The story behind the Golden Gallopers carousel
PUBLISHED: 15:38 16 April 2018 | UPDATED: 15:38 16 April 2018
It's the highlight of a traditional fairground and after more than 130 years on the road, few carousels come close to giving Hampshire's famous Golden Gallopers a run for its money. Viv Micklefield meets the family holding the reins
In an age when many of us get our adrenalin fix from virtual simulations on a TV screen or smart phone, it’s reassuring that there still remains some less hi-tech entertainment guaranteed to get the pulse racing.
Walk on to a traditional fairground run by Farnborough family business James Noyce and Sons for instance, and soaring above the swing boats and coconut shy, is something rather special: a magnificent wooden carousel that’s reputedly the last of its kind in the country. With lights ablaze, it’s an epitome of Victorian fantasy and exuberance populated by a team of gilded horses that transport their riders in ever-increasing circles, to the musical accompaniment of an old style organ. And, for a few moments at least, this throwback to a bygone era offers a chance to escape the everyday and rediscover life’s simple pleasures.
“My grandfather James Noyce grew up in Petersfield,” says Joseph ‘Joe’ Noyce, whose family of travelling showmen has been based in Hampshire for eight generations. “He served in the army aged 16 during the First World War, fighting in India and in France where he was involved in the battle at Paschendale. James married my gran Clara Brown whose family came from North Camp and they moved to Farnborough in the late 1920’s.”
Joe’s wife Narvenka, whose family tree is also rooted in vintage fairs, takes up the story of the carousel which was originally built in 1884 by leading fairground machine maker, Savages of King’s Lynn. With its suspended circular platform rotating around a central pole, the ride has rows of wooden animals mounted on posts which are moved up and down by gears to simulate galloping – thus the adopted American name ‘gallopers’, and was a show-stopper wherever it travelled. Yet these glory days were not to last. And had it not been for James Noyce, whose name is still honoured on this heritage carousel, it might have been lost forever.
“Having acquired the carousel in 1950 as a complete wreck, it took about six years to get it up to the standard it is now,” recalls Narvenka. “Joe’s grandad did all the gold leaf along with a cousin, the famous fairground painter Neddy Matthews.”
Whilst the 89 key Gavioli mechanical organ has stood the test of time, these days an electric generator has replaced steam to power this now famous old ride, which has become a stalwart of many of the country’s most popular attractions. Its regular appearances include the historic Nottingham Goose Fair, and the Stratford Mop. However, as she explains, there’s one event that holds a particularly strong attachment for the family: the annual Witney Feast held in September.
“The Witney Feast is where Joe’s grandfather passed away in 1974. His wife Clara, who was quite religious, arranged for a priest to come on to the gallopers ride during the Sunday evening. And even now, we still remove 12 horses (and cockerels) to make room for a priest and choir to stand, and there are seats arranged for the public to sit below the ride. So that’s been happening for over 50 years.”
And this is not the only tradition which, she says, has continued over the decades. “We take the carousel out over the Christmas period too and for 30 years it was in London’s Leicester Square. It’s also been to Manchester and this year it went to Birmingham.
“My father-in-law used to look after the carousel ride and his two sons would help him set it up, he’s now 75-years-old so it’s been handed down to myself and my husband, and it’s now our ride. The latest major improvement made was last year when we had new rounding boards fitted and painted-up. We do most of the maintenance work ourselves and bring in specialists as needed.”
She continues: “The carousel still has all the original 30 horses and six cockerels. Three were renamed recently because my children’s names weren’t on the horses and we try and keep those horses on the outside named after family members; it’s another tradition. I wasn’t keen to have my own name on a horse, but my husband surprised me and had one painted for me.
“Other carousels have horses made of fibreglass to make them easier to transport. Our ride needs at least five people to set it up and to take down because being wood, it is so heavy. It usually takes two men to carry each horse, and everything else comes in sections. With a good crew it takes around four to five hours to get the ride ready.”
The hope is that her young family will one day take over the reins and keep the carousel turning. Meanwhile, there’s no need to wait until the fair rolls into town to kick-back and enjoy the ride, as according to Narvenka, the family is happy to hire out their pride and joy for private wedding receptions, birthdays and other special occasions.
“We’re an old fashioned family and we like the traditions of family life. We get grandparents going on the ride who’ve known the carousel over the years and now enjoy taking their grandchildren on it. Of course we’ve got modern rides like the Sky Flyer, and there are children’s rides and thrill rides too, so it’s a contrast to all of these.
So with a life spent largely on the road, is home still where the heart is?
“We’ve always toured all over the country,” says Narvenka. “The travelling side of the business goes out in March and the rides, together with our mobile home, return in October. But,” she adds, “Our roots are in Farnborough and we’ll always come back to here.”
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