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Pictures of the funfair on Southampton Common through the years

And Southampton has had its share of thrill-seekers over the years with the Common regularly playing host to the fair.

Stalls line up alongside the path, attempting to entice with their promises of the opportunity to win large stuffed animals or tiny goldfish.

Arcades bleat out repetitive music loops and boast classic gaming cabinets from yesteryear alongside units with moving shelves crammed with coins.

The bumper cars are shared by two types of people – those who try to move around in loops as calmly as possible and those who will take every opportunity to smash into them.


The sweet smell of cheap ketchup, fried onions and candy floss fill the air, as noise from shrieking merrymakers reaches migraine-inducing levels.

It’s not to everybody’s liking, but many of us have pleasant memories of wasting away an evening or even a day at the fair.

Fairs were held in Southampton from at least as far back as 1487. History books note the Trinity Fair which was held on fields bordering the River Itchen as it flowed past Chapel and into the sea.

The year before, King Henry VII had given a major boost to the city by granting a new charter allowing the Trinity Fair to continue for the years ahead.

Daily Echo:

Every year attractions would set up for three days, luring fair goers in with acts such as wrestling or performing bears. All of this would have been watched while people slurped ale and ate cake.

Besides food, drink and visual spectacles, merchants and traders would hire stalls and pitches and display their wares in the hope of clinching sales.

Trinity Fair continued until the middle of the 18th century but came to an end when buildings were constructed on and around Chapel.

Over the centuries that followed, various fairs appeared including one in Above Bar where the attractions spread out into what is now known as Palmerston Park.  According to the Daily Echo archives from 1874, the Above Bar Fair and its sideshow attractions were causing a few raised eyebrows among local councillors.

Daily Echo:

Under the headline “Proposed Abolition of Above Bar Fair”, the Echo printed an account of an exchange between councillors debating the future of the event.

“Mr Purkiss speaking at a meeting of the Town Council said he went through the fair at 10pm on Monday night and into every booth, and he saw sights he never wished to see again. He went on purpose to see how they, acted and he said it was a disgrace to civilization, and the abominations carried on were something dreadful.

“Mr Kilroy expressed a wish that Mr Purkis would explain what were the horrible exhibitions he saw at the fair, and at some length contended that the working classes should have their amusements.

“Mr Abraham said these fairs were a great detriment to businesses and brought thieves and vagabonds to the town. Mr Rogers proposed: That the council are of the opinion that the Above Bar Fair should in future be limited to a cattle and agricultural stock only. The proposal was carried by a majority of 12.”

A year later and the Above Bar Fair went the same way as the others – it was discontinued.

Daily Echo:

Fairs began on Southampton Common long before the Second World War, but they were never as needed as they were in the years that followed. As families emerged from beneath the dark cloud of post-war austerity, they found escapism in the fun they had there.

The rides were far from being the gravity-defying machines of today’s standards which whirl at breakneck speed while blaring loud music. The most exciting and advanced ride 75 years ago would most likely have been the big wheel.

Operators B Cole & Sons Family Fairground were at the Common last month and will no doubt be back again sometime soon.

These pictures were taken at the fair on Southampton Common in various years.

Daily Echo:

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