FROM ‘WO EMMA’ TO SCENICS ‘Tom’ Tuby started in the days before there was a motive power available for fair ground rides. Hence, here is a unique chance to look at the attractions that were travelled when those pioneer showmen were building up the great families which we know today.
And it is a reflective thought that today no one could make that same start on the fairs. For even if anyone decided to give up steady employment and take to the rather precarious life of the travelling showman, he would find that, under the rules of the Showman’s Guild of Great Britain, he would be unable to join the showmen at the major fairs as a non-guild member would not be allowed on. For the Guild seek to preserve the livelihood of their members. Nor would he, as a flattie, as they call house dwellers, be eligible to enter the guild. Nor are these the only obstacles. For today’s amusement have to satisfy a sophisticated entertainment desire of the part of the punter, as they call those prepared to spend money to enjoy the experiences of the fair, and there is no way that anyone other than the very wealthy could buy a major ride. And the days when men like ‘Tom’ Tuby, and his relative through marriage George Aspland, could get a first foot on the ladder with a home made attraction are gone for ever. It also has to be asked if we have the men of dedication who would be prepared to face the fight to earn enough money to reach the top of the profession in this age of social security and other such hand outs. For when these two pioneers began their careers, there was no financial aid of this nature. If the showmen did not earn enough during the summer to see them through the winter, they had to get a job. The simple fact facing ‘Tom’ Tuby was that if he did not take money, the family would starve. But he found an ally in the social conditions of the age. For the fair was possibly the only break in what was s holidayless year of drudgery for the working classes. And as each year followed the same pattern, so the fair was the highlight everyone looked forward to. For it has to be remembered that these were the days when few people could read or write or left the confines of their town or village during their lives. If they did it was only to journey over the rough roads of the age to a neighbouring town. So the fair was dreamed about and prepared for many weeks before the showmen arrived in town or village, often the cheers of the children and some adults who had gathered as that magic hour when the showmen were due to arrive drew near. Imagine the thrill as wide eyed onlookers saw ‘Tom’ Tuby, in those days of the Franco-Prussian War setting up his father’s ‘penny peep show’ and the wonder as they saw representations of the feats of gallantry performed by the fighting troops. And imagine the pennies and half pennies which had been begged from aunts and uncles as fair day approached so they could enjoy this wonder of the age and the swing boat and shooting gallery that the Tuby family brought along. Imagine also the wonderment when, in 1871 ‘Tom’ Tuby began travelling on his own behalf and bought a booth showing the new photographic process and erected it near the Market Place in the Nottinghamshire town of Retford. The box type camera would be on a tripod, a small container of what had to be a magical liquid to the people of the age, would hang from it. A ‘plate’ would be taken out of the camera, immersed in the liquid, dried and them fitted to a small mount, before being handed over to a delighted sitter. Although he travelled with the photographic booth to Lincoln, Worksop, Gainsborough, Louth and many places on Trent side, ”Tom’ Tuby, The penny Showman’ as people began to call him, soon tired of photography. Then he devised the ‘Wo Emma’ throwing game. The name came from the title of a popular tune. The ‘Emmas’ were dolls and the public had to dislodge a doll to win a coconut. Its popularity was shown at one years Sheffield Christmas fair. Such was the public appeal for throwing games and the novelty of this new approach that ‘Tom’ Tuby took enough money to buy a set of swings for £20. They joined the throwing game as he toured Yorkshire and Lincolnshire, and then a second set of swings was bought and a coconut sheet as well. From small beginnings ‘Tom’ Tuby was on his way and through the attractions he had brought together, he was able to buy his first steam roundabout. This is said to have been 1887, when ‘Tom’ Tuby was 30 years of age. So, in a mere 16 years, he had moved from assisting his father on the fairs to owning his first steam driven attraction. Although there is little recorded about the machine, in all probability this was one of the platform gallopers patented by Frederick Savage in 1885. Now we are approaching the second part of that advertising rhyme for what better way to reveal in advance the fascinating developments of this show business personality. “…… His gondolas are very fine, His horses quite a treat. They’re charming to the utmost, The plant ’tis quite complete. His Coliseum all should see, What grandeur meets the eye, The radiant lights entrancing, Enthralling to be nigh. Its exhibition is unique, Twill make your grief depart, Twill make you really idolise, And joy to you impart. Its management if quite superb, The reigns are held by skill, By