Carousels to candyfloss – all the fun of Barton Fair over the centuries
Do you remember those blissful summer days wandering home with a goldfish in a plastic bag that you won at the fair, the scent of candyfloss and fried onions in the air? It sounds poetic, whimsical almost, when we explore the changing nature of Barton Fair, with tales of circus tricks, homemade toffee apples and steam-powered carousels aplenty.
Reading through Barton Parish Magazine archives, a semblance of the Barton Fair began in 1202 and was part of a celebratory religious feast. It was customary for a fair to be held on the first Sunday after the great feast of Whitsun, Trinity Sunday, and was naturally transferred to the following day when the Market in Barton was moved from a Sunday to a Monday in 1202. The fair became chartered in 1248, and apart from its subsequent change to a Thursday (to coincide with the new Corpus Christi Day in about 1312), the Barton Fair continued for many years as a “pleasure fair”.
The fair, being of religious origins, was often held in the church grounds and in 1312, St. Peter’s Church hosted the
festivities as a celebration of its opening. Since then, different fairs are recalled over the years, from a horse fair off Barrow Road to a large fair on Top Field, and the more recent celebrations in Baysgarth Park. The traditional Barton Fair most remembered started in the George Hotel paddock (now Beretun Green bungalows) with offshoots onto the Market Place, Whitecross Street and Brigg Road, before moving to Tofts Road Park for several years. When the fair became known as Barton Carnival, the festivities moved to Baysgarth Park, which is now the hub for many of the town’s community events and celebrations.
The arrival of the Barton Fair generated great excitement amongst the children of the town, who would eagerly watch preparations days in advance with their shillings clamouring to be spent. Just inside the George Hotel paddock entrance would be stalls selling toy windmills, dolls and balls on elastic strings, and Castledyke South became known as “Donkey Lane” when the donkeys’ owner “Donkey Brown” conducted rides up the lane and back.
The fair was a place of wonder and traditional fun – you could try your luck on the coconut shy or hoopla, stock up on boiled sweets, ride on the roundabout or simply listen to the organ playing music on a Sunday afternoon. Occasionally, the circus would join the fair with their exotic animals in tow. In the 1960s, the circus came by train into Barton Railway Station and when it was time to leave, an elephant objected so strongly to being loaded into a carriage that it wrapped its trunk around a railing, leaving a large dent!
It is unclear when the fair became rebranded as the Barton Carnival, with floats being decorated by local groups and
businesses and paraded through the streets. Preparations originally began at Junction Square, where Barton Town Band would be warming up and the floats were dressed. People would don fancy dress, or costumes in a particular theme dictated by the organisers. A traditional parade through the streets of the town would ensue, with the floats arriving at Baysgarth Park to the band playing on the original bandstand. The Carnival itself evolved from an agricultural show with horse jumping, cattle and sheep competitions, to a family run day with children’s races, obstacle courses and games on offer. Whereas the Carnival today boasts live music, dance and acrobatic shows, traditionally music played at Barton Fair was an opportunity to fundraise. In July 1914, the Vicar took charge of an outdoor organ recital and preached to parishioners to fundraise for Hull Infirmary.
Photographs taken at different fairs in Barton over the centuries show the sheer popularity of these events. Crowds
of all ages are gathered around the fairground rides and perusing the stalls. Men are in suits, women in dresses and hats, children wear their smartest attire – these annual gatherings were a celebrated tradition and community occasion. What links the Barton Carnival we enjoy today with the early fairs of the 13th century is that same feeling of giddy excitement, that rush of nostalgia, when the lights and sounds and smells of the fair remind us that we were all once a child on their first carousel ride.