What is Carters Steam Fair? Carters Steam Fair is a unique attraction – it is an authentic travelling funfair entirely consisting of rare vintage equipment.We live in vintage showman's wagons and caravans, and the whole fair is moved from place to place with a highly-decorated fleet of vintage lorries. It is now believed to be the largest vintage travelling funfair in the world, and travels every week of the season, from Easter to Bonfire Night each year.
How does the Fair work?
The bit of the fair that visitors experience is just the tip of the iceberg. Imagine putting on an event in your home town. You'd need toilets, and insurance, and risk assessments, and emergency plans, and first aiders, and advertising, and permission to put posters in the streets. You'd need to deal with all the rubbish generated by crowds of people, and the damage to the grass. You'd need to pay the council a fee for using the park, and then tell people about it online. You'd need to liase with the parks department and the town or borough council, and make sure that all the i's are dotted and the t's are crossed. Now make your event every weekend of the year from April to November, and make every weekend in a different place, with a different council, in a different park, with different customers - and this is just some of the stuff the office gets up to, never mind what the site team do!
The fair comes to life at night, showing the Austin Cars, the Dive Bomber, the Gallopers and the Dobbies.
Every week the staff pull down the rides and stow them securely in their trailers and lorries. People batten down their possessions in their living wagons. And then the move begins – approximately 15 large loads, 1200 feet of trailers, over 250 tons of fun. The entire move is usually done by three or four drivers (Want to get involved? HGV drivers are always welcome to get in touch!) working in relay with cars moving them to and fro from venue to venue. In the trips across London that can be fairly straightforward (unless there's lots of traffic on the road), but when it's a three or four hour journey it can be a very big job.
Once the fair has arrived on the new site we decide where it has to go, and it's planned out to make sure there is easy access for emergency vehicles, and to make sure that every ride has a good position. Living wagons and lorries are parked around the perimeter in a corral. The build-up begins – some rides take four or five hours to build up, and some are much simpler and quicker. Some have to be craned using a Scammell, some are floor-standing and just need stakes to be driven in. Equipment is checked and oiled, cleaned and inspected. Bulbs are changed and brass is polished, and the doors are opened to the great British public.
Every day of the week is taken up with pulling down, moving, building up and operating the fair. The Carter family and our friends are dedicated to its smooth running and are passionate about its historical attractions, so for us it is a pleasure to share it with you and bring the fair to you every year! Do we visit your town? If not get in touch with possible venues… we are usually based around London and the Home Counties but are always interested to hear of new places to visit.
The fair in the height of summer, showing the Jungle Thriller Ark, Toytown, the Chair-o-Plane and the Royal Windsor living wagon.
Joby Carter and his wife Georgina now manage the fair, and the family are all involved in the maintenance and restoration of the rides – Joby, Seth, Rosie and Anna all paint. For more information on the restoration side of the business click here; to get your hands dirty and have a go at fairground painting on one of Joby Carter's courses click here.
What happens in the winter? You would think after all that hard work we'd all just go on holiday and put our feet up, but the winter months for Carters are taken up back at the Yard restoring, painting, repairing and maintaining our rides, fleet and wagons. Travelling vintage equipment takes its toll, so we are sticklers when it comes to the importance of maintenance to keep everything running smoothly and safely, and looking fantastic. All the paintwork is done in our paintshop at the Yard, which specialises in classic brush-painted signwriting and fairground art. We also run signwriting courses in the winter months from the paintshop, giving you a chance to learn some of the traditional techniques yourself.
How did Carters Steam Fair begin?
Carters Steam Fair began in 1977 when John and Anna Carter first bought the Steam Gallopers that the Fair still operates to this day. Before then, they had run a business promoting vintage car shows, steam rallies, wartime events and collectors' bazaars throughout the south of England, and they had often hired vintage attractions from other people to entertain the public. They also had a large personal collection of interesting things, from 78rpm records to slot machines, and loved vintage vehicles and equipment.
When John heard about the Gallopers coming up for sale, he felt it would be perfect. It was in a pretty dilapidated state, and absorbed a huge amount of time and money to get it up to scratch. In addition to their own events, John and Anna travelled the Gallopers with other steam rallies and fairs, and painted and decorated it in between grounds. When they were set up in the front garden of their rented house during restoration, the rounding boards of the Gallopers only just missed the gutters, and their landlord soon got fed up of their eccentric antics and asked them to leave.
John decided that it would be more profitable to run a couple of rides, and so the Chair-o-Plane was bought and travelled with the Gallopers, and a few vintage side stalls, which they restored and maintained over the winter at home.
By then their family was growing fast, and they moved into a couple of showman's wagons while travelling the rides. Soon the Steam Yachts came up for sale, and they did all they could to try and raise the money to buy them and restore them – embarking on another enormous labour of love which would make most people go pale at the thought.
In 1999 a new yard was found and purchased, just before John was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma. The shock to the family was immense as his health deteriorated suddenly and in 2000, just as a mobile home was being set up at the Yard to make life more comfortable for him, he sadly died. His enthusiasm and vision had been a guiding force for the fair, along with Anna's support and skill, and their children had inherited a love for the fair and for what it stood for. After a very difficult few months, it was decided to get the fair back out on the road and continue what John had started.
The fair has since gone from strength to strength, with Joby, Anna, Seth and Rosie all personally involved, and with many family friends and supporters working hard to keep it on the road. We are certain John would be very proud of what we have achieved – Carters Steam Fair is now not only the premier vintage travelling funfair, but it is also the custodian of a great deal of beautiful rides that would otherwise have been lost, and a highly skilled restoration company helping other people to save items of Britain's heritage.