Here at Launceston Life we absolutely love exploring local heritage and history, and we were able to do just that at Dingles Fairground Museum recently.
Owned by the Fairground Heritage Trust and based just outside of Lifton, Dingles offers visitors the chance to take a step back in time to experience the enjoyment of a traditional pleasure fair with its range of working exhibits dating as far back as the Victorian times. Travelling entertainment goes as far back as the middle ages. Modern funfairs were born out of the Industrial Revolution and continue to wow communities across the world to this day.
Stepping into the large museum, a gift shop awaits where visitors can buy their tickets and get cups of tokens to use on the rides. There are also lots of informative guidebooks, fun sweets and gifts to take home with you after your day out.
One side of the museum is home to lots of working rides that you can use to your heart’s content. Amongst the exhibits here are The Gallopers, a ride hugely popular at the turn of the twentieth century; the Moonrocket, a thriller ride made in the 1930s; a classic vintage Dodgems and Ghost Train, and the Super Chariot Racer, also from the 30’s.
The Gallopers became a hit among fair-goers between the early Edwardian period and into the 1920s. A simple spinning ride featuring hand-carved and painted horses - though different from a Carousel, which rotates anti-clockwise - The Gallopers had made their mark as the most popular ride on the fairground by the beginning of the First World War. However, after reaching its prime around this time, the ride was soon replaced by more modern and popular machines by the end of the 1920s, though in the 60’s they were introduced to vintage rallies to teach people about the history of the fairground. Stepping into Dingles today, you get a real sense of why these Gallopers were so popular, with their magnificent traditional fairground colours.
Walter Shaw’s Moonrocket
The fantastical Moonrocket, a circular ride created in 1939, was thought to replicate for the common fair-goer what it might have been like to travel into space, years before the Apollo II mission.
Stepping into the other side of the museum, visitors will find exhibits that cannot be used now, but still look just as brilliant as they did in their prime.
With these exhibits made available to film companies to hire - one notable previous client being Warner Bros - this section of the museum has a strong focus on the people and history of old fairgrounds, featuring old lorries and carts which workers would have lived in, the oldest dating back to 1910, plus the oldest exhibit at Dingles, Lawrence’s Bioscope Wagon, from the Victorian era.
R Edwards’ Supersonic Skid
The Supersonic Skid was a ride rolled out during the Second World War as part of the ‘Holiday at Home’ fairs, a government initiative to keep spirits high while war continued in Europe. The ride travelled with Edwards’ until the 1970s before it was acquired by the Fairground Heritage Trust in 1993 and refurbished to working order in 2011.
Lawrence’s Bioscope Wagon and the Travelling Bioscope Show
The oldest exhibit at Dingles is Dr Edwin Lawrence’s Bioscope Wagon, which is 120 years old! This particular exhibit is just one section of the original travelling moving picture show structure, which essentially was a travelling cinema for Victorian folk! The wagon has visible signs of wear and tear, after it was left for years in a farmer’s field, but it has recently had a small section painted in brilliant gold by university students to show just how vibrant and colourful the full wagon would have once looked.
The Bioscope was a moving picture show and was so successful that a new show was commissioned, with Dr Lawrence describing his new show as ‘the handsomest front travelling, massively carved and gilded and a most comfortable home on wheels’.
The shows were essentially very early cinema and films shown would have been silent, so were often accompanied by piano, hidden sound effects and sometimes running commentary.
By 1915, these shows sadly became ‘extinct’ due to the introduction of high street cinemas - but it is amazing to see the history of early cinema at Dingles!
Dingles is a charity run by a dedicated team of staff, who are passionate about the history of funfairs and fairgrounds. Visiting the museum helps fund the restoration of old exhibits that come into Dingles’ care, as well as making sure the education and day-to-day operation of the museum can continue.
You can book your tickets to visit Dingles by going to https://www.dinglesfhc.co.uk/Tickets/
If you would like to see our tour of Dingles Fairground Museum, make sure you like our Instagram page @launcestonlifemag and watch our Dingles story highlight on our page.