Meet the Yorkshire man bringing back the magic in glorious restoration of lost fairground rides

Amid the steam and the screams and the rush of the ride is the scent of adventure which is wrought so evocatively in the glorious image of an olden-day traditional fair.

These vintage rides, restored to glory under one man’s ambition, can never quite recapture that sense of childlike thrill. But as the lights begin to spin and the carousel whirs, there is a sense of magic at the memories they evoke, and the tales still to be told in the fairground heritage they hold.

“We always look back to our childhoods and teenage years with those rose-tinted spectacles,” said David Littleboy, whose hobby in fairground restoration has taken on a life of its own. “They were travelled and powered by steam engines, and you can imagine that – the sound and the smell and the smoke and the steam.

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“People do remember these things,” he added. “It makes the hair stand on end on the back of your neck to see them go. Though I tell you what – they are not tame these rides, you have to hold on.”

Decorative Painter and Scenic Artist Katie Morgan is pictured with her dog Jet Painting the 1938 Waltzer owned by David Littleboy at Kinsley. Picture by Simon Hulme

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Mr Littleboy, an IT consultant from Wakefield by day who began to fix fairground rides 15 years ago, has embarked on a series of glorious restorations.

At Littleboy’s Ltd workshop in Kinsley there are vintage horses, galloper mounts, and the very Rolls-Royce of fairground rides – the only one of its kind made by the British engineering giant.

This unique carousel, built to entertain Rolls-Royce workers on ‘field days’, is fitted with 24 horses cast in the company’s Derby foundry, each with its own leather saddles and reigns, and named after engines or motorcars such as Ghost, Shadow, Merlin and Phantom.

Horses from a Dobby set dating from the 1920s thought to be owned by William Henry Marshall set for restoration at Littleboy's workshop in Kinsley near Wakefield. Picture Tony Johnson

Teams this week began work on a children’s dobby dating from the 1920s, set with scenes from across Yorkshire and believed to have belonged to William Henry Marshall, who would go on to become one of the nation’s greatest showmen, as it bears his initials.

'Masterpiece'

His waltzer, the “oldest and most original” fairground ride in the world, takes pride of place, now restored to glory following 10,000 man hours of “painstaking” work.

This Lakin piece, built in 1938 and known as the ‘masterpiece’ waltzer, had been new to the Marshalls just six months before the outbreak of the Second World War, but would pass through the hands of several showmen before moving to an amusement park on the Mersey in the 1960s and retired in 1995.

David Littleboy with panels depicting Yorkshire scenes including the boats on the River Nidd in Knaresborough and the Cow and Calf, Ilkley from a dobby set dating from the 1920s thought to be owned by William Henry Marshall set for restoration at Littleboys workshop in Kinsley near Wakefield. Picture Tony Johnson

Mr Littleboy, on discovering the waltzer, had been horrified to discover its elaborate original artwork, by “the greatest known” fairground artist Edwin Hall, had been painted over from a tin in attempts to ‘modernise’ it.

Describing the meticulous restoration by professional craftsmen and artists, he likened the work to that of rebuilding an Old Master painting, but one measuring some 30ft high and 50ft wide.

“It’s taken 10 years, but we’ve managed to get it back to its original 1930s prime,” he said with a smile. “We’ve got huge plans next year, we’re going to take her out on the road for people to enjoy.

“She’s lit up, and going round. We are finalising the artwork and panelling. But at age 83, she will be out to spin again.

Lloyd Burgess rebuilding the base to a Dobby set dating from the 1920s thought to be owned by William Henry Marshall at Littleboy's workshop in Kinsley near Wakefield. Picture Tony Johnson

“It’s great fun doing them, but even better when you take them out to play.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing people ride it and enjoy it.”

Lost treasure

Sandra Marshall, aged 80 of Brighouse, is a descendent of the original Henry William who was would become one of the nation’s greatest showmen.

According to family lore, he came from Sheffield where he worked in the steel mills as a whitesmith, she said. Legend has it he had crafted a little dobby horse, but it hadn’t proved popular, and he had forgotten it before he was swept to success with the forging of his waltzer.

“We know he went from having a dobby horse to being very successful with his own cinematic shows,” she said. “We don’t know if this is the same one, but it has to be really, with his initials on.”

David Littleboy with the Rolls Royce Carousel, at his Unit at Kinsley, near Wakefield. Picture by Simon Hulme

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