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The history of the Fair dates back well over a hundred years and is steeped in traditions that remain part of the British pysche and culture today.
In 1865, the best known of all fairground engineers, Frederick Savage of King’s Lynn, constructed his first steam-driven ride. During the 1880s several manufacturers competed to try to make the ‘still’ Dobby Horses gallop. In 1885 the Savages built their first Platform Gallopers for John Murphy from Tyneside. The same year Messrs Reynolds and King designed the overhead crank system which was improved upon the following year by Tidmans of Norwich. By the end of the century crank-action Gallopers were being supplied by several British engineers and, as a ride, were to prove popular for decades to come.
The original Dobbies horses were enlarged examples of the rough penny toys, their legs were rough cut round sticks. Their bodies were lumps of deal rounded on one side and their heads were roughly cut from half-inch deal boards inserted in a groove in their bodies, while the tails and manes were made of strips of rabbit-skin.
Uriah Cheeseman took delivery of a set of steam Velocipedes or Bicycles in 1865. A Report in the Lynn News suggests that this ride was present at King’s Lynn Mart in 1866 and at Oxford St Giles later that year. It was not until 1868 that another steam roundabout was built at King’s Lynn, a set of steam Dobby horses built for George Twigdon, an East Midland traveller who operated a Dobby set. A decade later Savages were regularly producing Velocipedes and Dobbies. The involvement of William Sanger led to the title of “Steam Circus” being adopted, made possible by the invention of the steam machine.
The industrial revolution drove fundamental changes in the way people organised their daily lives. A desire for entertainment during free time saw the merging of the two ideas as the concept of the fairground ride became established from the original build of the revolving carousel to the advanced technological developments of today such as the white-knuckle rides.
Sometimes the roundabouts were pulled by ponies, employed in much the same way as a horse would work at a mine or a mill. Soon steam replaced horse power and the creation of the Velocipede, a steam-driven merry-go-round first recorded in 1861.
The bicycle-powered roundabout, commonly known as Velocipede, was an interesting development. Not until 1861 is there documentary evidence of a steam-driven merry-go-round. Thomas Bradshaw opened such a device in 1861 and patented his idea in 1863.
The amazement of all riders is captured in a review of the time: “…a roundabout of huge proportions, driven by a steam engine which whirled around with such impetuosity, that the wonder is the daring riders are not shot off like cannon- ball, and driven half into the middle of next month…”