We’re off to the shows
The funfair in this country is called by different names in different parts of the country, Yorkshire folk often refer to it as the Feast, around Newcastle Upon Tyne it is often called “The Hoppings”, probably because the largest fair in the area, indeed in the UK is known as Newcastle Hoppings, so most fairs in the area tend to have that moniker attached.
The rest of the North East where I grew up it was referred to as “The Shows”. Like many things the true reason for this is probably lost in the mists of time, but, in the days of old, before the advent of steam and the invention of mechanical rides, most funfairs consisted of games and sideshows. A sideshow could be many things, during my childhood in the 80’s there was Wee McGregor, Scotlands smallest man, The Wolfman (a youth in a rather poor wolf mask) operated by the legendary Gooch Brothers who once at an event in Durham found themselves without anything to put in their show, they promptly solved this by removing the roof from their sideshow and selling tickets to see “Durham Sky At Night”, yes you walked in looked up and saw exactly that. Another of their famous exploits was “The Holy Water Otter”, which turned out to be a kettle punched full of holes.
Scotlands Tallest man George the Gentle Giant was a family favourite, operated by a family Uncle we had our pictures taken with George as kids and he used to sell signed copies of these to the visitors. George was a true gentle giant, and we used to go round and see him as kids, being from the Scottish Highlands he had the broadest Scottish accent I had ever heard, and to be truthful none of us could understand a word he said, we just used to smile and nod, and hope we did it at the right point in his story, it probably wasn’t but George was too much of a gentleman to tell us otherwise.
Another incongruity (or it was to us as kids) was that Bible classes during the Newcastle hoppings (which our parents used to send us to, not so much to help our spiritual development, but to gain an hour of peace on a morning) were held in the strip tease show (I believe another Gooch Brothers presentation), that particular show disappeared before we were old enough to be allowed in at the same time as the girls and it held an illusion of exoticism for many of us for years after.
One of the most famous sideshows, was sadly before my time, the Colorado’s was a Wild West show, like a cut down version of Buffalo Bill’s show, with knife throwing and displays of marksmanship using real guns firing real bullets. Imagine trying to get that approved by today’s health and safety executive, it would probably cause mass apoplexy just the thought of it.
The best known of the “Colorado’s” was Florence. Cowboy boots, short skirt and stunning looks along with her marksmanship skills made her the dream girl for most teenage boys (and probably their fathers) of that era. I was too young to ever see Florence in action, but with her son marrying my maternal Aunt I got to see her quite regularly. At the time Florence was probably in her early 50’s and still absolutely stunning, looks that never really left her even up to her recent death.
Sadly shows are pretty much extinct on the modern fairground, todays youth is more interested in the thrill rides, and families having access to television and the internet etc don’t really find the thrill in seeing a particularly short person or similar, and the traditional “Freak Show” style offering wouldn’t be acceptable in todays culture. At one time the Showmen’s Guild rule book actually had a rule that a specified percentage of each fairground had to be reserved specifically for shows.
Images from the Colorado’s Wild West show can be seen below;