In 1933 Robert Edwards & Sons, showmen of Swindon, acquired the latest thing in fairground roundabouts, an all electric Noah’s Ark ride, to travel with their Victorian steam powered galloping horse roundabout (Gallopers).
After Pewsey Carnival that year, their old set of gallopers was packed away in their yard where it remained for over half a century. In 1986 the newly formed Fairground Heritage Trust, a non-profit making registered charity, acquired it complete with its 89 key Verbeeck organ, Tidman centre engine and 1917 FWD lorry and packing truck, thanks to the generous help of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, the Science Museum, the Manifold Trust, the Material World Charitable Foundation, and a private benefactor.
This famous roundabout was first acquired by the well known Swindon showman, Robert Edwards, in 1916 from Halsteads, roundabout manufacturers and brokers of Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire for the sum of eighty sovereigns. The previous owner or owners are unknown but it is established that the ride was built by Savages of Kings Lynn, world famous for their Galloping horse roundabouts.
In all like likelihood the roundabout was built well before the turn of the century and may have originally been made as a 4-abreast machine with 48 mounts. Building together in 12 sections with a diameter of 42 ft it has 36 carved wooden mounts, fixed three-abreast and made up of 24 horses and 12 double-seater cockerels.
The steam centre engine, named “Little Beauty”, was built by Robert Tidman & Sons of Bishop Bridge Iron Works, Norwich, who towards the end of the last century rivaled Savages in the production of steam roundabouts. Unlike most other British gallopers it was never converted to electricity. Robert Edwards did however fit the ride with electric lighting during the twenties, which accounts for the original legend on the rounding boards: ‘R Edwards Electric Galloping Horses “. The iron wheels on the centre truck were later additions, fitted to the truck when one of the wooden wheels broke on the road between fairs.
On the road the carved wooden horses and cockerels were packed into the body of the FWD lorry and the twisted brass horse rods wore hung on the outside. The heavy wooden platforms, structural woodwork and carved wooden panels were all carried in the ‘Jumbo’ packing truck. Both vehicles were extensively rebuilt by Robert Edwards’ brother-in-law showman Bill Taylor, together with Robert Edwards’ eldest son, Robert.
The ‘Jumbo’ truck was built on what appears to be the substructure of old agricultural vehicles with the axles and wheels comprising a London General Omnibus Company Wolsey back axle of 1911 and a Durham Churchill front axle.
The FWD, which has an unusually long wheel base, was purchased from a timber haulage firm in Princes Risborough soon after the First World War and was ideally suited for conversion to showman’s use.
On the road the Edwards’ steam traction engine, ‘Kitchener’ pulled the ‘Jumbo’ truck and the roundabout centre truck, while the FWD lorry pulled the much lighter four wheeled organ truck. The original 89 key Marenghi organ was replaced in 1931 with an 89 key organ purchased from the London firm of J Verbeeck & Sons for the sum of £1,000. It was mounted on the same organ truck and stood in the centre of the roundabout when in use.
The importance of Edwards’ Gallopers
The importance of Edwards’ Gallopers lies in the original traveling condition in which it has been preserved. Unlike many other roundabouts whose carved horses have been replaced by crude fibreglass copies.
Edwards’ Gallopers still boasts a superb set of horses mostly carved by Britain’s greatest fairground carver, Arthur Anderson of Bristol. Twelve wooden cockerels from Lines Bros of London, one horse from Orton & Spooner of Burton-on-Trent and one from Savages of Kings Lynn complete the menagerie.
The proud animal portraits on the bottom shutters which conceal the Savage centre truck, and the decorative letter forms on the rounding boards, each one different, are the work of Swindon sign writer, Charlie Gaze. Otherwise, the decoration of the roundabout and horses is the work of the Edwards family themselves who also constructed the packing truck and wooden body of the lorry.
Altogether Edwards’ Gallopers, its engine, organ and transport tell a remarkable amount about the history of our great fairground manufacturers and the showmen who brought pleasure and excitement to a very different world in the early years of this century.
In 1987 Edwards Gallopers was unpacked and built up for the first time in 54 years at the Science Museum’s store at Wroughton Airfield. The work was carried out under the supervision of the original owner’s grandson, Frank Edwards Jnr.
It was clear that the roundabout had survived its years of storage well and although there was a considerable amount of work to be done, a combination of volunteer help and professional expertise could once more bring it back to the condition in which it last travelled.
Whilst at Wroughton work on the roundabout’s restoration began in earnest when the Trust was given permission to organise occassion working weekends inside the Science Museum’s store. Under the supervision of the then Project coordinator, Kevin O’Keefe, a team of volunteers began the work of cleaning and restoring the key structural parts.
Since leaving Wroughton in the ride was again stored for a lengthy period. Early in 2006 it was moved to the new Fairground Museum at Dingles Steam Village. As part of the FHT’s HLF Project Planning exercise, conservation expert George Monger will assess and formulate a conservation management plan for the ride.
At present the centre truck, organ truck, FWD lorry and jumbo packing truck are all on display, plus a selection of the carved horses. One of the horses is currently on loan to Torquay Museum as part of their Brunel 200 Exhibition.