Our History

George Manning and Family

Riding on one of the Carnival Funfair rides in a modern festival, the ecstatic visitor would be forgiven for not pondering over long on the proud tradition of the Manning Family in fairs as they hold on to their hats! However you have more time so whilst you admire the photos of modern rides and entertainment on this site, take your imagination back to the early 19th Century when, in 1821, the first Manning to work at the Fairgrounds, Samuel, was born.

It was after his marriage in 1850 that Samuel first began to dabble part time in the Showman’s profession, when he and his wife Eliza ran a “Peep Show”. Eliza was actually mentioned in the press at the time as being a large lady with a large personality who could terrify local children into parting with their coppers to view what she described as unimaginable horrors, and with her lurid explanations of these paper pictures as they span around, there are no reports of any dissatisfied customers. Mind you, if the descriptions of her are to be believed, the prospect of asking for a refund would have been more terrifying than any peep show display!

Hoddesdon Fair, town streets, 1850s

Hoddesdon Fair, shown leaving the town streets in the 1850s, was one of the places the Mannings opened each year and Carnival Funfairs are still based in the borough of Broxbourne nearby.

Samuel and Eliza had a number of children who went into the Fairground business, but the first to own a large ride was George Manning who was born in 1851 and who in 1892 purchased the first large ride owned by a Manning, a giant roundabout powered by a horse.

Diamont "T", 1957

Now a little about the origins of the travelling funfair. It would not be an exaggeration to say that almost every fair operating today can be traced back over many centuries, with some annual events still running originating in the middle ages as trading fairs where goods of all descriptions were bought, sold and bartered.

Another type of fair was the hiring fair where people seeking employment would attend to negotiate terms with those who had jobs to offer. We still have similar fairs today, in the form of recruitment fairs. There were also fairs which were linked with regional traditions, religious festivals and holidays.

Bionic Leap at Barking Park, 1978

Over the centuries, fairs gradually changed, becoming more specifically associated with entertainment and amusement.

In the days before the mass rise of cinema and television, there was very little in the way of large scale entertainment and amusement. So fairs were eagerly awaited from one year to the next, in every village and town up and down the country.

The funfair shows would be varied as much as they were numerous. Many of these shows would feature highly unusual animals or humans, some genuine, others not so genuine. These shows were commonly known as "freak" shows. One showman was known to have exhibited a mermaid which in fact was a shaven monkey with the tail of a fish.

Puppet or Marionette shows were very popular, as were Peep or Raree shows.

Some of the funfair's mechanical attractions included basic roundabouts and swing-boats. Some of these swing-boats were quite large, holding more than a dozen people on board. A big wheel was also known to have existed.

The Midnight Express at Finsbury Park, 1993

As with many industries in the 19th Century, the arrival of the steam engine revolutionised how fairgrounds would operate, giving the traders more options and opportunities.

Not only were the steam engines adapted to drive the roundabouts and carousels but also used as haulage and transportation.

The Showman's Road Locomotive was a steam engine developed to haul machines, carts, attractions and living wagons from one town to the next. The Road Locomotive could be fitted with a dynamo and crane jib. These would be used to generate electricity which would help illuminate the fair at night and help erect the attractions respectively.

Millennium Celebrations, The Mall, London 2000

Some of the locomotives incorporated a musical organ which normally stood in the centre of the machine and provided music to accompany the rides. Today, the fair organ has given way to self contained sound systems with digital media, where the volume level is readily adjustable.

Steam powered machines gradually gave way to the more reliable and convenient electrically powered machines, although there are still veteran roundabouts in use today that are steam-driven. Some enthusiasts continue to help preserve the memory of steam, its uses and its culture through meetings, rallies and events.

With the high quantity manufacture of materials such as aluminium, plywood and plastics, the funfair industry would be in a prime location to capitalise. These materials allowed for the attractions to be easily fabricated and assembled. The materials also weighed a lot less than if they were built with iron or predominately ferrite materials. It was easier to set up and dismantle the attractions, and this could be done within a few hours.

A newspaper cutting on Millennium Celebrations

With the use of compressed air and hydraulic technology, it became possible to create new, faster and more diverse rides with more unusual and thrilling gyrations. Coupling this with large and varied illuminations and visual stimulations, the sensations became greater and the experience enhanced.

Now Carnival Funfairs have introduced energy efficient technology as part of our Green Policy shown on our website.

This long and proud history is the reason that Joseph Manning and Carnival Funfairs have a unique ability to offer quality services as they add 150 years of experience to their innovative and forward looking approach.

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