Memories of Calderdale

The Fair Comes to Sowerby Bridge


Geoffrey Siddall

One of my earliest re-collections, was the mobile fair which used to turn up once or twice per year in Sowerby Bridge, during the early 1930s. The geography of Sowerby Bridge is such that it is difficult to find an open space sufficiently flat to take a fairground. In this case it was on Walton Street. This runs parallel to the railway embankment, on one side, and the River Calder on the other. A small space near the CWS Flour mill, the fair was set up with only the main Roundabout, and a number of stalls, with the usual Coconut Shies etc.

This was before the Dodgem Cars came into being. Billy Butlin started his famous Holiday Camps, during the 1930s and on looking for new entertainments in the USA, he came across the Dodgems. Being a good business man, he not only ordered the Dodgems for his camps, but also came away with the sole agent for the UK, and so received a commission on other sales.

I was fascinated with the large Steam Showman's engine, which provided the motive power. The massive engine with a large overhead roof from front to rear, and a bracket mounted on the front of the Boiler, with a large Electric generator the size of a dustbin, driven with a long 4 ins wide crossed leather belt, driving the generator, from the Steam engine flywheel. This provided the power for the fairground lights and the Roundabout. Strangely, there was a space behind the engine, with an enormous stack of hay, and an Elephant tethered by one leg, apparently contentedly eating his way through this hay. As there was no attempt to extract money for looking at this beast, I was puzzled for a time, I eventually came to the conclusion that it was trained enough to use as a crane to dismantle, and erect the Roundabout. A sort of Organic Fork Lift truck.

These Fairs appeared almost overnight, and disappeared just as quickly. I was told that they dismantled and packed their trailers after the last night, and moved to the next site overnight, and after a short sleep, erected the fair for the next evening; not an easy life. Because of this, I never saw them in the process of dismantling, or on the road. The Steam Traction engine would possible only do about 4 mph, so I assume that Jumbo would walk to the next site following the tractor and its trailers

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 10:26 / 30th May 2021 / 4090

Page Ref: M_15

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