The modern travelling fair is synonymous with white knuckle and high tech rides and throughout the twentieth century the residents of Hull have seen the latest innovations in fairground technology appear every year at the annual fair. Compared to the shows and side stalls, the rides are a relatively new attraction and have only been a feature of the fair since the 1870s. However, by the middle of the twentieth century, they were the main component of the fair and by 1958, the Mayor of Hull proclaimed during the opening that whatever your taste in fairground entertainment we can meet it. There are new rides and old rides - all we want is a week of fine weather.
Although the nineteenth century fair was mostly patronised by shows and side stalls, by the late 1880s, the introduction of mechanised rides and the changes brought about by the industrial revolution soon became apparent at Hull fair. . The innovation of steam powered roundabouts first seen at Bolton New Year Fair in January 1861 would soon make an impact across the Pennines. One of the earliest rides to visit the fair was a set of Dobby Horses owned by John Whittingham, a showman from Sheffield. Another pioneer showmen who attended Hull Fair with his steam powered roundabout was George Aspland of Boston. His Sea-on-Land machine consisted of eight fully rigged boats, which pitched and tossed about as they revolved and reputedly caused the patrons to suffer real sea sickness! By 1890 the roundabout proprietors were advertising their rides in The Critic and the Hull Daily Mail. However, a tantalising description of an early roundabout can be found in the Hull Daily Mail in 1887, where the reporter was particularly impressed by the newest addition to the festivities:
It would not be fair to bring this notice to a close without specially mentioning the flying ostriches, which are placed along the field adjoining Park-street Church. They came in for a great deal of attention and are a very clever construction moving up and down as they go round. It is said they were made in Hull last winter, but where we have not been able to find out yet.
The identity of this early pioneer is not known but a possible contender could be William Shipley who attended fairs in the locality in the 1880s with his set of Galloping Horses. The following year the fair moved to its present location on Walton Street, and despite the fears of the showmen, the fairground flourished. The increase in space enabled more and more rides to attend the fair and by 1890 Abraham Waddington presented the Alpine Mountain Switchback which he had himself constructed. Another famous ride at the 1890 event was George Green's Switchback Galloper, which was described in the following way by the reporter in the Hull Critic:
You must tackle the "Switchback Gallopers of the Great Green." You talk about the cow jumping over the moon, why the feat isn't in it with the jolly old leaps Green's quadreps give you. Let me advise all my readers to go on a rollicking steeple chasing trip on one of Green's well mettled nags.
The reporter continued by advising his readers not to forget Aspinall's grand roundabout switchback:
It is said to be the most complete affair of its kind travelling. It's stationary umbrella top is a fine and wonderful new innovation, and it is worked under the direction of such a competent and genial manager, that everybody will feel immediately at home in his charge and cheerful companionship.
As the new century approached, the number of riding machines increased annually at the fair. 1898 saw Pat Collin's introducing his latest patent novelty roundabout "The Giant Ostriches" and "The Venetian Gala Gondolas," the only machine of its kind, not merely a switchback but real rolling gondolas. By 1900, the roundabout in all of its shapes and forms was an established feature of the fair and the reporter for The Showman in 1900 described the following ones to be found at the fair:
William Murphy's royal patent stud of jumping ostriches was having a fine time. Why the human being likes to be jumped is one of those things difficult to understand but he does! and Murphy was the people's jumper on Saturday. Walsall (Collin's) racing cockerels seem to have cut out the old time horse: Venetian gondolas also were rushed after; the switchback of course was crowded every time…
Although the shows continued to be the main feature of the fair, as the new century progressed, more and more roundabouts were appearing every year. By 1907, no fewer than 14 steam roundabouts including Pat Collin's Racing Cockerels, William Marshalls' Flying Motors and Waddington's Steam Yachts, which would become a long term favourite with the locals, attended the annual festivities. Although the steam powered rides would continue to appear for many years at the fair, the shape of things to come was seen in 1910 when Messrs. Farrar and Tyler presented their Real Electric Scenic Railway, which was one of the 23 roundabouts that appeared at the fair. This was followed by Marshall's Real Electric Scenic Railway, which according to the advertisement that appeared in the local papers were self propelled by Electricity, travelling through beautiful scenery - the quickest and best Ride in the Fair. Throughout the decade, rides such as the Shamrocks, the Cakewalk would prove to be lasting favourites with the fair going public and they were joined alongside novelty attractions such as the Razzle Dazzle which was presented