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

Memorandum by Mr John Graham (Travelling Showman) (TF 25)

  Further to your notice in The Worlds Fair requesting observations regarding an enquiry into travelling fairs, may I be allowed to express the following.

  The tradition of the travelling fairs has been a way of life for thousands of showmen and their families and the practice of handing down the business from one generation to another has gone on for hundreds of years.

  It must also be realised that this is a multi-million pound business with spin-offs to national companies such as Calor Gas, Nestle, Walls, Catering suppliers, Ride Manufacturers. Electrical Contractors, Engineering Contractors, not to mention the thousands of workers regularly employed by the Industry.

  Any suggestion to discontinue the travelling fun-fair would be disastrous.

  And what is to become of all the showmen and their families? Although they are a very industrious crowd, travelling fairs are all they know and I can visualise tremendous problems in trying to solve the situation by adapting to another way of life.

  And perhaps attention should be drawn to their equipment and their living trailers. A substantial amount of hard work and pride together with goods that have been handed down have been built up over the years accumulating in some very prized possessions. The value would be too great to even consider compensation.

  And then there's Joe Public! It may be surprising to learn that over the years and a return visit to previous fairs, everyone is on first name terms with the local inhabitants and the help and cooperation from all concerned has to be seen to be believed. The friendship is mutual and lasts a lifetime.

  However, I will not deny that we suffer the occasional hiccup, but even that is dealt with quietly and diplomatically. This is part of our teaching because we know how important is the quality of cooperation.

  And the appeal of the fairs is everlasting. Compare the Millenium Dome and the revolving eye with the fair running the length of the Mall to Buckingham Palace and also Tower Bridge and the Embankment. There is no comparison!

  Where else could you stroll with your family and enjoy the immaculate decor and brilliant lighting effects from the rides mentioned above. And free of charge. If you want to spend a few bob on the rides, that is your prerogative, but you don't have to.

  It is no secret that fairground sites are becoming more difficult to find, but I find it difficult to understand why our local authorities do not take a leaf out of the Continental Countries where in practically every town and city they allow their showmen to erect their fairs in the Squares of the town centres.

  I know that this may raise a few eyebrows, but it is not as far-fetched as it may seem, with practically every town sporting pedestrianisation this would be ideal for allowing the fairs to be erected there. On the continent the local authority supplies the electricity and water and charges the showmen accordingly. Any bollards or other obstructions could be removed and then re-instated after the fair is over. Any damage to surfaces would be rectified and charged for.

  Consider the financial gain to the businesses in the vicinity of the fair. Visitors from far and wide would be enthralled by the novelty of a "Street Fair". One only need look at the existing street fairs like Oxford, Hull, Nottingham, Salisbury, Hereford, and Stratford, to name but a few. The organisation in setting out these fairs, watching the showmen going quietly about their business, erecting and dismantling the mass of machines and equipment virtually overnight is an education in itself. And it seems that these venues were deemed to be so important that a Royal Charter was granted by the Monarch of the day and the Charter cannot be taken away once it has been granted.

  I have treated this matter with the urgency required, but would add here that what I have had to say is only the tip of the ice-berg. My conversations with fellow showmen have led to a number of suggestions to improve their way of life and at the same time provide a system that will avoid any confrontation or inconvenience to the local authorities or the public.

  Among the suggestions they voiced was the establishment of sites whereby they could operate under strict rules perhaps once or twice a year, with a fair and reasonable rent agreed mutually.

  Provision would have to be made for separate parking facilities for their Living Vans not too far away from the fairground site. Services such as water and electricity and sanitary arrangements would need to be considered.

  An additional requirement would be small sites situated in "out of town" areas where equipment not in operation could be accommodated. This would have no effect in placing the established winter sites in jeopardy.

  These points are but a few, but time is of the essence.

John Graham

February 2000

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