizz round in an hour, while oth­ers hap­pily stay all day.”

I be­gin my nos­tal­gic jour­ney into yes­ter­year mar­vel­ling at the op­u­lent show­men’s wag­ons. Rather grander than our fam­ily Blue­bird car­a­van, a home from home where I spent many a sum­mer hol­i­day on the road with Mum and Dad.

It’s a re­minder that for these fair­ground folk their itin­er­ant work en­ter­tain­ing the masses from town to town was a way of life, and they were de­ter­mined to live their life in re­splen­dent com­fort and with huge panache.

Some say an English­man’s home is his castle, well these beau­ti­fully liv­er­ied wag­ons have been de­scribed as “palaces on wheels”.

Peek­ing in­side the gold and bur­gundy painted wagon with its

Pat Coul­ter re­dis­cov­ers all her favourite child­hood rides at Devon’s Fair­gound Her­itage Cen­tre . . .

Muf­fin the Mule.

Hook a duck, win a prize!

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