by many showmen including Ralph and Pedley and the firm of Aspland and Howden. In the period leading up to the First World War, the rides were in ascendancy over the shows with the breakdown of attractions which appeared in the World's Fair listing three Joy Wheels, two Razzle Dazzles, seven Scenic and Motor roundabouts, three sets of jumping horses, one Cakewalk, one Big Wheel, one set of bicycles, two sets of Steam Yachts and one set of Steam Swings. The 1914 fair saw this line up repeated with Reuben Holdsworth's racing porkers adding to the last festivities the people of Hull would see for five years. The fair returned to Walton Street in 1919 and many old time attractions were again seen with Switchbacks, Galloping horses and Cakewalks forming the main line up on the fairground. The only change in the years following the end of the First World War was the introduction of the electrically driven Chair-o-plane rides which owing to the weakness of the German economy in the 1920s could be imported into the country very cheaply. It was only in the recession hit 1930s that the fairground revolution really occurred when in 1930 over thirty seven machines battled for business including Marshall's Hey-dey, Holdsworth's Noah's Ark, and Enoch Farrar with his Swirl and Dodgem. In 1932, the firm of Pat Collins presented their "Nap Hand for Hull Fair which they claimed were the greatest attractions ever staged in Hull. This included the Water Dodgems, Mont Blanc, Indian Theatre, the Yo-Yo, a Ghost Train and a Wall of Death. Competition was provided amongst others by the Green family with their Caterpillar ride, W. H. Marshall and Sons' Hey Day and Joe Ling's Ghost Train. The 1933 fair saw the appearance of perhaps the most popular and enduring of the decades innovations, when Enoch Clifford Farrar attended the fair with his Waltzer. In order to accommodate all the latest attractions, Walton Street was expanded in order to make way for these new and exciting rides. In 1937, of the 32 adult rides making their appearance at the fair, the World's Fair correspondent was particularly taken with John Hoadley's Lakin built machine, the Moon Rocket, which he claimed was the outstanding attraction at the fair. Herbert Waddington and Sons' "Shamrocks" were once again popular with the locals as were the myriad of juvenile rides presented by James Crow, Jonas Holdsworth, Freddie Miller and Charles Shaw. The depression hit decade had seen a range of new and exciting attractions appear at the fair and the Second World War would result in many of these rides being utilised by the showmen to provide public morale with their Stay at Home Fairs during the long and hard years of the war. By 1945 the people of Hull needed their morale boosting as the City had been badly hit during the blitz. The showmen were willing to oblige and the people flocked down Walton Street to see old favourites such as Waddington's Steam Yachts, Shaw's Moonrocket, Marshall's Dodgems, Airways and Blackpool Wheel, Green Bros. Caterpillar and Pat Collins' Gallopers. The 1947 fair was patronised by five Dodgems of which the ones presented by the firms of W. H. Marshall and the Shaw family were particularly praised for their attractive and light colours.
With the start of the rock and roll decade, Dodgems, Waltzers and Speedways were popular features of the 1951 fair, with familiar names such as Ling, Farrar, Hoadley, Marshall and Green among the showmen presenting the rides. The 1954 fair dates clashed with Nottingham and various machines made an appearance for one day only. Jack Wilkinson writing as Cyclist in the World's Fair wrote that there are rides to suit all tastes, outstanding of which are Corrigan's Gallopers and Crow's Waltzer. The 1950s saw a few more rides appear at Hull and Henry Armstrong's Toboggan and William Noble's Rotor were two notable examples of the new kind of attraction proving popular at the fair. American provided the theme of the many of the novelty rides which grew in popularity; the Octopus, Dive Bomber and Loop-o-Plane among those imported from across the Atlantic. A few new British rides also appeared, such as the Hurricane Jets of Charles Thurston, which attended the fair for many years. The 1960s saw a continuation of the trend of ascetic machines, such as the Twist, Paratrooper and Meteorite replacing Percy Sheeran's Galloping Horses, which did not attend the 1964 fair. One of the most popular rides continued to be the Steam Yachts or Shamrocks with Harry Lee presenting the set formerly in the ownership of his wife's family, W. Waddington, which first attended the fair in the 1900s. Jack Wilkinson writing in the World's Fair was particular impressed by Charles Doubtfire's Waltzer which was making its Hull Fair debut:
In the way of rides there is one which opened for the first time (at Beverley) only the previous week. This is Mr. Charles Doubtfire's Waltzer which is complete with full set of rounding boards, extension front etc. and very well illuminated. Manager Stan Peacock seemed justly proud of the new ride. There is also Jimmy Crow and Son's three-abreast, but it seems vastly different to what it did when I saw it at Whitley Bay shortly after it was acquired form the Stokes and Cowie firm last year. Fresh rounding boards and a new platform (the latter made by Crows themselves) have transformed the rides. Fair organ tunes were being played on the amplifier and son John wisely had the music turned down.
