Fairground favourites thrill the crowds

IT’S BEEN a pretty special bank holiday weekend at Pinkneys Green for Joby Carter and his family.

Here, to the sound of fireworks, steam engines and fairground organs, Carters Steam Fair has been celebrating its 40th visit to a favourite local venue in grand style.

The largest travelling vintage funfair in the world, the steam fair has delighted generations of local youngsters with lovingly restored rides dating from the 19th century to the 1960s.

And after being forced off the road by the pandemic, as we reported last year, the fair is back on the road for 2021, delighting families at a series of local venues until mid-October.

The vintage rides have featured in films ranging from Paddington 2 to Rocketman, and as dusk falls on Pinkneys Green, the screams of delight are a testimony to the enduring appeal of the fair, which offers rides suitable for toddlers, teenagers and the young at heart.

Set against a backdrop of flashing lights and pounding pistons, the fair provides visitors young and old with a sensory overload, as the scent of hot doughnuts mingles with the oil and steam of machines which are a triumph of mechanical engineering.

Part of the fair’s popularity lies in the extraordinary attention to detail with which vintage rides have been restored, from the precision engineering required to maintain moving parts to the artwork which has all been done by hand.

Says Joby: “I encourage anyone visiting to take a close look at the lettering and artwork at the fair. It has all been done by hand using traditional signwriting skills and techniques – no computers or fancy software programmes!

“Stand next to our brightly coloured trucks with huge lettering over 1 meter high and see if you can figure out how we manage to paint it all by hand!”

It was back in the late 1970s that show promoters John and Anna Carter first started their collection by buying a set of 1890s Jubilee Steam Gallopers that they could take to steam rallies and fairs.

As their passion for vintage fairgrounds grew, the Carters added more rides to their collection, with Anna’s artistic talents in restoring rides to their former glory helping to establish the fair’s specialism in vintage rides.

Joby was just a child at the time but soon followed in their footsteps. Now, with more than 20 years’ of signwriting experience, he even ended up teaching creative online courses on lettering and fairground art which helped the fair to survive a year of lockdown.

Those iconic gallopers are still going strong too, most of the horses having been carved from wood by Andersons of Bristol around 1910 and all subtly different from one another.

They are all named after friends and family on the fair, and the 46-key Gavioli organ bought from Roger Daltrey in 1979 helps to provide that unmistakeable fairground atmosphere.

Being based in Maidenhead, the Berkshire family has a particular affection for the Pinkneys Green venue where they have worked for four decades. But several other local favourites are on their 2021 itinerary too, including Hemel Hempstead, Holyport Green and Reading.

The same loving attention to detail is visible everywhere at the fairground, from the steam-driven yachts of the 1920s to a 1910 roundabout featuring an eclectic collection of creatures from running cockerels to hungry-looking pigs.

Restoring the worn-out 1960s dodgems cars has been a long labour of love for Joby and his team: a restoration process that took 25 years of on-and-off work, with a few finished just in time for them to enjoy a moment of Hollywood fame with the launch of the award-winning movie Rocketman about the life of Elton John.

From a coconut shy to duck- and fish-hooking games and test-your-strength “strikers”, the funfair has all the traditional elements of a country fair that would have delighted our Victorian and Edwardian ancestors and it provides fascinating insights into British social history.

“When a ride comes into our care, we research as much as we can and try to trace its ancestry,” says Joby. “If we’re lucky, we can even find photos of it from its heyday.”

Traditionally everything in the fair is moved around the country using vintage heavy lorries and magnificent showman’s living wagons. Like the rides, each of the fleet of lorries, some dating from the 40s, 50s and 60s, has been lovingly restored to its former glory and repainted in the distinctive red Carters livery.

Every bit as impressive are the beautifully decorated living wagons with cut-glass windows, lace curtains and premium wood and veneer inside, each with their own story to tell and many previously owned by well-known showmen or circus owners.

More information about the fair’s history and the background to individual rides, sideshows and vehicles can be found on their website. Details of Joby’s online signwriting courses can be found here. The fair moves to Hemel Hempstead for the next two weekends and future venues can be found here.

Postcard from . . . Bo’ness

IT’S HARD to think of a less likely tourist attraction that the UK’s second oldest oil refinery, at Grangemouth.

But if you drive past the gas flares and cooling towers for a few minutes, the detour off the busy M9 motorway from Edinburgh to Stirling will take you to a quite extraordinary reminder of a golden age of steam.

For this is the home of the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway, a five-mile working heritage railway and home to Scotland’s largest railway museum.

BONESS

The view from the station platform – the main station at Bo’ness was actually relocated from Wormit, at the south end of the Tay Bridge – could hardly be more authentic, although the 0-6-0 tank engine decked out in British Railways black is also “in disguise”.

Despite the BR livery, this is not the former LNER Class J94 engine which once bore that number, but a lookalike – an engine once owned by the National Coal Board which was built by W G Bagnall in 1945 and acquired from the NCB’s Comrie Colliery in Fife.

In its gleaming BR livery it certainly looks the part, though, and it’s only one of a large selection of steam and diesel engines to be found here.

Another surprise is the surprisingly rural atmosphere of the route. Despite the proximity of heavy industry, the line takes passengers to a local nature reserve, and you can always walk back along the coast or disembark at another rural station that has been a favourite with film-makers.

The museum across the footbridge at Bo’ness is open seven days a week until October 28 from 11am-4.30pm and boasts three large buildings full of memorabilia – from full size locomotives to old-fashioned railway signs which once adorned the walls of busy railway stations across the country.

For full details of the railway, see the link above – and more information about the Scottish Railway Preservation Society can be found here.