Newcastle Hoppings Shows
Like its famous Yorkshire rival, Hull, Newcastle Town
Moor has always been famous for its row of shows which still dominate
the skyline of the Hoppings. Even before the founding of the Temperance
Festival in 1882, famous showmen such as Randall Williams, Bostock and
Wombwell and the Biddall family with their Ghost show were frequent visitors
to the fair held on the Haymarket. One of the most famous shows of the
nineteenth century was Bostock and Wombwell's menagerie. Although they
only exhibited at the Town Moor once, they were regular visitors to the
variety of fairs held in Newcastle throughout the nineteenth and twentieth
century, appearing at the Haymarket, Jesmond Park. In 1931, this famous
menagerie opened for the last time at the Old Sheep Market in Newcastle
on November 24th. After its final performance the show was disbanded and
sold and the two elephants Rosie and Dixie set off down Northumberland
Street to the store of Arthur J Fenwick to perform their last farewells.
The first shows to appear on the Town Moor would have been the ghost illusion
booths and the marionettes shows. From 1898 onwards, cinematograph booths
made their appearance at the fair and local people would perhaps have
seen their first glimpse of moving pictures at the Hoppings. From 1897
to 1914, a large percentage of the population would have seen moving pictures
for the first time in a fairground bioscopes show. One of the most famous
of these bioscope proprietors who opened at the Hoppings was Mamie Paine,
where her show was a regular attendant at the annual fair. Roundabout
proprietors also invested in these shows and in 1907 William Murphy of
Sunderland presented the largest bioscope show ever seen in Newcastle
when he exhibited his large organ fronted exhibition new from the manufacturers.
The outbreak of the First World War prevented many fairs from opening
throughout the United Kingdom and unfortunately for the showmen and the
local people the dispute between the Freeman, the showmen and the Council
which had started in 1913 was still unresolved and no fair opened on the
Moor for ten years. However a "Hoppings" fair was presented
in Jesmond Vale for the Race Week during this time.
Tom Norman's Show, 1950.
Maudie Manders, Phoebe Johnson, Laura Shufflebottom,
Charlotte Gregory, Arthur Fenwick, Stanley Crow.
With the move back in 1924 to the original festival
site the fair once again expanded and the show row was one area which
greatly improved. However, fashions had changed and no longer did the
cinematographs, ghost shows and marionettes booths dominate the Newcastle
skyline. They were replaced by a novelty booths, ghost trains, dancing
girls and boxing academies. By 1929, three boxing booths were in attendance
including Len Johnson, and J. Stewart, Tippler White presented his miniature
menagerie, Tom Wortley exhibited his two-headed giant and Pindar's circus
was one of the many entertainments on offer. By the time of the 1937 fair,
the World's Fair were pronouncing that the "Shows an outstanding feature
of the Newcastle Town Moor Festival" and the reporter states:
"This section of the Festival this year is a most
outstanding feature. Never previously have I seen such a collection of
high class shows. They total 36 and all of them are in good taste. I personally
checked this long line on Monday evening and feel nothing but praise can
be paid to the showmen responsible."
General view, 1955.
The shows included W. H. Stewart's National Sporting
Club featuring boxers from England and America, the Pindar's family with
a circus and a menagerie, John Collin's new Show Boat Theatre, Jack Parry's
wonder show featuring Big Chief Red Snake, Richard Shufflebottom's Texan
sports, Charlie Birch's Water Circus and many other famous names such
as the Chadwick's, Patterson's, the Wheatley's and Professor Testo with
his flea circus, all who would be associated with the Town Moor for many
years to come. By the 1950s the shows had changed yet again and despite
the nostalgia displayed by the World's Fair reporter in 1955 for a bygone
age which had disappeared over forty years ago, the show row was still
"The shows in the seemingly endless line in the
West section of the Festival again offer a huge variety of unusual attractions,
but many of the older generation look on with a sense of regret. They
will probably reflect that shows lost much of their fascination with the
disappearance of ghost shows, living pictures, waxworks, and menageries
whose entrances were resplendent with gilt, mirror and brasswork ... Times
may have changed but the "oddities section still remains good fun
and the barkers still remind the milling crowds "you'll remember
it all your life."
Of the many shows in attendance in 1955, it was the
attractions of the Colorado's "established favourites on the Town Moor",
Tom Norman's Travelling London Palladium Show with "its entertainment
of a high standard" Gilbert Chadwick's freak animal show and Professor
Alf Testo's flea circus which were singled out in the report. However,
one important aspect of the shows and no matter how elaborate the showfront,
was the always the ability of the showman to tell the tale and bring the
people in that was the most important aspect of it's success.
Florence Shufflebottom appears in the Newcastle
William Stewart's Boxing Booth, 1933.
A twentieth century example of the type of showmanship
which was frequent at the Hoppings is a story concerning Tippler White,
a famous Yorkshire showmen who regularly presented novelty shows at Newcastle.
One year however, he found to his dismay that although he had the showbooth,
the amusements he had planned to exhibit were not available and he was
left with an empty booth and no novelty. A solution was quickly found
and on the opening night, Tippler White was advertising to the fairgoers
an unusual and rare sight only seen once a year in Newcastle. As the customers
quickly queued down the side of the show, laughter could be heard from
the exhibition tent as people departed from the booth. Business was very
successful and the fellow showmen were intrigued as to what Tipple White
was exhibiting in his tent. Finally on the last night of the festivities
the secret was revealed. As the eager customers entered the show in order
to be amazed at this local phenomenon, Tippler Whi te lifted the back
flap of the booth and showed the people what they had paid to see; Newcastle
Town Moor Fair at night. In order to pacify any tempers that may have
been angered by this trick, Tippler White promised the audience half of
the entrance fee back in return for total secrecy as to what his novelty
Throughout the 1960s, the names of Chadwick, Shufflebottom,
Patterson and Taylor continued to be associated with the show row with
the only difference being the type of exhibition now on offer. By the
1970s ghost trains, fun houses and haunted houses had replaced the fat
boy, the lion faced lady and the freak animals. However the continuity
was retained by the showfamilies who returned annually to the Moor and
opened their shows on the spot once occupied by the fathers generation.
The famous show row at Newcastle is now dominated by
trailer mounted triple decker ghost trains, fun houses and crazy mirror
shows. Ron Taylor's Boxing Academy last appeared on the Hoppings in 1995
bringing to an end a long tradition of boxing proprietors such as Len
Johnson, Jack Gage and the Stewart family who had been associated with
the fair over the century. Over the past hundred years many famous showmen
have attended the Town Moor festivities, bringing entertainment and trickery
to many generations of fairgoers. In recognition of the skill, imagination
and showmanship, I will end this overview of the Town Moor show row with
W. K. Burford's tribute to the shows:
So there are tricks in all trades
Except in yours and mine
And even showmen, sometimes
Come rather near the line
We paid to see a marvel-
A cherry-coloured cat;
Whatever else we passed by
We thought we must see that.
The thing was quite a "take-in,"
We claimed our money back;
But we were then reminded
Cherries are sometimes "black."
For more images of Newcastle Hoppings Fair click here.