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Barking Park Annual Fair

Articles > Vic's Memories of Barking

The Barking Park Annual Fair

Vic Howard

There has been a carnival held in Barking since at least the 1930s. After WWII the practice was resumed and every year Barking Park became host to an enormous fairground. I can’t remember the name of the owner and organiser, but he/she always parked  their caravan just inside the main gates for everyone to admire, and it was worth the admiration. It was obviously custom built and was lavishly decorated with mirrors, bevelled glass windows and lots of shining metalwork. Further in and covering several  acres of grass was the fairground itself with all the usual booths, stands, dodgem cars, big wheel and roundabouts. Behind these were the fairground workers’ caravans and the generators. These were almost all American ex-army vehicles of enormous  size that produced a lot of noise, clouds of exhaust and the electricity required to illuminate the fairground. It was, in every way, a traditional fairground.

The side booths, which were large tents with a small stage at the front on which the barker stood drumming up customers, held every kind of curiosity. Usually these were a disappointment once you got inside, but I can still remember not being able to  resist paying to see "The World’s Smallest Woman". She turned out to be a perfectly formed lady of middle age who lived in a sort of large dolls house interior inside the tent. Her height was no more than 18". She was not a dwarf  or deformed in any way; just a perfect miniature with a very high-pitched voice. I could hardly believe my eyes and thought it was a shilling well spent. Of course it would not be allowed today and, on reflection, one ought to be ashamed of witnessing  it, but they were other times.

The stands occupying the centre of the fairground were the Roll-a-Penny kind or Lucky Dip. There were few eating-places apart from a candyfloss stall and hot-dog stand. Eating was not the never-ending pastime it is today and the now ubiquitous Coca-Cola was still a foreign luxury rarely seen in Britain. Blue jeans also had yet to arrive on the scene as a fashion item, so all the girls still wore skirts or dresses while the boys looked as tough as they could in long jacketed Teddy-Boy  suits and slick haircuts. The older generation still wore suits and ties.

Dodgem cars were very popular as were the large roundabouts, especially the one that had a cover that swung over the occupants as it swirled around. They called that one the caterpillar. I hate heights so avoided the big wheel, but I did venture on the  giant swings once and regretted it very quickly.

One evening in the early fifties I took my camera to the fair and took these photos, which may, perhaps, jog a few memories.

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