‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – All the Fun of the Fair, Roundhay Park Memories, Fairs in the Park and Woodhouse Feast.

David’s Bookshelf – Issue One Cup of Tea Tales

  1. David’s Bookshelf – Issue One
  2. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – A Lifetime of Global Successes, Disasters and Wonders! Space the Final Frontier.
  3. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Hetchell Woods (Bardsey) and Crags – A Special Piece of God’s Own Country or County! One of my Favourite Places to Visit.
  4. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – The Wonderful Yorkshire Dales. Trollers Gill, a Place with a Mysterious Legend and the Hell Hole where I Diced with Death.
  5. ‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – Labs and all Manner of Magic, Misery and Mayhem. What Must have been the Worst job for a New Teacher, Chemistry with Boys with only one Aim, to Make Your Life Hell!

As a child, I remember the excitement of going to the fair. When I was a little boy, it was the small permanent funfair at Roundhay Park where there was a Helter-Skelter, some swing boats and a small roundabout with boats and buses on for the very young. I remember the joy of climbing the little stairs to the top deck of the bus and ringing the bell. It was something that my own children enjoyed when they were tiny. Not much changed over the years and at first Roundhay had a number of attractions. There was a maze, but this was removed in the 1970s, because of an incident that occurred there, rowing boats on the Waterloo Lake and a motor launch that took large numbers of people around the lake. I believe Roundhay School had a couple of boats on the Big Lake (Waterloo Lake) which were used by the naval cadets. Apparently, the Lake was built using ex-servicemen after the Napoleonic wars, hence its name. The lake features heavily in my latest thriller, A Trembling of Finches, which is based in this part of Leeds and the surrounding area.

My very earliest memories also included buses arriving at their terminus, now the car park, and the large wooden shed there, called The Lakeside Cafe. There was also the Lido, an open-air swimming pool at the back of the lake, near the waterfall. I went once or twice and even on the hottest days, it was freezing cold. Sadly, it was removed, which is a shame, but probably the cost of the upkeep was prohibitive as there were so few days in a year when it could be used. It was also vulnerable to vandalism and unauthorised visitors during the night. There wasn’t a cafe above the boat-shed in these times, but when the wooden shed was demolished, they built the cafe above the boat-shed edging the lake.

When I was very young, the little fair was quite satisfying, but as I got a bit older, we would go to Woodhouse Feast, near Leeds University on Woodhouse Moor. These names obviously hark back to olden times where celebrations and feasting would take place to mark holy days and the like. The moor was close to the outskirts of Leeds City and was a suitable place for traders and tinkers to sell their wares, entertainers to ply their trade and for the locals to celebrate and have some fun. It also provided an opportunity for the young to meet and court, and for locals to purchase items not available at other times of the year. When I attended the feast, it had developed quite a lot, but still, it was a place to have fun, meet other teenagers, show off and spend money. As a child, we loved the lights, the sounds, the crowds and the smell that a fair brought. The workers appeared exotic, as they often had darker skin than most Leeds folk, used copious amounts of hair cream, wore tight black jeans and had tattoos. At least the men did. They called to passers-by to get them to buy their wares or to try their hand to win a teddy, or in those days, plaster of Paris ornaments. There were roundabouts, waltzers, swing boats, dodgems and a host of contraptions that would scare the living daylights out of you as a young child, but for teenagers, they were an opportunity to show your masculinity by fearlessly hanging off the bars as you were spun around, or by bashing your dodgem head on into another and laughing at the joy of it. The girls would be enraptured by the bravado of the fairground boys who danced between the whirling horses, collecting fees, darted between the dodgems, and hung off the bars at the back and walked backwards collecting money on the waltzers as the floor went up and down. They never missed a beat. They were poised, relaxed, masters of impressing teenage girls. There were local lads who would emulate their feats, but due to lack of practice, they never quite cut the mustard.

For us kids, it was hook-the-duck, darts into playing cards, air rifle ranges, rolling pennies onto a square grid, bran tubs, coconut shies and ping-pong balls into goldfish bowls. The most sought-after prize was a goldfish. The poor creatures were hanging in plastic bags and if you were lucky enough to win one, you would carry it around as a prized possession until you got home. After our first win, my parents took us to the pet shop at Harehills, where we bought a bowl, a little weed, and goldfish food. With two brothers, there was a good chance that we would get at least one or two on a visit to a fair. However, in most cases, the poor fish would be lucky to live out the weekend, but the good news was that we were prepared for future fairs, with the bowl and equipment already waiting. In fairness, there were one or two fish that were clearly made of sterner stuff than the usual run-of-the-mill goldfish, and they survived for much longer periods. I can well remember being entranced by their shimmering scales and their fluid movement around their restricted new home.

