Fairground children, after they leave school, can, through the very nature
of their parents businesses, lead a nomadic life. This was very true of
Lily Tuby, one of four daughters of George Thomas Tuby and wife Maria.
|And it was equally true of Ben Howden, the son of Benjamin
Howden, himself the brother in law of the famed Lincolnshire showman George
Aspland, and the man who was to take over George Aspland's amusement business,
after the founder's retirement. Both the Tuby family and the Aspland-Howdens
commenced their travelling year at King's Lynn Mart, which opened on St.
Valentine's Day, and which even today marks the beginning of the season
for those who attend. And it was at Lynn Mart that a young Ben Howden who
had just left school, met Lily Tuby. They saw each other only once or twice
a year, as their parents toured different parts of the country.
|| But far from them becoming casual acquaintances, a friendship
developed and although they could only keep in touch by letter, romance
developed, a romance which was to unite these two great fairground families
when the couple married at Doncaster, in 1913
|. And that George Thomas approved of the union was shown when
he became a great personal friend of Benjamin Howden Snr. And what better
way to continue our look at fairs of the age than through the memories of
Ben Howden Jnr. He was born at the winter home of the family in York Street,
Boston in Lincolnshire and he could always remember the spring and summer
when he had to say goodbye to his parents as he remained behind, living
in the house in York Street and attending the National School. It was while
he was still at school that Buffalo Bill's Circus big Show, came to Boston.
It was one of the largest in the country and it was the first time the locals
had seen real Indians and cowboys. The schools were given a holiday so that
the youngsters could experience its delights. It was a holiday that the
authorities may have regretted. For there were so many complaints about
boys with dirty shirts and collars.
|As Ben Howden used to recall, the kids saw cowboys do wonderful
lassoing tricks and they wanted to develop their own skills. This was harmless
fun when the weather was dry, but when it rained the playground go muddy
as did lassoes, shirts and young boys.
| But school, for young Ben Howden must have been a frustrating
time. For he could hardly wait to begin his apprenticeship on the fair.
His first tasks were rather mundane, feeding the cardboard into the mechanical
organ, when he was barely tall enough to reach the key frame box. And all
the time he had to keep running to the rear of the organ to check that the
'music book' was coming out and folding properly. He believed his father
was one of the first showmen to use a cardboard music book organ to replace
the previous barrel organ and he remembered that its music was very expensive.
"It used to run to three shillings and sixpence in old money per yard" he
told a local reporter, and while it may seem strange to buy music by measurement,
this is how it was sold to the showmen when they used folded cardboard books,
with the notes represented by holes varying in size, punched into the cardboard.
||As he also said, all youngsters of the age looked on with
envy at the agile men who leaped on and off the plunging cars on a roundabout.
So it was with Ben Howden.And as a lad of not quite fifteen years of age,
he could be seen jumping from car to car and enjoying every minute of it.
| When he became proficient his father promoted him to a collector,
taking money from the people riding in the cars. Before a further twelve
months had passed, there was further promotion for Ben Howden. He became
the cashier, sitting in the cash box, snatching money and passing change
to the collectors moving from car to car. There was not much time for play
for young Ben, old Ben saw to that but he enjoyed it all. Many friendships
were made on their tours, and they would meet up on the same fairs, year
after year after year. As the Aspland Howdens did with the Tuby family.
And as he used to tell people, despite the fact that the showman's life
appeared to be a summer vocation, it was and is, a year round toil. For
when they were not touring, they were in their workshops in Main Ridge,
Boston, where there was a staff of twelve all the year round, painting and
|.Benjamin Howden, a qualified engineer, and his men, like
most on the fairs, could tackle practically any repair job which may come
up. The decorators were a Mr Pearson and Mr Skinner, both of whom lived
in Main Ridge.
| In the workshop there was a portable engine for lighting
and Benjamin Howden and his brother were responsible for looking after it
on alternative nights and often there were long periods of overtime, as
the men worked hard to get their equipment ready for the road. But roads
played little part in their journeys. For before the family had their own
steam traction engine, they relied on the railways who through a special
contract would convey the wagons and rides for 6d per mile and all the vans
had to be built to go under the tunnel gauges. The family used to ride in
the front of the train and the workmen at the rear. At this time the average
wage paid by Aspland-Howdens to their men was about twenty five old shillings
|| But when you consider that they could live for eleven old
shillings per week, they were quite well off. Ben Howden recalled that if
they paid any more than that for their lodgings, they would expect a mansion
to live in.
| When they arrived at the station of the town where the fair
was to be held, the railway company horses took them to the actual site.
The family travelled to the principle fairs in Norfolk, Lincolnshire and
Yorkshire. In his early days when local children saw the amusements arriving
they would shout, "A show, a show, Hurrah". But he was to see the end of
this particular piece of atmosphere. For as he told the press, "But now,
the rising generation just don't take that amount of interest, there are
so many other attractions all the year round. In fact showmanship, as I
know it, is already dead". There are now no rides at all for the middle
age folk, it's all for the youngsters, 'speed, thrills and more speed',
was how he saw the imported continental machines developing.
|As Ben Howden saw it the time came when a fair was no longer
a novelty. The public could go to any seaside and see the same things any
day of the week.And talking of the seaside brought him to Skegness and Sir
Billy Butlin. The first time Ben Howden met him, Billy Butlin was at York
Gala and he had a small hoopla and a F.W.D. lorry. "But the next time, what
| He had blossomed out at Skegness and his name is a household
word at every seaside resort". In his fairground days, however, Ben Howden
found that while there was plenty of hard work, it a jollity and jokes.
