Fair night in the 1930s

Len Strong sends another story:

“Growing up in Alresford, a small Hampshire town in the 1930s, life was placid and easy going, but one of the highlights for us school-children was the annual pleasure fair. The nearest Thursday to Oct 11th was fair day [Editor’s note: this still goes on every year at this time] and we looked forward with eager anticipation to the arrival of the big steam engines and Foden lorries towing a variety of gaily painted caravans and wagons.

By a charter granted by the Bishop of Winchester in 1573 to the Bailiff and Burgesses of Alresford, he gave them the right to hold a yearly pleasure fair. We learned this in school, but our only interest was to see the various rides and sideshows erected and opened for our pleasure. It was always in Broad Street and pride of place at the top, by the Horse & Groom pub was the big steam roundabout with its galloping horses and cockerels whirled round and round and up and down to the strident music of the steam organ. Also at times there were the chair-o-planes, similar to the roundabout but the chairs were suspended from chains and seemed to swing out farther and higher, which brought screams and shouts from the people brave enough to go on it.

Then there were the swing-boats in which you manipulated yourselves by pulling on the thick plaited ropes. Coconut shies where Dad usually managed to knock one off for me, unless the man in charge had seated them a bit deeper down in the cup in a bed of sawdust, then he would buy me one for sixpence.

Other sideshows were for darts, ring the teddy bear, roll-a-penny, and the ‘prize every time’ stall where you paid sixpence and picked a number from a basketful of rolled up numbers and you got the corresponding numbered prize from the shelf. It was usually a small cheap toy from the front row or maybe a goldfish, but never one of the big dolls or teddy-bears from the back. There were various sideshows where you could see the ‘bearded lady’ or ‘the cow with five legs’ and other dubious phenomena, and the boxing booth where some brawny farm lad with a few pints of beer inside him would take on the shows prize-fighter and finish up with a bloodied nose, and a pat on the back from the promoter and the parting words, “Better luck next time , son!”

Also, in later years, the Wall of Death came, which was a tall wooden circular construction in which motor-cyclists roared around the inside, defying the law of gravity and climbing higher and higher up the wall. The public had to climb up the outside to a viewing platform and look down at the performers. It always amazed me that they didn’t come over the top. We boys would try a similar feat on our bikes on the vertical grassy banks of local Fobdown, but we always came off and suffered many a grazed knee and bruised elbows.

The fair was only on for one afternoon and evening, but it was eagerly enjoyed by us all and the amazing thing was, that when we went to school the following morning it had all been taken down , loaded up and taken away and the streets were left clean and quiet as before.

As I sit here noticing that it is ‘Fair time again’, I wonder if the kids of today get as much pleasure from it as we did in those far off days before the war.”

What did you do at the Fair last time? What do yopu want to do this year? Let us know: send to nick@nickdenbow.com.

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Steven Biggs on November 5, 2012 at 3:29 pm

    The FIRE station at the bottom of Broad Street was manned daily by two people during the war, and was run by the Royal Auxiliary Fire Services and the Hampshire Fire headquarters were at the house that was taken over by the computer producers. My father was in the fire services throughout the thirties until 1950 when the Fire Station then moved to Pound Hill next door to Perins secondary school. The school that you have in the photos as Perins grammar school was not as told, but was known as the penny sausage, and stood on the top right corner of the Dean.
    The best place to go for photographs if you want them is at the records office at the bottom of Sussex Street in Winchester. I also have a few I will share with you – in return I would like any photos of the fire services during the thirties to the nineteen fifties.
    Also I can identify a few people on the photographs you have because I was born in Alresford in the forties in twenty broad street, now the library. Also there are some pictures i would like to get copies of from you as well because they have my relatives on them.


  2. Posted by Steven Biggs on November 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    I was surprised that if you go down the Dean and turn left on the river footpath there is a grave on the left which was left by the Americans when they were at Arlebury park during the war, and on it it states “HERE LIES AMBER JUNIOR FAITHFUL FRIEND OF THE FORTY SEVENTH REGIMENT, US ARMY MAY 1944”. I can still remember seeing this when I was only four and went for walks around the river with my father.


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