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Hull Fair - Memories of 1960


Earliest Memories get confused and mixed together. I remember the anticipation suddenly building as, sat in the front seat of the bus, top floor, I got my first sight of the fair. We were still on Holderness Road, just passing Holderness House - that terrifying, dark old building, hidden behind its wooden fence and old dark trees - and it was the first time I hadn't been scared because there was a couple of families clutching goldfish in polythene bags and 'Golly' balloons with an 'Indian' headdress and bright coloured feathers. We were there!

Why were we going into town? I thought we were going to Hull Fair? I don't want to go to town I want to go to fair! I don't want to got to 'Pick-a-Dish'!

We weren't going to 'Pick-a-Dish' (in Hammond's) but, in my mind, that was the only reason you could ever go to town for. I didn't want to catch another bus. I wanted to go to fair.

As we left the bus station my spirits were lifted once more. More balloons! Dolls tied to a stick bouncing on a piece of elastic. Goldfish. Candy-floss. We must be going in the right direction as there were more and more people walking towards us with their prizes. We're going to fair!

As we traveled along Anlaby Road a strange glow in the skies shone out above the dull white street lights, getting brighter and brighter all of the time. The chatter on the bus grew louder and louder. More balloons. More goldfish. More and more people all of the time. Was I scared, anxious or excited? I had never seen so many people - but look at all those balloons! I started to pray; "don't close, don't close, don't close". Someone must have heard me because the level crossing gates stayed open as we journeyed past the end of Boulevard and the towering St Mathews church. Almost there! I could see the stalls! "Dad, dad, come on! we're there. Come on!" Why are dad's so silly? Of course I wouldn't fall on the stairs. We were at fair; there was no need to wait for the bus to stop. "tell him mam".

The bus stopped outside the old cinema, once the West Park Palace, now the Charleston Club. But cinemas and clubs were the last things on my mind! The noise! The lights! The smell! The reassuring firm, almost vice-like, grip of my dad's hand. The smell! Wow. I need a wee. All these years later I understand the old adage about streets that flowed with gold. In those days no one batted an eyelid at children washing the gutters of Hull.

That smell! Sweet, sticky and leaving a mouthwatering taste of old English toffee and French opinions in my mouth. The noise, the buzz of machinery, the lights - I had never even considered that light bulbs came in any colour other than white - red, blue, green, yellow; the music, dad's hand.

We crossed the road with the help of the policeman stood in his little round box (a few years later we were to call them 'Daleks'). I was shaking. He gave me a smile. He was still there when we left, but I don't remember seeing any more policemen there. Crossing over to Walton Street I could see brightly lit stalls going all the way to the park gates and I remember wondering where everyone was going. Fair is over there, not down Walton Street. But man and dad and everyone else from the whole wild world was heading down Walton Street. Why weren't we going to the fair? The fair is that way, over to the park gates. I didn't make much sense to someone so small, too many people to see over.

Entering Walton street it all became clear. STALLS! Too many to see, too many to count - and TOYS; everywhere there were toys; tanks and hats and cowboys and dolls on a stick and dolls in HUGE dresses of pink and yellow and white. Colours so bright that I had never seen before. Colours couldn't be this bright; we had done colours at school, they were never this bright. I wanted a balloon; a pink one, no; a bleak one, no I mean a cowboy hat. All demands were denied; "We'll see, on the way out." said dad. Spoilsport.

FOOD! Candy floss machines - "Can I have a go dad?" - roasting chestnuts - "Oh dad, I won't burn my fingers" - Westler's hot-dogs and burgers; I didn't want one of those, we had a dog at home. Urgh! Brandy snaps, toffee, hairy things that mam called 'coconuts'. Urgh, didn't fancy them, didn't like cocoa. Fudge, chips, more toys. "Dad. Can we have some. . . . ". Mam shoved some rum and raisin fudge in my mouth. I went very quiet and chewed. I was a proper grown up. I'd got rum - and it has been my favourite taste ever since - rum and raisin fudge, or toffee, or chocolate. I don't mind which; just so long as it isn't that muck that comes in bottles.