Mr Tuby’s clever hand, Pray come and have your fill. The progression saw galloping horses, a switchback and then horses four abreast, and even more. But before we consider these, mention has to be made to Tuby’s Coliseum. For ‘Tom’ Tuby like the Aspland-Howdens and other progressive showmen of the age, brought the public their first taste of moving pictures.. It was in London in 1896 that the Lumiere Brothers showed their Cinematographe at the Marlborough Hall and it was so successful it had to move to larger premises to accommodate the crowds who came to see and marvel. The films may have been primitive, a comedy showing a boy stepping onto a garden hose and then releasing his foot just as a gardener peered down the hose to try to find the reason for the stoppage of water, with obvious results. But to audiences who had never before seen motion pictures this was the sensation of the age and soon showmen were appreciating the potential to the full. So, ‘Tom’ Tuby decided to bring the cinema to the masses through a bioscope show as they were called. However his Coliseum was more than a mere picture show, and this was a good thing. For it is said that these first pictures were so primitive that even the public began to tire of them. But a man like ‘Tom’ Tuby, a showman supreme, knew that there had to be a total approach to entertainment if he was to succeed against the high competition in the bioscope field. For an appearance at Wisbech, the Coliseum, under the management of son, Arthur Tuby was advertised as ‘The Palace of Ceylon’, possibly to bring even more grandiose thoughts to the minds of the patrons. And while it presented ‘……High Class and Up-to-Date MOVING AND LIFE MOTION PICTURES, Dramatic and Comic and Thrilling Adventures’. Assuring everyone that ‘Our Pictures are Steady and Clear with No Flickering so that if you want to spend an enjoyable time don’t forget to come to Tuby and Sons’ Palace of Ceylon’. With the message that ‘If you don’t Laugh at Our Comics you must see a Doctor’, there was more to it than mere pictures.
With an orchestra under the direction of Mr Charles Denny there was Mr Will Lloyd, character comedian and song senas in all his latest successes direct from the Principal Music Halls, London. There was usually audience participation wherever the Tuby Coliseum opened. Events such as a singing contest for a live pig.
The competitors had to sing one of the popular songs of the period with a live pig in their arms without laughing. The public judged the contest by a show of hands. The one who got the greatest response went home with the pig as a prize. However, the person who had won the previous year was barred to give others a chance. The Coliseum is believed by the family to have been made by Orton and Spooner and the curtain in front of the screen and stage had a picture of ‘Tom’ Tuby in the centre and his four sons in the corners. One of the films shown was of Jack Johnson preparing for his fight with James J. Jefferies which was to take place on 4th July 1910, in Reno, Nevada. But as war clouds began to gather, so the bioscopes began to disappear off the fair. Their popularity had been enough to bring enterprising men into the cinema industry, giving the public permanent buildings in which to view films and with the increased comfort the fairground bioscope shows were unable to compete. ‘Tom’ Tuby himself said “I saw the red light and got out”. And the 1914-1918 war was to change the fair ground scene. Hostilities diverted labour and in places, particularly along the East Coast, fairs were done away with and machines had to be closed down. After the war, George Thomas discovered that whereas before the fighting started it had been the children who patronised the roundabouts. Afterwards adults came along and they were always looking for value for money. Before this, however, ‘Tom’ Tuby had one experience of a ride which promised so much but for once failed to live up to his hopes. It was one of Frederick Savage’s Tunnel Railways which he bought in the late nineteenth century. The Lynn Advertiser of February 15th 1896, reported of that year’s Mart, the St. Valentine’s Day extravaganza which marks the beginning of the travelling season in East Anglia. ‘One of the novel features this year is the Dover to Calais underground railway which has been designed and built by Mr F. Savage of King’s Lynn, and is owned by Mr Tuby of Doncaster, whose family motto is ‘Whilst I live I’ll crow’. ‘Pullman cars’, the report added, ‘are drawn by a model locomotive and the whole apparatus is brilliantly lighted up by electricity’. Its interest stemmed from the then very provoking topic of a proposed Channel tunnel between England and France with the English and French coastlines the right theme for decoration. When the machine was built up with its platforms, it was approximately fifty feet in diameter with a static centre assembly comprising an electric light engine, and organ and organ engine and the pay box. The cars ran, as a newspaper report of the period in Doncaster, recounted, part of the journey in the dark tunnel and part in the light of the fair. “I was porter, station master, engine driver and everything else” recounted Mr Tuby to the press. But this could not have been absolutely true, as another of his advertising verses show;- ….
