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

Memorandum by Michelle Day-Leonard, Education Liaison Officer, Western Section of the Showmen's Guild, (TF 07)


  In the past, before the car and television, people looked forward to the spectacular arrival of one of their only means of entertainment—The Travelling Fair. The travelling showpeople from that period were as famous as the stars on our screens today. The showpeople were not only entertainers but, through their shows, were pioneers in instigating the public's awareness of foreign countries, exotic animals and even world news. They were also the first to bring the extraordinary delights of moving pictures to the public's attention.

  Showpeople played an important role through the wars. During the First Great War, whilst the boys were away fighting, their horses and traction engines were being used as part of the war effort. In the Second World War, the families the boys left behind, pulled together to run the government backed "Holiday at Home" fairs. These fairs were held to boost the public's morale.

  Not only did many of the showpeople take part in the various campaigns, during 1941, all the members of The Showmen's Guild of Great Britain and Ireland, proudly donated a Spitfire aircraft called "All the Fun of the Fair."


  Today's Fairs have progressed through the decades to meet the public's increasing desire for excitement. Where once stood a performing or informative show, nowadays one will find a modern technical white knuckle ride flying through the sky. Many thousands of people are still attending and appreciate the value of either the small family fair visiting the local recreation ground, or the more spectacular charter fair held in towns and cities around the country.

  The benefit of these fairs is not only to the enjoyment of the participants. Fairs bring revenue to the local authority or event organisers in the form of rent. The showpeople spend in the local shops and require the services of many local trades people. Many councils have also found it beneficial to have fairground rides in their high streets, revitalising areas, that have been affected by the competition from out of city shopping centres.


  Charter Fairs are an integral, unique, British Tradition and should be sold as a colourful, historical tourist attraction to the world. Indeed would it not be a good idea to sanction a new charter for the new millennium. The hugely successful Mall Millennium Fair would be an ideal candidate.

  These types of traditional fair are not only one of the main sources of income to the showpeople, they are also a great source of revenue for the councils. Showpeople pay rent for the fairground positions and additionally, in many cases, they have to purchase permits for their caravans, lorries, trucks and cars.

  Two problems affecting charter fairs are firstly, the availability of fields for living wagons and surplus loads, for the duration of the fairs occurrence. Because of housing developments, obtainable sites are situated further and further away, placing an extra burden on an already heavy workload.

  The second problem showpeople face at charter fairs is town centre improvements. The planning for these developments is often obtained without any consultation with the showpeople. Redevelopment can result in the loss of a fairground position and the livelihood of showpeople whose family have been attending that fair for generations.


  Local family fairs bring the amusements to peoples' doorstep and are a great source of entertainment to the local youngsters. As the public's dependency on cars becomes an increasing expense, the appearance of a visiting fairground will be much appreciated. However, building development has also resulted in the loss of many local fun fair sites, unfortunately alternative places, in the majority of cases, have not been found.


  In the past showpeople could pull their wagons and shows etc on a lay-by, in a farm field or on a common. Today there are many restrictions and regulations preventing this. It is a necessity for showpeople to have a base to live and run their business. It is an essential requirement for them to be able to have a base to maintain their rides and stalls to meet the Government's Health and Safety requirements. It is a basic human need for showpeople to have a base in which to be registered with a doctor and dentist. It is also, beneficial for the education of the children of these occupational travellers to have a base school.


  It is of great concern to the showpeople that the funding for the education of their children may be cut. Generations of showpeople have been an hardworking and self resourceful part of the British community. However, nowadays with the increasing regulations put on the business, extra form filling and requirements of proof of certificates of education, showpeople need a better education and surely have a right to an education, the same as everyone else in the country.


  Fairs are an important part of Britain's history and are an important part of Britain's future. Showpeople are a hardworking group of people, who deserve an equal and fairer deal, especially when it comes to education and affordable sites.

February 2000

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