All the fun of Hull Fair
For centuries Hull Fair has been a major autumn event in the town.
Over that period it has been held at various locations, today occupying the Walton Street Fairground, now overshadowed by Hull's new £45-million superstadium.
Here Henry J Corlyon, a journalist in Hull in the 19th Century, looks back on his visits to the fair, as recalled in his memoires published in 1904...
FOR many years Hull Fair was held on a of square land called Little Dock Green which extended from Wellington Street to the foreshore. The stalls ran the whole length of Wellington Street down Queen Street and Market Place.
The fair at that time was commonly regarded as a good one. There was invariably a Richardson show or two (usually in popular parlance termed a 'penny gaff') and swings and roundabouts galore and what was a never failing source of attraction and pleasure, Wombwell's Menagerie.
The owner of the heavy, but gaudily decorated, swings and roundabouts was a man named Johnson who, besides his staff who worked the "high flyers" as the swings were familiarly known, was assisted by his wife. They were a unique pair. They were coarse in their language and it would be difficult to say which of the two was the more objectionable in speech and manner. And yet, singularly enough, they were universal favourites not whithstanding their addiction to vituperation and unsavoury expletives.
It may not be uninteresting to describe how the roundabouts were worked. Be it understood that the introduction to steam power to these machines had not taken place then.
In the centre there was a huge substantial pole from which radiated many spokes connected with the rim which held the wooden animals and charios occupied by the riders.
Old Johnson used to cajole and cozen lads to push the roundabouts by means of the spokes, promising them a ride gartuitously in return. If he thought the lads flagged in their exertions he applied his whip to them with unmerciful vigour by way of stimulating their efforts.
The youngsters seldom got their reward and yet they appeared to like their self-imposed slavery because Johnson never found a lack of juvenile labour."
Safety did not come first
A quagmire was how George Augustus regarded Hull Fair, to which he paid a visit in October 1885.
In a hard hitting article he described the fairground as a "disgrace to the town" and demanded that the powers-that-were made it "passable and fit for the thousands that patronise our fair."
Mr Augustus went to the former fairground in St Stephen's Square and described passing down Spring Street, which had oyster and mussel stalls, on his way to the fairground.
Visitors were, he reported in "rather dangerous proximity" to shooting galletries near which was a row of newly constructed swinging boats.
"I took particular pains to examine their construction and I may briefly state that although the boats are strongly built the rods with which they are suspended are merely fastened by a half inch bolt and nut, and moreover not one half of the nut is filled by the thread. I write this professionally to my trade as a mechanical engineer and have no hesitation in saying that this is an element of considerable danger, and if the borough coroner's services are not called in for this Hull Fair, apropos the swing boats, I shall be agreeably disappointed."
He found steam roundabouts, steam boats in motion and steam bicycles before coming to the merry-go-round.
"Here again mothers impress it upon their children to give these roundabouts a wide berth; the horses' legs have a dangerous tendency to strike unthinking children on their craniums and then follows a concussion on the brain, a little coffin, a slow ride, four feet of mother earth and verdict 'accidental death.'
His next port of call was a "rather pretentious" booth with fishermen and mermaids guarding the portals - "really not bad specimens of the carver's art. I dare not call them sculptures."
Then it was on to something equally grand - a yellow bedecked chariot stall on which huge letters proclaimed it to be the abode of the "Amazon Giantess" who was supposedly seven feet six inches tall.
Mr Augustus went on..."Passing on our nasal organs are vitiated by an aroma of boiling peas and peering into the various pea saloons we see youngsters of both sexes indulging in a ha'porth of hot peas, never perhaps dreaming if the cook's dish clout boiled with them to add to their flavour."
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Written by The Editor - 01/11/2002 11:29:20
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