Tracing its origins back to the late 19th century, it was regularly staged at this time of the year and attended by thousands of other kids and their parents seeking thrills, lots of fun and a great time.
Judging by the number of colourful fairs splashing excitement across the Yorkshire area over the Easter period this year, it would appear they are still as popular today as any period in the past.
Easter marks the start of the fairground season and is eagerly awaited by show people across the country. Enthusiastically embracing the new start is prominent Yorkshire showman, 70-year-old Roger Tuby whose family have been working and running fairs in and around Yorkshire for about 180 years. Whilst setting up a fair in Doncaster for hundreds of kids to enjoy, he gave an insight into the showman’s world and the Tuby family history.
Usually after spending time maintaining equipment over the winter months show people have one or two outings at smaller venues before the season starts in earnest just to confirm everything is in working order as safety is paramount.
The majority of people attending fairs are working class and generally frequent them at various periods during their lives: as children, teenagers, with their own children and then grandchildren. Since starting in the business Roger has noticed that people want to be thrilled more and more by faster and faster sophisticated ‘white-knuckle’ rides, and by being turned upside down, spun round and shaken about. I was surprised to learn that he does not participate himself. ‘I used to when I was younger, and it’s not that I’m frightened. They just make me ill if I go on them’, he said.
The Tuby fairground business was established by, George Thomas ‘Tom’ Tuby (1857 -1932), a well-liked former Mayor of Doncaster (1921-22) and Chief Magistrate. By the time Tom reached adolescence, his father, Thomas Tuby, had started a shooting gallery making a tour of East and West Riding villages.
Later, Tom set himself up with swings, coconut shies, galloping horses, a switchback and then horses four abreast. He was operating in the fairground’s golden age, which had begun during the late 1860’s when a successful King’s Lynn agricultural engineer devised a method of driving roundabouts by steam. This invention, a steam engine mounted at the centre of the ride, was to transform the showman’s business. Freed from the limitation of human muscle power, roundabouts could be made larger and more capacious and most significantly – more heavily ornamented. The ‘golden’ era was epitomised by the elaborate carved galloping horses suspended on twisted brass rods and revolving to the strains of a mechanical organ. The showman’s increasing demand for novelty was matched by the ingenuity of contemporary engineers.
After a while, Tom concentrated on a scenic railway with its fine organs, motorcars and other attractions. He always specialised in machines, not shows and once said that ‘machines were the fine mechanical and musical attractions of the fairground.’ His fairground equipment was largely transported by huge traction engines or by rail. He had the honour of being engaged several times by the Duke and Duchess of Portland and Earl Fitzwilliam to take his machines to Welbeck Abbey and Wentworth and received letters of thanks for doing so.
Tom’s four sons also entered the showman’s world and commenced their own businesses. In turn their descendants have continued to be connected with fairgrounds. Amongst these is Tom’s great, great grandson, Roger, who was born in Louth.
He describes his education as varied, attending schools in Goole, Market Raisen and Barnby-on-the-Marsh. He never did any schooling after 13 and didn’t feel that it had held him back in any way. His best subject was maths.
His first job was on the dodgems, dismantling, reassembling and maintaining them.
Breaking away from his family, he started in business on his own with dodgems, children’s rides and slot machines. This appeared to be the obvious way to go and his firm has grown and grown until, like his great, great grandfather he started organising and presenting fairs within a 100 mile radius of his Doncaster home base.
The fairground calendar for him starts around Easter and finishes shortly before bonfire night. For most of his life he has lived in luxurious caravans, with central heating, bathrooms, toilets and fitted kitchens. Generally, people tend to ask, where do fairground/showpeople come from, where do they go, where do they live. Quite often if Roger is out in company, folk will say, ‘don’t you have anywhere to live? A number of people have also said to him ‘you can’t be from a fairground; you just look like an ordinary person’.
Roger said: ‘People tend to think that all show people have tattoos, brightly coloured neckerchiefs and earrings, but this is just not true. We are show people. We are business people. We’re no different to anybody else. The only thing is that we move our business from place to place.
In the early 1990s he teamed up with Stewart Robinson, from another well known fairground family, to form International Fun Fairs, specialising in fairs in streets, town centres and parks. Their partnership continues today and the marvellously imaginative fun fairs are organised and promoted as family attractions, with cartoon characters and street entertainers.
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