The Boston May Fair

Staffordshire pottery, sitting resplendent in leaded diamond windows. Deep maroon livery with gold-leaf coach lines. Chromed water jugs, freshly blacked stoves.

Every thing spotlessly clean and houseproud. Fairground people traveled in style. At least the owners did. The mobile homes for the hired hands amounted to little more than a lorry with bunks. But in between the fearsome generators, bolted onto ancient Fodens, the runs of high-voltage cables, the mud, the smell of Westler's hot dogs, the onions and the reek of candy floss - that is where the stuff of dreams lay; the Golden Gallopers, the Caterpillar, the Dodgems, the Cakewalk, the Speedway the gaudy promise of a kind of excitement that could only be realised upon the production of a silver sixpence. Not much had changed since D H Lawrence, writing in 1919, described the fairground thus:

The roundabouts were veering round and grinding out their music, the side-shows were making as much commotion as possible. In the coconut shies there were no coconuts, but artificial substitutes, which the lads declared were fastened into the irons. There was a sad decline in brilliance and luxury. None the less, the ground was muddy as ever, there was the same crush, the press of faces lighted up by the flares and electric lights, the same smell of naptha and fried potatoes and electricity.

During the May fair, as a young lad, I was given a shilling a day for fairground amusement, until the final day when the family would go together and ride and eat until we were nearly sick. My favourite ride was the "Speedway" known in the business as an "ark".

And then there were the Hurricane Jets, which cost a bit more, but were perfect! It was, all in all, a magical experience for a child, and not at all the tawdry, tired, reality it is today.

The side shows always promised far more than they delivered, but you had to check them. You absolutely had to see the smallest man in the world, Rhona the Rat Girl, the Siamese Twins and The Woman with Three!

When I was older, my regular haunt would be the Boxing Booth. Before the days of television boxing, and the internet, it was entirely possible for someone who "claims to be" the former light-weight boxing champion of Scotland could be right there before us, in Boston, Lincolnshire, ready to take on the local lads. Yes! A local boy stepped up to take on the champ. Oh, but he was from Grantham. Well, I suppose that was local enough, and we would cheer him on. The fight started well enough - this local boy could punch. By the end of round one, the professional was struggling and on the bell, the local hero throws an almighty punch. Round Two, and the local boy is tiring. Next he is falling all over the place. The professional from Scotland is going to murder him. It's horrible!

Round three starts just as badly for the pretender to the throne and he's telling the ref he has had enough. Are the crowd with him? Of course they are - he's local! He is stumbling, the professional boxer is throwing one punch after another and it's a murder, not a boxing bout. Oh no! The local boy is on the floor..One! Two..the crowd are going crazy. A woman shouts "get up, go on, have 'im". And then the tide turns. As if energised by the woman's command, he staggers up before the referee can count "Three". He moves towards the professional who delivers a mighty blow, sending his opponent into the ropes. But the local boy bounces back and "whack". Unbelievable! the Scot who claims to be the former champion is on the floor, shaking his head. He gets up and "Whack"! The local boy delivers a thundering right hook and its all over. The professional has been vanquished and the local boy raises his hands to rapturous applause and the shouty woman passes 'round the hat for the local boy made good.

Of course, by the time they have moved on to the next town, the two have mysteriously changed identities. It was all fixed! But great theatre for a 12 year old young man like me.

Below is a picture of Boston May fair that has been running each year since 1125. The picture was taken at the beginning of the 20th Century, but the town and the fair looked pretty much the same to me, in the early 1960s.

Boston Market Place, c 1909. The taller building on the left was a theatre where I went to see Billy Cotton and his Band. The monument in the foreground is to Herbert Ingram, founder of the Illustrated London News. The photo was almost certainly taken from the tower of the Boston Parish Church, aka "The Stump"


Jim Baxter said...

Very enjoyable read. Lovely post, WW.

Many thanks.

wv: entogyin - mother's command to the feckless father to dress at least one of the children.

Jim Baxter said...

Billy Cotton, 'Wakey wakey!'

Lovely post.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

Thank you, Jim