New Buckenham Archive
© The New Buckenham Society 2015  (rev 2023)
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The Fair at New Buckenham in 1951 or 1952
But beyond doubt the most exciting event was the arrival of The Fair each November. An ancient charter decreed the rights for this to be set up around the Market Place. What strikes me now, and it must have been evident then, was the sense of order which existed within the tight-knit community of the fairground people suddenly inserted into an equally tight-knitted village community. From a child's point of view this seemed quite natural and, of course, I would only have been allowed to roam and absorb the marvels with my friends for a short while, but this seemed like all night as an otherwise dark village was suddenly ablaze with lights. Also, of course, there would have been restricted pocket money. The more exciting happenings, any brawls, if they did occur, would be later after the pub had closed, but I was never aware of discord. Once the magical lights had been switched off and the generators quietened, a laziness settled over the encampment until the next evening. Every daytime movement seemed leisurely and secretive within the enclosed circle of the Fair. However, living as we did on the Green and facing the Market Place, it was easy to become fascinated by watching activities. First of all, on coming home from school on a dark evening, for the Fair arrived in late November, I was aware of huge, dark shapes. These were the generator lorries, the bulkier, squat shapes were the caravans and movement, clanking of chains, a shouted order and rumbles and bumps indicated that the stalls, ride and roundabouts were being manoeuvred into their traditional and ordered places. When the Fair opened each evening it did so gradually. First one family then another would emerge from their vans and stroll to their allotted stall or ride and make all ready for the evening. Strings of bright lights would flicker on till the whole area was well illuminated, though behind the encircling generators all was village dark. Sounds began to build up as activities began, the crack of rifles, the hollow clang of wooden balls hitting galvanized plating, the 'thwak' of balls against the canvas of the coconut shy. Then there were the higher sounds, the ringing of the fire engine bell on the gentle roundabout for little children, the plop of ping-pong balls bouncing off goldfish bowls, the chink of pennies bowled towards 'lucky' squares or the clatter of hoop-la rings. We all hoped for prizes. I once won a 'cut-glass' sugar bowl and cream jug for selecting a lucky straw with a scroll of paper pushed inside identifying Errol Flynn as one of the listed praiseworthy names. Not many loud cries of encouragement to spend our pennies were heard, rather the soft wheedling tones of persuasion as group by group we toured the wondrous stalls. Behind these sounds was the constant thrumming of the generators and the rumble of the big undulating ride supporting cockerels, dragons  and sea-monster drawn chariots and the zooming whir and biff of the dodgems showering their sparks from the overhead wire netting. Once, we were all very amused - but not so my father - as we all went for a ride one very wet night, having coerced visiting relations to join us too. Sadly the red plush chariot seat got rain soaked - and so too did my father's 'seat,' which was dyed red! "Good Night Irene," a current pop tune, seemed to be increasingly in competition with church bell ringers whose practice night coincided with the Thursday Fair night. Living in such close proximity all this was too exhilarating if not deafening to induce sleep for going to bed early until one or the other gave up. Stragglers drifted homeward and, having put their shutters up the fairground people returned to their caravan shells for the night. One year, at school, I was dazzled by a fairground child who attended our school and who was put to sit by me. Sometimes the Travellers' children attended and sometimes not, but this girl seemed most compliable. I  remember we companionably drew fairies, or perhaps angels as Christmas was fast approaching. But I was only allowed to draw mine once my sums and writing had been completed. She, however, drew on, and on, and on. Several years later, when I walked through the old Norwich Cattle Market where the Fair had its annual pitch (now the Castle Mall Gardens), I recognised her. She was running her own stall on her own. It didn't seem romantic then for it was a cold drab day and she looked old and bored. She had to stand guard in her money-bag apron. She had been taught by her grandmother, I presume it to have been she, who ran the rock and toffee apple stall of long ago. I was warned by friends of those days, never to buy sweets from the fairground tempting sweet stall. (Folklore had it that spit was used in making the coloured sweetmeats!) Then they were gone, moving on to be at their next location in Norwich for Christmas. All that remained were deep muddy ruts churned by the heavy machinery and puddled areas on the Market Place where rain had over-spilled from the stalls' canvas roof tops. No bright lights except for the dimly lit pub sign and, perhaps, the moon. All was quiet save for next Thursday night's clamor of bells being practiced yet again. But it was all wonderful.                                                Janice Hales       written ca 2021.
Janice Hales, née Lord, has childhood memories of the Fair on the Market Place opposite where she lived in ‘Wisteria’.