Fairs have been visiting Bideford for one hundred and fifty years at least and even though today they face huge competition from computer games and local attractions the travelling show people still come. The history of the fair in Bideford has rarely been recorded but we know that for much of the nineteenth century the stalls and sideshows were erected on the Strand. Shown in photograph 1 is one of the boxing booths on the Strand where aspiring local boxers could take on professionals – and, more often than not, realise they weren’t quite as good as they thought.
When the gulley and stream flowing down the Pill was finally filled in around 1900 to accommodate the Bideford and Westward Ho! railway (the Appledore section came later) the showmen soon realised this large area of flat land would be ideal for their stalls and rides and they moved here – as shown in photograph 2. Notice the amount of litter scattered around – clearly this isn’t just a modern problem. The presence of the Kingsley statue (erected 1906) and the fashions indicate this picture dates from around 1910.
The third photograph shows the 1968 fair, with some very traditional-looking sideshows.
For many decades visiting fairs set up on the Pill and even spilled on to the Quay and along Bridgeland Street.
Over time, however, demands for car parking and complaints over road blockages saw the council move the fair site to the river bank in 1970 as shown in the unusual fourth photograph below taken from the top of the Post Office sometime around 1975.
This site was rather small and when the new Riverbank car park was opened in 1991 it allowed the larger rides and stalls we see today to spread out. Whatever their age many Bidefordians will have happy memories of when ‘the fair’ came to town, so let us hope the show people continue to visit bringing a touch of the exotic to Bideford during the few days they are here.