The Travelling Times: The History Of Showpeople and Transport

The Travelling Showpeople community has always had an intimate relationship with transport.

From the very beginning – over 300 years ago – travelling the land was an essential part of our nature. Initially by foot, we eventually adopted horses and carriages to travel from place to place, connecting and engaging with those they met along the way. As hooves and sweat made way for steam and oil, Showpeople took to this new technology gladly.

Great steam engines allowed for power on the move, prompting the advent of the first electric fairs. The image of fairs as we know today began to take shape – Large mechanical rides, bright lights and loud music appeared, enrapturing the sight and senses of crowds for generations to come.

traction engineCredit: Cheshire Steam Fair,

But it is not only within the fair itself that advances in transport made a difference. Every development, every new vehicle, was adopted and adapted to our unique way of life. As transport and technology evolved, so did we.

The “traditional” home for those who worked on the Fair is known as a “Wagon”. They started out merely as a box on wheels that allowed somewhere for the family to sleep. Although quite small, you would commonly see families of 5 or 6 or more sharing the space of just one of these Wagons.

mollycroftCredit: Carter’s Steam Fair,

As time passed, more powerful towing machines allowed for larger homes. Wagons grew in size, now more able to afford the luxury of space. However, space is always at a premium on the fair. With that in mind, sometimes a little ingenuity was required.

Buses were often converted into homes, fulfilling the needs of mobility and space without the hassle of having to tow an extra trailer. Other times they were used as a kitchen, somewhere to feed the large families – both blood related and otherwise – that people accumulated through working and travelling alongside one another.

buswagonCredit: forum

In years gone by, Lorries – the bedrock of the modern showman lifestyle – were sometimes partitioned to make room for small beds alongside the heavy equipment they carried.

Perhaps a little cramped, it at least provided a cozy space to sleep, which would have been much appreciated for those used to sharing a small Wagon with 6 other people.

Nowadays, most Showpeople live in “Chalets” – semi-permanent bungalow type ho mes, much larger than a typical Wagon.

chaletCredit: example of a modern chalet or “residential park home”,

Due to the change in nature of fairs and travelling today, people rarely take their homes with them as they used to. Instead, they use a small trailer or caravan as an on-site base, or even simply return home to their Chalet and drive back the next day.

These days, there is less time spent on the fairground itself. The hustle and bustle of the busy set-up, working and co-operating with one another to create the moving monuments to entertainment and escapism – these things still occur, but the process is much faster now.

Instead of men grunting with effort to lift a platform into place, electric whirring permeates the air as hydraulic rams convert a day’s work into mere hours. There are no more calls for tea or dinner, or the clanging and clamour you would hear as people rushed for a seat at the table.

There’s no need for it anymore.

kirkcaldy#Kirkcaldy fair. Credit:

It is to the ever-changing nature of technology and transport that we can thank for this. The price of progress, some might say.

Looking to the future, there’s no certainty as to what may appear. What other things may be found or lost.

But, as always, Showpeople will continue to do what we’ve always done – adopt, adapt and evolve.



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