It was not just the rides and prizes, the whole experience was a whirl of lights, sounds and smells. The ground underfoot was trodden into mud and you had to carefully step over electrical cables that ran from generators that thumped a rhythm in the background, almost drowned out by the blaring hit music of the time. Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Bill Hayley, Elvis and the like filled the air and added to the excitement. The fair was the facade of celebration, but lurking behind were the caravans and homes of the workers. Some were chrome, bright paint and affluence, but most were fairly run down. Lorries, trucks and vans were waiting to carry them to a new location after only a few days.

The senses were overloaded and smells of food wafted everywhere, tempting us to buy and taste their wares. Toffee apples, brandy snaps, doughnuts, ice-creams, all were available, as well as the truly magical-looking candyfloss. The machines that spun the sugar were entertainment on their own. Lurid dyes were added, bright pink, green, yellow. They were sticky, sweet and must have cost almost nothing to make, but managed to extract the few remaining coins we had. It was a tired, but happy family that would return to the car, nurse our fish or other prizes and drive home.

There was a similar fair that would arrive every year at Roundhay Park. This dwarfed the permanent amusements, but I am sure they didn’t mind the extra trade the main fair brought. This fair would be set on the rise adjacent to the Big Lake, by the boathouse car park and the bus shed. It could have been the same as the one from Woodhouse, but I don’t think so. It had all the same sort of entertainments, and one I had forgotten was the strength-testing machines. There were two main types. The originals used a large wooden mallet that was swung and hit a post and the strength was recorded on a gauge. The strongest of blows sounded a bell. The second type involved a punch ball. You thumped the ball as hard as you could and it recorded the power on a large dial. The strongest blows would similarly sound a bell. These were another alternative for men and boys to demonstrate their physical prowess in front of potential admirers.

I remember one specific incident on the dodgems when I was a teenager in the late 1960s. A group of us were there, and it was an afternoon session that wasn’t particularly busy. There was a group from Allerton Grange on some of the other cars and I was in one with my friend. Only about half the cars were running and there was the usual lad in the kiosk controlling the power and another who was collecting money and policing behaviour. Times had changed a little and front-on collisions were supposedly banned. (Health and safety gone mad) This clearly hadn’t been taken on board by the assembled teenagers and there were a lot of crashes, cheers, cries and general mirth as cars crashed head on and the backs lifted off the ground with the force. At the rear of the car was a rod that reached vertically up to the wire netting ceiling that supplied the power to the car. At the top of the rod was a metal shoe that dragged along the netting, keeping the contact and the power supplied, but regularly sparking. There was the powerful smell of what I now assume was ozone from the sparks. I suppose this was the one part that wore out frequently, and I think they just slotted onto the top of the pole. On this occasion, there was a lad on his own in one car. There was shouting and crashes, almost drowned out by the music. I watched, almost in slow motion, as two dodgems collided with tremendous force. The rear end of one car lifted and then crashed back down. It must have been a freak occurrence, but the metal shoe jumped off the top of the pole and fell down onto the boy driving. The side of the shoe struck him on the forehead, just above the eye. Suddenly, blood poured down his face, turning it red.

It all happened in a fraction of a second. The man in the kiosk must have seen what happened, as the power was turned off and the cars just stopped. Everyone’s attention was drawn to the poor lad. The man from the kiosk ran over, carrying what looked like a tea towel, and he clamped it onto the forehead of the now sobbing lad. Nowadays, I am sure there would have been first aid kits and first aiders, but then there didn’t appear to be. He was helped out of the dodgem and led away. I suppose an ambulance must have been called, but I didn’t see it and within seconds the dodgem was pushed to the side, power was restored and the show was back on. My friend and I saw him several weeks later, and he was proud to show us his impressive scar. He was very lucky not to have lost his eye and I do not know whether there was any inquiry into the accident, but maybe not. Parents were not as quick to sue as they are nowadays and accidents were more accepted without anyone needing to be blamed.

During the day, the fairs were reasonably safe and respectable places, and this was the case in the evening, when children were still about. Later at night, however, I believe fights often broke out between local groups of boys and the fair workers. This may have resulted from jealousy, as the workers chatted up local girls. I never really saw this, but there was a reputation that the fair lads had knives and would use them. As the fifties and sixties moved through, there were also confrontations between teddy boys, mods, rockers and later skinheads and punks. Adrenaline, testosterone and teenagers are a dangerous mix and I am sure that it has always been so.

The fairs were always short-lived. There was a day or two of setting up and after five or so days, the fair was dismantled and they disappeared, heading to new venues until they returned the next year. When they had gone, the ground was left trampled and weary, but in a surprisingly short time, it recovered and there was not a trace, except for the memories of those who had attended and the surviving goldfish in the bowl.

One Reply to “‘Cup of Tea Tales’ – All the Fun of the Fair, Roundhay Park Memories, Fairs in the Park and Woodhouse Feast.”

  1. Standing against the safety rail on the speedway ride with a woodbine hanging out of the side of your, trying to look cool, whilst all the time praying you wouldn’t slip, is a lifetime memory. Good memories David 😉

    Liked by 1 person

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