“Mr Tuby’s Crew”.
‘Tis about a certain railway,
which runs in every town.
It always is respected,
Where ever it’s around,
The owner’s Mr Tuby,
Of porters there’s a few,
To look after his railway There is quite a crew.
To do good he’ll often try,
In a town called Pontefract
He made the people sigh,
He gave to the Dispensary,
The first night’s takings, that’s true,
Which amounted to over £20,
Collected by Tuby’s crew.
Now Wally White is the driver,
Barnsley Jack is by the fire,
Monkey Jim’s the organ to see to,
And it’s really his desire,
Norfolk Harry is the railway guard,
Of tips he gets a few,
But he’s always forced to share them out With Mr Tuby’s crew.
The last one is the master,
Who’s known you will agree,
As being the working man’s friend,
He’s shown it you can see,
In town’s in which he’s travelled,
He’s done some good, that’s true,
So rally round Mr Tuby,
And Mr Tuby’s crew……
However, despite his flair for advertising, the Channel Tunnel railway was not a good money taker in the areas he travelled. In fact this lack of appeal to the punters could have been the reason that ‘Tom’ Tuby went to the expense of trying to associate the public with the attraction through that readable verse. With a glint in the eye this old showman would say that the reason the ride never paid off in financial terms was that the couples were not in darkness long enough. Yet, strange to relate, it was sold to a French showman at the time of the great exhibition at Versailles in 1901 and there, in that acknowledge centre for romance, it did wonderful business. Possibly back in England couples were more ambitious in their activities in the dark, but for the French the thought of that proverbial ‘kiss and cuddle’ was enough to entice money out of the pocket. ‘Tom’ Tuby looked for quality rather than quantity throughout his life and there is little doubt that while there was never a profusion of fair ground rides travelled by the family, those they had were among the best to be seen on the tober. And while he had his Coliseum during those early days of the travelling bioscopes, he was more a ride man than a show owner. For machines were, as he once said, the fine mechanical and musical attractions of the fairgrounds. However, while he may have been a machine man at heart, there is little doubt but that the bioscope show with its 110 key Gavioli organ was a musical attraction in its own right. And when they bought the electric motor car Scenic in 1912, they inserted the 110 key Gavioli in it, although when its Doncaster debut was being advertised, the organ was described as, ‘the largest mechanical organ in the world, equal to a band of 200 performers. Fitted with charming sleigh bells and is decorated with beautiful coloured electric lights’, it was said to have been built for G.T.Tuby and sons at a cost of £2,000 making the ride, in the opinion of its owner, England’s finest travelling machine.
The Scenic, like so many others of its period was fitted with a central waterfall. In 1921 there was a fault with the waterfall and ‘Tom’ Tuby got soaked. It is said that the next day he sold it to Pat Collins and the superb organ was placed in the Wonderland front as their No 1 scenic whales, and its Maranghi went into the ex-Tuby machine.
