Enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of Stevenage’s charter fair in town museum exhibition

Darcy Stockley, 8 in Stevenage museum's new interactive fairground exhibition. Picture: Danny Loo

Darcy Stockley, 8 in Stevenage museum's new interactive fairground exhibition. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

If you’d walked through Stevenage Old Town on a late September day in Victorian times, you might have been overwhelmed by the noise, hubbub and smells and scents of the town’s charter fair in full swing.

Cai Nelson, 8 plays with Stevenage museum's new interactive fairground exhibition. Picture: Danny Lo

Cai Nelson, 8 plays with Stevenage museum's new interactive fairground exhibition. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant

You would have seen tightrope walkers balancing on wires, acrobats doing somersaults, strong men lifting wights and animals doing tricks.

There would have been swing boats and seesaws, whirling steam-driven roundabouts, ghost illusions and candy floss stalls.

This was the world of the annual Stevenage charter fair which occupied the High Street area of the town for two days each year.

It is this colourful, fun-filled atmosphere that is the subject of a fantastic new child-friendly exhibition at Stevenage Museum which is on show until October 31.

Stevenage museum curator Jo Ward in the new fairground exhibition. Picture: Danny Loo

Stevenage museum curator Jo Ward in the new fairground exhibition. Picture: Danny Loo - Credit: Archant


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Families can experience all the fun of the fair with a chance to have a go on a coconut shy, try hooking a duck and colouring in pictures of fairground rides.

Older visitors can watch interviews taped with people who have been involved in the fair in more recent years, and read fascinating stories and anecdotes about the fair’s history.

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Did you know for example that menageries and circuses were once a major feature of the fair, as were curiosities such as the 31-inch woman, Little Lena, who was at the fair in 1882.

In a particularly thriving year in 1907, the local newspaper recorded that: “The old shows of the fat women, wild man of the woods etc seemed much out of date, and were not nearly so well patronised as were the more modern cinematograph shows, of which there were three, with their newest attraction of singing living pictures.”

The Helter Skelter at the fair in 1907.

The Helter Skelter at the fair in 1907. - Credit: Archant

Families are invited to a series of events and activities to promote the fascinating new exhibition.

On ‘Super Saturday’, August 19, there will be a rare chance to see fantastic models of fairground rides up close. These superb models are an intricate and nostalgic look at the fairground.

From Wednesday, August 23, you can finish of the school holidays with three days of children’s events including hook a duck, ball toss and splat a rat.

And on Friday, September 8, you can listen to a lecture on the history of the charter fair from 1pm to 2pm.

One of the steam powered merry-go-rounds pictured in 1907

One of the steam powered merry-go-rounds pictured in 1907 - Credit: Archant

For more details, visit www.stevenage.gov.uk/musuem.

The Stevenage charter fair in 1907

The Stevenage charter fair in 1907 - Credit: Archant

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