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Blackburn’s Easter fair remains as popular as ever
Richard Cubbins and his cousin Ronald in front of the funhouse at the Blackburn Easter Fair on Witton Park
EASTER is traditionally the time for all the fun of the fair.
Its arrival in town is set by the calendar and steeped in history.
And despite massive rises in fuel costs and the lure of computer games and the internet it’s no different this year — Blackburn fair opens at Witton Park this afternoon, so hundreds can enjoy 11 days of carousel rides and candy floss, hot dogs and helter skelter.
It has been organised by the Showmen’s Guild and 24 members have brought a variety of stalls, stands and sideshows to this year’s spectacular, which will be manned by around 100 people.
It’s run on similar lines to a market, with showmen setting up their individual attractions, then employing extra hands for busy nights — not forgetting the chap responsible for putting up the posters which can now be seen on virtually every lamp post in town.
For the showmen, Blackburn is a regular stop on their annual circuit even though they may arrive in East Lancashire from different parts of the country and leave a week on Sunday for destinations, across the country.
They all have the fairground in the blood, however; born into families steeped in tradition and going back several generations.
For Nick Hill, a guild committee member and one of the five men responsible for running Blackburn fair, it’s his 62nd visit to the town.
He’s never known any other way of life, while his older brother John, 72, and now retired, was actually born in a caravan in Blackburn during the Easter fair of 1940, when it was staged on the cobbled site of the old market place.
To mark his arrival he was named John Blackburn Hill.
The brothers’ parents, their grandparents and great grandparents were all show people before them, as are their own children and grandchildren today.
“I’ve attended fairs all my life and for me there’s no other kind of life, although we have all had to adapt, as life and the times change around us,” he said.
“Some members do go off to live away from the fair, but we have found that the numbers of show people are actually growing today, as families expand.
“There’s no doubt either that the fair is still popular, though there are many other interests that people can pursue today.
“In the old days, we used to talk about having to walk on people’s heads to get around the show field, there were that many there; today it is what it is, but a fair always offers a feeling of excitement, particularly at night.”
Nick operates an inflatable slide, amusement arcade and a food wagon selling toffee apples and candy floss, which he has pitched among traditional fairground attractions such as the helter skelter and fun house and modern day rides, like the disco waltzer, which can cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Over the decades there has been a strong shift in popular rides, in the 1900s visitors would queue up for swing boats, operated by pulling on a rope; today, portable generators provide the electricity for the thrills and spills, with laser lights, neons and brightly lit bulbs to pull in the crowds.
The fair appeals to all ages, and to cater for demand, it offers smaller kiddies’ rides which can be can be pulled behind nothing larger than a 4x4 to the showfield, while others are transported in huge 35-ton trucks.
These are rides such as the Superbob, which is run by third generation showman Tony Litliernhurnest, who is of Lithuanian descent, and his son Kent.
He said: “My grandfather used to come to the Market Square fair for many years, but this is my first time here.
“Blackburn is known as one of the bigger, traditional fairs, so I was glad to get a pitch when another guild member could not come.
“The life of a showman is a cracking life and I love every minute, but when the time comes to retire, then it will be up to my son to decide whether he carries on.”
His ride, which originates from Blackpool’s south pier, takes six hours to assemble and folds up into a 50-foot trailer when he’s ready to leave for the next showground on his itinerary.
“The most expensive commodity for us now has to be the rising cost of diesel, but I think most showmen can make a living today,” he said.
“We are at the mercy of the weather, but the park was full of families and youngsters when we first arrived to set up — I always have an eye for potential customers — and I know that people here do come and support us.”
Ron Cubbins, another of the organising five, first came to town when the fair was held at Ewood and has been a regular at Witton for 15 years.
And he is delighted with this year’s site, which has been moved into the actual park, from the car park, which is unavailable because of work on the river.
“The fair looks really well, better than it’s ever done and has a good backdrop, so we are hoping it will draw the crowds.
“Fairs do have a lot of competition for people’s attention today, children have every kind of home entertainment there is in their bedrooms, but there is a certain magic about the fair for everyone.
“And that includes the showmen, too, for as far as we are concerned, there are no two days the same and there’s always something new to be experienced.”
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