For as 'Tom' Tuby's son-in-law said, "The fun we used to have". "there can
be no place like a travelling fair for jollity. You are born in the atmosphere
and live among the flaring naphtha and gas flames, with all sorts of organs
blaring tunes and the hoarse cries of showmen. It was fun". He could remember
taking a farm labourer into his employ at Long Sutton.
||They were passing through Doncaster and there he saw his first
electric tram. He was in the front and called out to the man driving the
engine behind, "Look Fred, going without horses".What a different world
the fair brought into the life of this particular countryman, who would
not have left his own immediate area before joining the travelling fraternity.
| As Ben himself said, !Any new hand taken on used to lead
a queer life for a bit. The workmen would send him to look for a 'tilt hammer'
and other imaginary tools. Fair people are usually fine to get on with,
though, and are very good humoured. However, this humour could not be taken
too far when Ben Snr. Was about for he was very strict. When he looked annoyed,
one of the men used to give the tip to the organ man who used to put on,
'The Village Blacksmith', one of his favourite tunes. When he paused for
some moments listening to the organ everyone knew that he had recovered
his good spirits and life returned to normal.
|Ben Howden could recall the old Boston Fairs and
as he said "I should think a number of older Bostonians will remember Mander's
Moving Waxworks opposite the National Provincial Bank.They were in dens
like a menagerie and while a man was explaining the wax works, an assistant
was outside the van making them move".
| Another 'winner' wherever the fair appeared was Radford and
Chappell's Ghost Show, because there were never more than two theatres in
even the largest town. And as he explained, a man could have an evening
of free entertainment by just walking round and watching the performers
on the shows, trying to draw the crowds inside. And these included Professor
Burnett's Lancers on horseback. And there used to be long stalls with fancy
goods to buy and eat. However, he lived to see all these disappear as rides
took over from the shows.
||There were many similarities between the Tuby
family and the Aspland-Howdens. For just as George Tuby Snr. Made his introduction
into the travelling life with a shooter, so it was the public's urge to
use firearms that brought George Valentine Aspland onto the fairs
|. He was born in the Lincolnshire town of Holbeach in 1836,
beginning his working life as an errand boy for \Mr Snare, the ironmonger.
He then turned to the bakery business before working in agriculture, driving
a threshing machine for a Mr John Luke of Holbeach. But from an early age,
however, he became interested in entertaining his neighbours.
|He realised that an Englishman was never happier
than when 'he could pelt at something or shoot at nothing'. He rigged up
his first shooting range which consisted of nothing more than a whitewashed
iron target in a roped off arena.
| There was an attendant with a whitewash brush and it was
his job to re-brush the target after every shooting session. This was said
to have made its public debut in the cricket field at Holbeach, before George
Aspland took it for a season at the then undeveloped coastal resort of Skegness.
Encouraged by this venture, he invested in a shooting gallery, a tube shooter.
But this was one of the first of the type and was described as 'primitive'
when compared with the later 'tube shooters' where the public fired down
the tube which ran through the living wagon at a target on the end
||Not for George Aspland, the luxury of telescopic
tubes. The tubes were made in sections and their transit from place to place
was something of an undertaking.
| These tubes, described in a local newspaper as, resembling
huge and 'Brobdingagian' Stove pipes were piled high on a wagon and dragged,
a mountain of chimney, from fair to fair. Later, George Aspland, like 'Tom'
Tuby, obtained a photographic booth, travelling both from place to place
taking portraits with a form of instant photography, and he was known as
a 'mug chopper'. He did all his own work. He attended to the rifle range,
took photographs and developed them. It was a case of hard work paying off
for this particular showman. Proceeding upwards, always with success, as
a newspaper reported, in 1872 he entered upon the enterprise - the whirligig,
the roundabout, or whatever be its name - in connection with which he is
best known and will be remembered for.
|At Boston May Fair in 1872 he had a set of bicycles
which were driven round a track erected in the Pen-yard. The motive power
was supplied by the patrons who were described as numerous, but whose enthusiasm
and zeal were sometimes embarrassing.
| Their 'pedal pushing' propensities had to be constantly 'chocked'
before the machine could be stopped to clear the cycles for the next riders.
Later, he acquired a steam driven system whereby stopping enthusiastic riders
was no longer a problem. Then came the Sea on Land. At Boston May Fair in
1880 Sanger's Circus was there with a Sea on Land. The power was supplied
by horses driven in the inner circle after the manner of the old horse mills.
Frederick Savage improved on this by developing a steam Sea on Land and
George Aspland was one his early customers, opening with the ride at Halifax
on June 24th 1880.
||The following year the ride was in Norfolk, making
a debut performance at Norwich Easter Sombland Fair and from there it went
to the Yarmouth Easter fair for the Friday and Saturday of Easter Week
|. At Norwich it was concerned with a small section
of history. The first ever Fisheries Exhibition to be held in the country
was opened at the Drill Hall in Norwich by the Prince of Wales, (afterwards
King Edward V11). The route of the official procession led past Castle Hill
where the fair was being held and Ben Howden Snr. Brought the empty lorries
that had transported the machine and placed them in position to provide
a free grandstand from which to view the procession. And it is worthy of
note that this was the first time electric light had been seen in Norwich.
For a huge carbon lamp was outside the main entrance to the exhibition and
the light was said to have been unsteady and of a decided blue tint.