The 1980s saw the demise of the Ark and the rise in popularity of the latest high tech rides from across the continent, appearing at Hull. Malcolm Farrelly writing in 1987, commented on the resurgence in popularity of the Waltzer, as there were no less than eight on the ground out of a total of 64 major rides, and five Sizzler Twists. However, the real changes have emerged since showmen turned once again to Europe for the new generation of novelty rides. Amongst the first were the Pirate Ship and Magic Carpet with the latter being brought to the fair by the Mattie and Douglas Taylor whose father first attended Hull Fair with the double Dive Bomber. Since then a whole new section of the fair has been extended, nick-named by the showpeople as Scotch Corner and every year new and exciting rides such as the Water Chute, King Loops, the spectacular Fabbri Discovery and the Wave Swinger appear on this section of the fairground. Since the early 1980s the enterprising Taylor family have been responsible for bringing a number of Roller Coasters to Hull with the 1998 fair featuring the largest Roller Coaster ever to have graced the fair. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, many new and exciting rides have made their debut at Hull Fair, the Dream Boot presented by Pat Collins in 1987 was followed by William Summers with his American built Skydiver and 1997 saw the debut of no fewer than six new machines. The pick of these, Ronnie Bentley's Roller and Alan Crow's Over the Top, were just two of the rides never been seen before in Hull. However, the traditional favourite, the fairground Galloper still retains its popularity and one of the newest rides at the event was John Simons new trailer mounted set which was one of the 85 attractions to be found at the fair. The 1990s have seen the debut of many new and exciting rides with Elliot Hall's Top Buzz, Billy Crow's Extreme and James Mellor's Frisbee perhaps the highlight of all the high tech rides to appear this decade. Over the years the event has increased in size and each successive generation of fair goers all have their favourite memories of Hull Fair. In years to come people will remember the excitement of Elliot Hall's Top Buzz in the same way their grandparents reminisced about attending the shows or riding the Shamrocks. The last century has seen many changes at Hull Fair with each year bringing new and wondrous delights for those who attend the annual carnival. Fashions come and go on the fairground with the showpeople keeping one step ahead of their competitors and vying with each to bring the latest attraction to the October Fair. In conclusion Councillor Brian Petch, resident and former Lord of Mayor of this historic city emphasises the importance of the fair to the residents of Kingston upon Hull:
I've been going since I was a child except for the war years of course. I remember going there the first year after the war, standing in a queue a mile long to get the candy floss and handing in my sweet coupons, I even used to go to the service on a Sunday when I was a child. You first go when you are a child in your mother's arms and it's a treat for the whole family. Then when you are about fourteen you take your first sweetheart and its all part of your courting. Then it starts all over again when you are married and take your children and then of course the grandchildren . So to the people of Hull, Hull Fair is part of growing u, and it stays with you all your life. There is a build up in the city to Hull Fair, they'll say "oh Hull Fair weather is here, the coconuts are here." To me Hull fair is special, it comes once a year, everyone looks forward to it and I would say that as a professional magician, Hull Fair is magic.
So as Kingston upon Hull celebrates its 700 anniversary, the same thing is true now as it was in the twelfth century; the people of Hull look forward to their fair long before it arrives.