It is billed by this week’s Bridgwater Mercury as the biggest travelling funfair in the south-west. In a town known for its spectacular Guy Fawkes’ Carnival, it is not hard to imagine that the annual fair at Saint Matthew’s Field is also a large scale operation.
The Showman’s Guild who run the fair have said it will be “Covid safe.” When shops are filled with customers, people are gathered in pubs, and sports stadiums are filled to capacity, an open air funfair would seem one of the safer places to be.
It is more than fifty years since I first attended Bridgwater Fair, at least forty since I last attended. Perhaps memories have been tinged by nostalgia in the ensuing decades.
Bridgwater Fair was a big night out. The name of its location, Saint Matthew’s Field, seemed apt. Whether there was always mud, I don’t recall but I certainly remember going in Wellington boots on at least one occasion.
The street approaching the field was lined with “cheapjacks,” “hucksters,” salesmen intent on parting people from their money without giving them much back. The offers were too good to be true, but everyone knew they were. Well, almost everyone knew they were, that was part of the entertainment, watching to see who might be taken in by the sales pitches.
As the field was approached there was a gateway through which the countless thousands of feet passed. The ground would have been well churned up by the Saturday evening, the closing night of the fair, when we would have attended.
Stalls and other stuff were OK for grown ups, it was the funfair that was the magnet for a small boy clutching a half-crown.
Looking back now I’m sure it was gaudy and garish and completely unsophisticated, but to a child who lived in village of three hundred people and who went to a two classroom school that had just forty pupils, it was the most amazing place.
The rides were often frightening, they seemed more for watching than trying.
There were constant wonders to discover as we pushed through the throngs. I remember tents that were forbidden to small boys, but perhaps my imagination invented them.
In my memory, there were at least a boxing ring and another involving the charms of some lady. Did they exist or are they the later interpolations of a mind fed on stories of travelling shows and circuses?
Would there be the same the same magic at Bridgwater Fair now? Where do half-crown clutching children find a world of excitement and delight?