There were stalls packed so tightly together down both sides of the road it seemed impossible to get between them but, every now and then, on the west side of the street, you could glimpse people in their front rooms listening to their radios and watching the crowds surging by. Why couldn't we live here. It's not fair dad. Look, they've got a 'telly' in their house. It was on, but as with all televisions of that time it was black and white and probably a 12" or 14" screen. We had one at home so there were no problems. We could live here couldn't we. We've got a 'telly' at home.

The music was getting louder all of the time. It wasn't like the music you sometimes heard on the Home Service on our radio at home. This was a whistly-jignley-flutish sort of music. Bit like at pictures, ABC Minors on a Saturday morning, only a lot more whistley. If it had been around at the time, the introduction to Dire Straits 'Walk of Life' would not have sounded out of place. The air was so fresh, full of smoke and smells yet still 'tasting' fresh from all of the steam. MORE TOYS! No chance of getting my hands on any of them though, I was being dragged into what I was told in later years was the old Army Barracks, located approximately where the KC Indoor Sports Arena now sits. It was a very wide, long hall with 1d slot machines all around the sides, a prize stall in the front right hand corner. The centre of the room was taken up by the sort of prize bingo stall you see at the seaside - only these didn't have little plastic slides to cover up the numbers with; instead you used bottle-tops (crown-corks). Mam was in heaven. I wasn't far behind her as I ran round the room collecting what seemed like hundreds of millions of bottle-tops from off the floor and handing them to 'the mister' who in turn gave me a penny for a slot machine every now and again.

Most of the machines were the old glass-fronted ball and cup type. Flick the lever, get your balls in the cups and you could win a tube of Fruit-flavoured Polos. I WON! I was a millionaire. Time to find some more bottle tops and try again. Leaving with three or four tubes of Polo Fruits I was made up. We'd been to fair, I'd won a prize and had some real rum! I thought we were on our way home but mam and dad were dragging me the wrong way. It was dark! The colours and smells and music and noise and Gypsy caravans were so much more intense in the dark - but so where the crowds of people. I'd never been out in the dark like this before. Was I scared or excited? I really don't know. I'd never felt like this before. A few more paces and I saw it for the very first time that I can remember. HULL FAIR!

The music was so loud! There were things going round, up and down, swinging, flashing buzzing and ringing. I didn't know what to do, where to look next or what it all meant. We walked to a massively scary ride - huge cups and saucers whizzing around in a circle. Dare I? Dare I go on on my own? Was it too fast for me? Before I knew it I was sat in a swan and hanging onto the leather reigns for dear life. White knuckles, hands and face. My very first fairground ride. Mam stood where she was and dad walked along next to my swan, stopping every so often for the ride to catch up.

"Get off? What do you mean get off? I want another go."

Eventually I was prizes away to watch my dad start collecting prizes from the darts stalls. He never failed. Over years yet to come he won holidays and all kinds of prizes playing darts. He was even invited to enter the Embassy Word Cup on more than one occasion. Hull fair was no problem. We always ended up with a house full of tat after Hull fair; ashtrays and coasters, goldfish, snow-storms, pictures, more goldfish, shire horses, another goldfish - it was just as well my grandmother had a large pond in the garden. Over the years some of those goldfish grew into real giants. One year it was all Beatles memorabilia; that and goldfish. We've still got Beatles photo-coasters stashed in the back of a cupboard at my mother's house. I had five older Beatle-crazy cousins. They all had sets of Beatles coasters, Beatles pictures and, I shouldn't wonder, a goldfish or two that year.

Hook a duck! Remember your very first time? Back then the ducks were white and enormous. I don't know what they were made of but, to me, it felt like bricks. The 'fishing rods' were made of a length of dowel that seemed to be the size of a small tree. It was a real two-handed job and even then I needed help from my mother. (Kids today don't know they're born with all of these modern, bright, light-weight plastics. Spoilt they are.) Well, as if it wasn't bad enough that the ducks were the oceangoing variant, judging by their weight, they were also moving, although I couldn't understand how. My dad solved it for me though. He explained how the hook-a-duck stalls had to be built on a slope so that the water would move. I believe him for years. I think I won a goldfish. I've still got the little round bowl and the bridge it used to (never) swim under. That was one fish that would never make it to the pond!

