Select Committee on Environment, Transport and Regional Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Memorandum by Perretts Amusements (TF 01)

  We are a family of traveling showmen, and belong to the Society of Independant Roundabout proprietors. All our members have either wooden, steamdriven or handturned rides, and traditional stalls and shows. Our living wagons are our only home, and most of our vehicles used for transporting the rides and towing our wagons are vintage.

  The set of High Flying Swings that we travel dates from 1900. There are some rides that are older than this. These rides and stalls are as much as part of this country's cultural history as steam trains, and cricket on the village green.

  In villages and towns all over the country, charter fairs are held every year, and many have been going for hundreds of years. For an example Reach Fair in Cambridgeshire is celebrating 800 years this year. Many of the charters granted the towns and villages a market day. Workers would take time off and go to the markets where they could buy and sell their wares. There would be musicians and dancing in the streets, boxing booths, and stalls inviting you to taste their food and drink. Horses and other animals were run up and down the streets and were bought and sold by the slap of a hand. Then rides were brought, swing boats and hand turned carousels. The sideshows came, the bearded lady, the five legged beast, the two headed sheep and many more. All there to make it a day out to remember for the rest of the year.

  Days before the fairs are due to arrive notices go up. In the towns and villages the children talk of nothing else. When the big lorries with loads behind pull on to the green the whole village would go out and watch them. Many of the Showmen had been going to the same village year after year, and their children would follow on the tradition. Now in the towns and villages the fairs have to build up in fields on the outskirts, because the councils build car parks, supermarkets and shopping precincts where the fairs used to be held.

  The greens in the villages are classed as sacred grounds and no lorries are allowed on them. A farmers field behind the village or town is not the ideal site to put on a fair. It should be on the village green in the centre of things so that passers by can see that there is to be a fair on. In the towns the fair should be in the main street, not hidden away in a car park behind the shops. Many Statute fairs are consigned to back streets where once they took over the whole town, as at March in Cambridgeshire.

  When the travelling showman arrives at the site, he needs to have access for his loads, so he is not holding up other traffic. He needs to get his living wagon settled, as many of them have to run back to the previous site for other loads. There should be water laid on, and access to a power supply, so that generators are not running late at night for lights etc. Many of the larger fairs arrange for a mobile classroom for the children. This is ideal when many families are together, so that the children can get help from the traveller teacher. Also the workpacks that the children have with them from the winter schools, can be marked and new ones arranged. The children who have no mobile school to attend, can arrange before they get to the town to go in to a local school for their packs to be marked, or they can attend classes if they wish. This is not ideal as many of the schools do not like the children to attend for just a few days at a time. Also the child is not always happy with going in to a strange school on their own.

  For years the travelling showmen would be moving from fair to fair during the season, and for the winter months pulled into a yard behind a pub or a farmers field. Nowadays with sons and daughters having their own rides, lorries and wagons, the family unit wanting to stay together need to have yards of their own. This base for the winter months, will be used for painting and repairing ready for the next season. The children can attend the local school, meeting up with their friends. Also the adults have the chance to attend courses at local colleges under the Lifelong Learning Initiative. Unlike Europe where winter sites are provided for travelling fairground families, the showmen here in Britain have to fight local planning laws to get their sites passed as winter quarters. There should be a more flexible approach for the change of use of land, from say agricultural to winter quarters, especially when there are so many farms now on set aside, and the land is no longer being used.

  It is becoming increasingly important for the travelling showmen to own their own plot of land, where they can keep the tools of their trade and where they can have their families around them. A place to grow old and to pass down to the next generation.

  Isn't this what all men require? You grow up, work at your chosen profession, marry and raise a family. you educate your children to the best of their ability, and pass down to them all you have learnt and possess.

Ann Perrett

January 2000

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