Barbara Murfin nee Sarney, born 1940s
Twice a year great excitement stirred the village. Sally Beach's Fun Fair came for three working days. I think their winter quarters were out towards Reading way, several groups wintered there. Flackwell Heath was Beach's first and last stop of the season.
There would be a great deal of unrest in the school playground, "the Conk's coming, the Conk's coming." The day the fair arrived I'm sure we had a longer playtime than usual, the teachers possibly being on a hiding to nothing if we were corralled inside.
Sheepridge (pronounced Shipridge) was the only hill they could tackle with their heavy lorries. The Conk, painted maroon, was a stubby-nosed lorry at the front, a huge generator at the rear. The Conk's real name was the Conquer which was written on a large brass plaque on the lorry's front. It pulled three or four wagons - the carousel - then bringing up the rear 'Old’ Sally's wooden caravan. The children in the playground would shout and cheer, with their arms and dirty, muddy legs (boys) through the railings. Boys did not wear 'long uns' until senior school at 11 or 12. (They did not wash daily, or sometimes weekly either). The whole procession would take a long while to pass. Each lorry pulling 3, 4, or even 5 wagons, always with a living wagon at the back. Mercifully there was little traffic to hold up in those days.
They went past the school and into the playing fields - the gate was on the corner where the police house was later built – and down to the bottom of the field. The fair moved to the top of the field when the tennis courts were built (except I remember Old Sally's van parked near the hedge of the cottages by The Common).
Everything had its place. Generators at the back, living wagons, vans next, then the sideshows and then the rides at the front of the open circle. Sally Beach, Old Sally's daughter was really Mrs Ayers, but always known as Sally Beach.
Once every lorry had arrived it was a hive of activity. Like those films were they take a picture say every minute, then play it at normal speed. You could see things happening before your eyes. Whistling, shouting, laughing. The fair would arrive on the Monday afternoon/Tuesday morning, and be open on the Thursday evening. School kids and young boys would offer to help, and generally get in the way. These offers were greeted with a laugh and a ‘NO’. The really 'naughty' boys tried to get into the vans. Dog barks, and shouts of "clear off" came from places best not to go. Washing would soon be fluttering on lines, erected behind the vans, dogs tied securely to lorries. It was a choreography to behold.
Old Sally had a wooden van on big wheels and a verandah at the front (where the towing bar was), big enough for a chair. Young Sally (Mrs Ayers) had a sleek modern aluminum van. She had two boys (if not more) but I don't remember a husband. Unless it was Fred, but I’m not sure of that. Other vans formed a half circle behind the rides. The big smelly diesel generators were behind the vans with cables snaking everywhere.
Finally the fair was built. Around the perimeter were coconut shies, tin cans and cricket balls, rifle shooting, darts, candyfloss and toffee apples. Beef burgers and hot dogs came a lot, lot later. The prizes were either more go's, or you could collect tokens to a value of a higher prize. I loved the Alsatian type dogs, or the elegant ladies - "plaster of Paris made during the winter time" - they looked better than that to me. There were also bits of glassware and other pottery to be won.
Then there were several smaller round shaped stalls e.g. Hoop La where a wooden hoop was thrown over the prize you were after, including a bottle of whisky! The hoops went over the prizes easily enough BUT they also had to go over the wooden square block the prize was standing on. One corner not over, no prize. I seem to remember goldfish hoopla, your winning fish put into a jam jar to take home. The other was little yellow ducks with hooks on their heads, floating around the middle of the stall, I know this sounds daft but yes, they were on water. The stall man swooshing the water to make the ducks bobble about and swim. They were in a trough in the middle that went all round the stall. Between them and the side of the stall a man would walk round and round. In his hand would be half a dozen canes with rings on the end. “Prize every time, prize every time" he called. He then waited patiently till you had managed to hook a duck. He turned it over and there was a number on the bottom. Your prize was according to the number. It was goldfish in the early days, but I think it became bags of sweets later. At 6d a go it could not have been much, even so, 6d was a lot of money then.
The first ride at the road side of the field, was swing boats. Six of them brightly painted yellow and red. Up the little set of steps, one person each side of the boat. Some youths would go 'single' and have a competition to see how high they could get. Sitting on the wooden seat you took the opposite rope that hung from a cross bar above. By pulling the rope you started to swing, helped by a friendly push from Fred. The harder you pulled the higher you went. If there was no queue your go lasted longer. Under each boat was a long flat piece of wood connected at the back to a bar running the full length of the swingboats' A frame. Time up, Fred lifted this wood onto his forearms, and the boat caught the wood on its downward swing, gradually stopping the boat. Thinking about it now it took some strength to do it time after time, day after day. Fred held the wood up tight enough so the boat did not move, you then stood up, perhaps a little wobbly, and then stepped over the side of the boat and down the steps.
There were three BIG rides:
The Fast Cars – which actually came a little later – eight or ten cars holding four people, they whizzed around at a great speed going up and down an undulating track. Very tame now-a-days but excruciatingly exciting in the 50s and 60s. The fun fair lads taking the money from you as you sat in the car, moving to the next and the next, then stepping off at the control box just before the ride gained speed. No seat belts or fallout bars then. Music, the latest pops blasting from the loud speakers on the control box. "Stand well back", "keep you feet clear of the wheels, keep your feet clear of the wheels." The ride took forever while you were waiting, over in a flash when it was your go. I remember it being 6d a go. Dad had given us half a crown each to spend, any more came out of your money box. Five goes, it took a lot of thought and time to spend.
