Barnstaple fair photo

The bittersweet return of Barnstaple Fair

It was with great relief that Barnstaple Town Council allowed the North Devon town’s ancient charter fair to take place this year after its cancellation in 2020 event due to the pandemic. Yet there was a fresh challenge facing the four-day fair thanks to a local redevelopment scheme.

It was in the middle of the summer that the local authority gave approval for the charter fair, whose origins can be traced back for more than 800 years. Held under the auspices of the Western Section of the Showmen’s Guild, the Town Council holds the charter and works closely with the organiser on the lavish opening ceremony that takes place in Barnstaple Guildhall.

However, this year the two parties faced a major problem which took some time and patience to overcome. The Seven Brethren Banks industrial estate has been earmarked for a large housing complex and new leisure centre. The latter is already half built and takes up part of the area usually used by the showmen.

Furthermore, the adjacent car park which normally accommodates around 10 large rides and other attractions was unavailable this year thanks to the presence of a Covid testing centre and supporting parking for this and the leisure centre.  

This left the Town Council and the Showmen’s Guild with a bit of a dilemma. After weeks of negations with site owner North Devon Council, a solution was found. For one year only, the fair would be only half its normal size. Bust there’s hope on the horizon. A new site behind the tennis centre has been earmarked as an events area. This will also be the new home for the fair when as from next year.

The show must go on

It was decided on this occasion that the fair would use the building contractors’ works compound. This had formerly been the top half of the fairground. In addition, the area opposite, which in the past had housed the living wagons, was also used to site some of the amusements.

Following a meeting with the tenants of the fair earlier in the month, it was decided to hold a ballot to decide which attractions would be able to attend the event this September. Contractors completed moving all their materials and vehicles from the compound by September 10, ready for the showmen’s arrival. The fair then opened five days later, on a Wednesday, finishing on Saturday, September 18.

The official opening ceremony in the Guildhall was attended by the Mayor and Mayoress, Alan and Sue Rennles. Whilst the number of guests was reduced this year because of Covid concerns, a potentially larger audience than usual was able to watch the proceedings, which were relayed by video to spectators both in the adjacent Pannier Market and on the internet.

The Western Section of the Guild was represented at the ceremony by Section Chairman Tommy Charles and fellow showmen Nipper Appleton and Tommy Rowland. In lieu of the cancelled civic luncheon, the Mayor and his guests adjourned to a local church for refreshments before taking customary tour of the amusements.

Tommy Charles photo
Western Section Chairman Tommy Charles with Nipper Appleton and Tommy Rowland outside the Guildhall after the opening ceremony at Barnstaple Fair

Less rides but still some newcomers

Instead of the normal 20+ big rides, the Guild stewards managed to squeeze a dozen into the limited area available. Three of the 12 were on a first visit to the town, namely Thomas Rowland’s Amusements’ Dodgems (presented by Alan Jenkins), Charles Farrell’s Star Flyer and John Jennings’ Miami. These were supported by three fun houses, a ghost train and mirror show plus a selection of children’s rides, stalls, hooplas and refreshments.

John Jennings’ Miami ride photo
John Jennings’ Miami takes centre stage in this view of this year’s reduced Barnstaple Fair

Because of the space restrictions, the town council could not accommodate the usual small number of run-outs and catering kiosks along the approach to the fair but there are plans to bring them back next year when the fair moves to the new ground.

Throughout the week there was some excellent warm and dry weather, with just a couple of showers on the last day. Despite the fair being only half the size they are used to, the people of North Devon still turned out to support the showmen and everyone present had a good living.

Credit must go to Tommy Charles, chief steward for the fair, assisted by Robert Kefford, Nipper Appleton and the rest of the committee for the way in which they set out the ground in difficult circumstances.

Major rides and attractions at Barnstaple Fair

Anderton & Rowland’s No.1 Waltzer

Anderton & Rowland’s Jumpin Frogs

Anderton & Rowlands Freak Out

Alan Jenkins’ Atlanta Dodgems

Whitelegg & Farrell Sizzler Twist

Charles Farrell Jnr’s Sky Flyer (Star Flyer)

John Jennings’ Pure Adrenalin Miami

WK&N Rowland’s Big Wheel

Denzil Danter’s Speed Booster

Shaun Rogers’ Freddy’s Revenge Matterhorn

Shaun Rogers’ Stargate

Joey Whitelegg’s Tagada

Nipper Appleton’s Ghost Train

Katie Louise Noyce’s North Pole Fun House

Phillip Rawlings’ Circus Fun House

James Rawlings’ Heroes Fun House

Charles Porter’s Hall of Mirrors

Main photo: Charles Farrell Jnr’s Star Flyer and Shaun Rogers’ Matterhorn

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