Towards the centre of the fairground on the side of Walton Street was what I have always thought of as the superintendent's office. A small cluster of block painted buildings which gave out the most horrible smell of the fair. The toilet blocks. It was here that the first-aid post was situated. This was also the home of two fire engines, two ambulances and their crews for the week. I was really excited by this. I had never been so close to a fire engine or ambulance before. I had to be dragged away. The buildings still stand today.

I wanted to have a go on the waltzers. Never seen anything like it. Why should I be scared; I'd done the swan hadn't I? My dad said he wanted to go on the Helter Skelter but daren't go on his own. Being very grown up about it, I'd had some rum see, I took him on the helter skelter but it was too much for him. He only went around once. I went round at least 700 times. It seemed like 700 times because you could go on over and over again once you had paid. Mam and dad didn't mind because it was right next to a bingo stall with boards hanging from the roof on bits of string and more bottle-tops. There seemed to be quite a few of us climbing up and sliding down while we kept an eye on parents playing bingo. The men at the bottom kept a very close eye on us all and, as soon as we hit the ground we were pushed straight back up the stairs. I have often thought, in recent years, what a brilliant marketing ploy that bingo stall had going.

I was sick, dad threw some darts at bags of money on the laid on floor of a stall and we all wandered off to Joe Carver's chippy to feast on the Yorkshire's finest patty and chips. I didn't usually get a patty so dad must have done well on the money bags. I can't quite remember if the chips were being sold from tents as they were sold in market, but I clearly remember wondering how they could be selling chips at fair and at the market as well.

I remember going on a stall called "Roll 'em In" - and you certainly did roll 'em in. Beat The Clock - Hull Fair 1961The stall had a grill all of the way round with holes just big enough to roll a ha' penny down a wooden chute If you could land in a numbered square, without touching the edges, you got that many coins paid back. There were always people arguing. Another similar type of stall we were you rolled pin-pong balls down the slope instead of pennies. There where lots of winning options; four in a row, match the scores and so on. I seem to remember there being holes in the boards that your ball would fall through if you were not careful. My favourite was the one where you had to roll balls through numbered holes at the bottom of a slope. There was a long row of people doing the same, all in a straight line. As your ball went through the hole it caused a wooden racehorse to run along a certain distance at the rear of the stall. I don't know what you got for winning, probably a goldfish, but no one seemed to care. It was just a fun thing to do. I've often thought, in recent years, if it would help to have one of these amazingly effective stress-busters installed in every workplace.

At the back of the fair was where all the side-shows tended to be. I remember seeing my first ever coloured man, who was very dark skinned, stood in his leotard outside the boxing ring. There were girls in swimsuits everywhere, all glittery and sparkling with sequins and stones. There was a lady in a goldfish bowl but I never did find out if it was a very big bowl of a very small lady. You could see sheep with two heads, a head with two sheep, a lady with a snake, hairy ladies, tattooed men, the world's tallest/shortest/fattest/thinnest/loudest/ugliest man/woman/baby/leopard/sheep and there was probably even a goldfish of two in there somewhere.

Hull Fair general view from 1963The biggest and the noisiest of the rides, in my memory, were towards the Spring Bank end of the fair. The big wheel, that thing that spins around and the floor drops away, up-and-downers (whatever they were. I used that term for dustbin carts, North Bridge and slides - I just can't remember what it meant at fair), rockets, bumping cars, galling horses (carrousel) and; the biggest, best and noisiest of all (in my eyes) was the swing-boats. They were enormous to a five-year-old. The music! Fairground organs can't be matched for the most pleasant use of steam possible (and no, I don't drink tea or coffee in case you were wondering). The last ride I remember going on was the bumping cars, sat on my dad's knee while we bumped into everything in sight. When did they stop being bumping cars and become dodgems? The bumping was the best bit of the day!

Leaving by the North end of the fair (a crafty ploy by parents not wishing to pass all of the toy-stalls to the south), we made our way past the last of the stalls, stretching all the way to Chanterlands Ave, with our goldfish and brandy snap and coconuts and (useless) bingo prizes and, and, and . . . . .

I assume that, roughly halfway across Spring Bank I did the usual toddler trick of passing-out and sleeping all of the way home. I certainly don't remember that journey, not like the on the way there.

Images on this page have been kindly supplied by the Hull Fair fun for all web site. These images must not be re-used without their permission.

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A very special thanks to Hull Local Studies Library for their help with our research projects.