I’ve always had a fascination with the travelling funfair. Back in the days before cinema and television, attending the funfair was a big deal. Not only was it a chance to let your hair down and enjoy the thrill of a ride, the fair was where you saw exotic animals in the flesh for the first time. In an era where global travel was not readily available, fairgrounds became a form of escapism that took the visitor to another world.

Of course, there was a darker side to the fair: as well as animal cruelty, freak shows were commonplace. The funfair as a symbol can also connote insanity, which is shown to great effect in feature films such as The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and Carnival of Souls.

I could spend hours writing about the history and different aspects of funfairs (I might do a series of posts at some point), but there is a reason for this particular post.

During my recent trip to Devon, I visited Dingles Fairground Heritage Centre in Lifton. Dingles features a plethora of fairground memorabilia, including vintage rides, games, vehicles and machinery, as well as road signs, art work and related ephemera.

The museum is housed in three buildings, the first of which is more like a ‘typical’ museum, with models and displays in glass cases as well some more interactive exhibits, such as carriages and living wagons you can climb into.

The second building displays larger rides and – here’s the fun part – they still run. The rides include a ghost train, galloper (carousel), waltzer, switchback and dodgems. You can also play traditional games such as the coconut shy, rifle shooting, and hook-a-duck. (Rides and games incur an additional cost).

Prizes for funfair games usually include goldfish, cuddly toys and coconuts. ‘Carnival Glass’ was a name given to second rate glassware, usually with an iridescent finish, given as a prize.


Two very different organs. Unfortunately I don’t have dates for these but the one on the right has a distinct Metropolis feel about it.

In the third building, which was more like a storage facility, there were a lot of items that looked as if they were waiting for repair. It’s sad to think of items languishing in storage but often independent museums lack the funding for conservation.

Overall, Dingles is an entertaining and intriguing museum, one that lets you take photographs and interact with the displays. I believe that the fair is an important part of social history, one that seems to be forgotten in an internet and video game obsessed age.

Dingles is open Thursday- Monday, April- October. Tickets cost £8 for an adult. 20% off online.
http://fairground-heritage.org.uk/

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