However, the family think that the sale had already been arranged and the soaking that ‘Tom’ Tuby received resulted in a piece of fairground fiction. They also had a steam switchback which continued to be steam driven all its working life until it was packed away at Doncaster in the 1930s. This machine was known at ‘Tuby’s Canadian Circular Railway’. It had plenty of carved work, all painted in gold and a fine set of droppers. These are said to have carried pictures of the famous Boer War generals. This was a standing top machine and there was a gilded figure on each pillar. There was a barrel organ in the centre with revolving figures and the Gondolas were fine examples of the craftsman’s art. At the Sheffield Christmas Fair in 1905, it arrived with motor cars in place of the Gondolas and it became known as ‘Tuby and Sons, 60hp Panhard Motors’. In the 1920s those motor cars were changed and in their place was whale cars. And, at the same time, a new set of scenic rounding boards were added from Orton and Spooner and a Britannia type front. George Rhodes Tuby, Thomas Tuby’s son and the father of Roger, Charles and Pauleen, can remember the centre engine working with steam, and the occasion when one of the ‘sullivans’, the name given to the bars which pulled the cars round, when an employee was working underneath, when the ride was in motion, striking the unfortunate man, and knocking him out. George Rhodes says that when you walked under the hill where the cars went up and down the other side, the ‘sullivans’ were about level with your face. This particular worker had a reputation as a tough person and when he came round and was back to his feet, he asked who had hit him. “It’ll have been sullivan”, was the answer. “Where is he” screamed the man, “I’ll kill him”. The switchback and the Scenic are said to have been known as ‘Top the Bill’, and ‘Cut and Come Again’, and on the front of the organs was a board which said ‘Not Crying but Laughing at Others’. Sheffield Christmas Fair saw another significant event in the Tuby story. For it was there that a centre pole on one of their sets of three abreast gallopers broke. Although it was repaired ‘Tom’ Tuby, ever concerned with public safety, vowed it would never again happen with one of his rides. This three abreast set, the ‘Cocks and Hens’ was managed by George Edgar Tuby, and before that by a relative, Mark Brannan Tuby who finished up in ‘Wonderland’ at Cleethorpes. The next set of horses were the ‘Victory’ horses which they obtained in 1920 and managed by Harry Tuby when he came out of the army. Although they were a three abreast set, they were made to the same specifications as a four abreast so there was never again a breakage like such as happened at Sheffield. Here was an approach the public never know about. A concern for their safety which obviously cost ‘Tom’ Tuby cash he need not have spent, but which he considered justified to keep up the already first class safety record on the fairs. They were travelling two sets of three abreasts together. For as Arthur Tuby recalls, the family had two fairground circuits and they had the Victory horses and the other three abreast, the ‘Cocks and Hens’ at the same time. George Edgar would travel the cockerels on their main run at their own fairs with his brother Arthur and the Switchback. The other brother Harry would be on the other circuit taking in such as York Gala, Lincoln, Epworth, Brigg, etc. with the Victory Horses. The four abreast set was not believed to have been kept for a long period because of the work involved in building up and pulling down. These were originally all horses. However, for a spell under the Tuby ownership the outer set of horses were changed for General’s Heads. However, while they were Generals in the true sense, there was one with no military experience. For, as large as life, complete with bowler hat and cigar, was George Thomas himself. And it gave the punters great pleasure to be able to boast that they had ridden on ‘old Tom Tuby’. It is said that the rounding boards were very deep and painted in landscape scenes which were not boarded. ‘Tom’ Tuby also had a very fine two abreast juvenile with General’s heads on the horses. The rounding boards were lettered ‘G.T. Tuby and Sons, Doncaster. Racing Motors and British Generals From the Front’. It is said that both machines were kept in the finest condition and always looked as if they were brand new.