The Dodgems or Bumper Cars – little two-people sized cars with long upright tails touching the meshes in the roof, sparks and smells. "No bumping, NO Bumping, keep moving please, keep moving please". There was also some instruction as to which way to go, we all seemed to go clockwise. I did not care for them too much. Brother David loved them so I was a half willing, unwilling passenger. Someone would crash you, or two cars would crash, then you would stop. No amount of steering, wheel turning, pedal pumping (accelerator only) would make the car go. A fun fair lad would rush from the control box, separate you, and off you would go again, till the next bump. There would be music, lights and smells from the electric sparks. That was all you could hear, the other music just disappeared. No sooner were you out of the car someone else was trying to get in.
The third ride was the most magical thing I have ever seen in my life – the Carousel – ‘Sally Beaches Galloping Horses’ the fascia of the roof declared. All horses, no other animals, no sleighs, no carts, just beautiful horses. Their mouths open, showing enormous even teeth, sculptured mains flowing, strong backs with either one saddle or two and flowing real horse-hair tails. Painted in wonderful colours and lots of gold squiggles, pictures, flags, and the horse’s name painted within a beautiful scroll, they were magnificent. Smaller one-seat horses were on the inside of the moving platform, medium horses in the middle, big fat two-seater horses on the outside. As a small child I was only allowed to ride the inside horses as these smaller horses did not go so fast as the others (they had less far to travel). You sat on a wooden painted saddle holding a huge brass twisted pole, too big for little hands. It was a matter of “hang on, don't slip”. But as we went round, and on looking down, I was terrified because big tanks of water were just below me. It was water for the steam engine.
Looking up - the roof was a striped tarpaulin - there were cranked bars on which each horse was fitted, they were at different heights/angles so each horse was at a different height as the roundabout moved. There were fancy shaped pictures of exotic animals hanging from the bars, they rocked backwards and forwards to the movement of the ride. The floor was red, along with the steps up onto the ride. These steps went all around the circle.
At the rider’s eye level, in the centre of the carousel, there was a musical box. Two little figures dressed in blue, looking very French, stood either side of organ pipes and struck the bell they were holding at the appropriate time with the music. Stiff paper or card, folded concertina style, was punched with oblong holes. This moved through the music box playing the music from the punched out paper, refolding itself on the other side. There were stacks of more music in an open cupboard. Tiny mirrors sparkled from the dozens of lights as the carousel moved around clockwise. (Apparently this is unusual, most carousels go anti-clockwise.) Then the wonderful twisted brass poles the horses were on shone and sparkled. It was said it was Fred's job to Brasso them. Fred (that may not have been his real name) limped quite badly, an old war injury it was supposed. Then Fred died or retired and the fabulous brass was painted silver. That was it, the magic had gone. Next year things were back to brass, but my magic spell was broken.
It was a sad day when the chimney of “the Roundabout" (young Mrs Beach always called it the Roundabout) had a Union Jack flag in its middle. The carousel was now run by one of the big generator lorries. Steam no more.
The fair ran from Thursday night, late Friday afternoon through till closing, then midday Saturday till closing. Early on, if you hung about and tried to pretend you were a waif and stray, sometimes Fred would let you have a ride on the carousel for free.
Old Sally would sit on the verandah of her van on a straight-backed chair. She dressed in black from head to toe, with a spotless white pinny. The lads from the swingboats, dodgems and the roundabout would pour their takings into her lap - 6d a ride, 1/- per dodgem car. From there the money would be counted and then disappear. These people worked far harder than most, yet they were stigmatized as gypsies for living in vans.
Saturday night the fair closed at 10pm. By early next morning, 7am-ish, if you went up to the field there would only be skeletons of rides left. Horses and cars had been tucked away, tarpaulins restored onto the lorries and just the woodwork to be taken down. They must have worked all night. A few hours rest for Sunday and by Monday morning the fair was ready to move.
When dad was a councillor he made very sure they could manage with water and even got the pavilion open for them to use the toilets. There was one tap outside the cricket pavilion, for 30 - 40 people. Dad and I, not sure about David, went to see Mrs Beach one Saturday afternoon, just to check all had been satisfactory. We were invited in for a cup of tea - quite an honour from these very private people. The sun was shining and the van was light but cosy. The beautiful objects all about were amazing - it was an Aladdin's cave. Tea sets with enough gold leaf to make your eyes dizzy and beautiful pieces of glass that twinkled in the sunlight. All carefully stored while on the move, replaced on display when at the new venue, all part of a travelling life.
All that was left of two and a half days of great excitement were green patches of grass and muddy tracts made by countless footprints. We woke one Sunday morning to find a 10 shilling note each, under the pillow. A very grateful Sally Beach insisted it was for the children, as Dad had been so very helpful.
To get from the hill it was a return trip down Sheepridge and onto the Marlow Road, to where I don't know.
Sally Scagell born 1950s
The highlight of village life was when the fair came to the recreation ground and I spent all my time, and all my money, on the roundabouts. A Mrs Beach ran the carousel and I recall my father getting us a free ride.
I didn’t spend my money on the stalls so much, because you rarely won the prize that you were after, but I did win the occasional goldfish and often won a plaster of Paris ornament from the ‘catch a duck’ stall. These ornaments were only cast on one side. The back was left flat so you could stick them on the wall, although I never did. They were spray painted fairly garish colours, from paint probably left over from the roundabouts. We also won Walt Disney comics I remember. When I got a bit older my favourite roundabout was the one with the swings which swung right out over people's heads as you went round. I loved that one. And if I wasn’t feeling too sick afterwards I would walk home with a stick of candy floss (but I wasn’t so keen on the toffee apples).
My father loved funfairs and especially the carousel. Here he is with his granddaughter, Taryn, in about 1978. I think they were on Sally Beach’s carousel at the Flackwell Heath fun fair.
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