A group of students attending the Willoughby School in Bourne, Lincolnshire, enjoyed all the fun of the Stamford Mid-Lent Fair
The visit was organised by Ian Hall of Lodge of Merit, No. 466, along with members of the Stamford Masonic Centre.
Freemasons from Showmen’s Lodge, No. 9826, in the Province of Leicestershire and Rutland, volunteered their time and their rides for the community event.
Fun day out for Derbyshire kids
Derbyshire children with additional or special educational needs had a fantastic day on Friday, 22nd April, when they attended the fifth annual funfair organised and supported by the Derbyshire Provincial Grand Charity.
Over 1,200 children from 27 different groups from all around the Province enjoyed free coach transfers from and back to their schools. They were treated to as many free fairground rides as they could fit in, as well as hot dogs, candy floss and refreshments.
Since its inception in 2012, when the first 500 children attended, it has now become the highlight of the year for many and continues to grow from strength to strength.
The fair was initially organised after showmen noticed that some children with special needs were being ridiculed by some less sympathetic members of the public. Children with autism, downs syndrome, learning difficulties and mobility problems were not attending due to these taunts.
This was distressing for the children and their parents and carers. A survey had revealed that 79% of these children felt socially isolated and 28% questioned had actually been asked to leave a public place.
As a result, the Derbyshire Provincial Grand Charity was asked whether it would be prepared to organise and support a funfair if the showmen provided the rides and facilities at one of their sites. The Freemasons of Derbyshire are delighted to work in partnership with Erewash Borough Council, who provide the site, to arrange such an event for the enjoyment and betterment of the community at large.
The children come from schools and other specialist provisions in Buxton, High Peak, Burton-on-Trent, Central Derby, Alfreton, Chinley and other areas from around the Province.
As usual the Fire and Rescue Service, Police and St John's Ambulance all attended to support the event. This year saw Emporium Productions filming for a documentary to be screened on Sky TV early next year, as well as Radio Derby reporting live on the day and articles in the press from the Derby Evening Telegraph and Nottingham Post. The event will also be covered in the Showman’s trade newspaper, The World’s Fair.
The event as always was organised for the Provincial Grand Charity by W Bros Philip Bowler and Graham Sisson.
More than fair
The Showmen’s Lodge has been bringing together fairground rides, local communities and Freemasonry since it was consecrated in 2007. Ellie Fazan meets the members and spends a day on the dodgems.
For the fairground showmen on Keyworth Playing Fields, Nottingham, it’s an early start – so early, the sun hasn’t yet burnt the summer haze from the sky. ‘We’re never ready until the first members of the public arrive,’ the guys laugh as they put the finishing touches to the rides and attractions at Keyworth Fair, opening this afternoon. There’s something heart-warming about watching a big man artfully arranging popcorn and kids’ toys as prizes on a stand.
‘We closed the last fair at 7pm on Sunday night then packed up and drove through the night to get here. It’s amazing what you get used to,’ explains David Cox Jr (otherwise known as ‘Little David’). ‘Even though I’ve been doing this my whole life, there’s always a thrill arriving somewhere new. This is a real feel-good job. There’s nothing quite like it when there’s sun on your back and cash in your pocket.’
Being a showman is hereditary; rides and pitches run in the family. Little David is the fifth generation. His dad, David Cox Sr, who organised this fair, gave him the waltzers when he was seventeen. David Sr is also one of the founding members of the Showmen’s Lodge, No. 9826, along with the other men at Keyworth today. ‘We were in another lodge that gradually dissolved,’ explains David Sr, ‘and we wanted to be members of something again. We decided on Loughborough as a location because it’s motorway connected, and we have to be mindful of where people travel.’
A sense of belonging
It might seem a strange leap from the fairground to Freemasonry, but the ties are strong. ‘While numbers in some lodges decline, special-interest lodges like this one are growing because of that extra layer of binding,’ explains Leicestershire and Rutland Provincial Grand Master David Hagger, who consecrated the lodge.
‘Even though I’ve been doing this my whole life, there’s always a thrill arriving somewhere new. This is a real feel-good job. There’s nothing quite like it when there’s sun on your back and cash in your pocket.’ David Cox Jr
With showmen only bedding down in one place for three or four months over winter, the sense of community that Freemasonry brings is crucial. ‘We travel widely so it’s good to have something extra that connects us. This gives us a chance to get together and see friends we might not otherwise see,’ says Philip Wheatley, the Worshipful Master. ‘It’s a great social life, and we get to talk about the things that affect our business.’ His brother Jimmy continues: ‘We always meet in November near the Loughborough Fair, because it’s one of the big ones on the calendar that we all go to. The Festive Board is spectacular.’
The Showmen’s Lodge has brethren from all over the country, with members coming from twelve different Provinces as far away as Bradford and Kent. ‘And they have a very close relationship with one another. The son of a mason is called a Lewis, and in this Order there are many more Lewises than usual. Nine fathers and sons, and several brothers and cousins too,’ explains David Hagger.
Another founding member, Michael McKean is here with his son Clark, who has ‘been friends since the word go’ with Little David. As have their parents – and grandparents. Family ties here are strong, and it’s a very close community. ‘Weddings and funerals are huge,’ explains Clark, ‘and the lifestyle is great: going to different places, having great friends and really good family. I’m thirty-three and I’m with my father ninety per cent of the time, always helping each other out. You can’t say that in many communities these days. I have a little girl who is one and a half and she is with us most of the time. It makes life easy, and means showmen don’t have trouble with their kids.’
On home ground
When it comes to stories that have grown up about fairgrounds, the men are keen to dispel certain myths. Contrary to popular belief, their fair has an excellent safety record: ‘Better than Transport for London,’ says Michael. ‘And public preconceptions about us are wrong. They think we go round ripping people off. Not all gypsies are like that, and nor are we. I understand that people are wary of us – they wake up one morning and we’re here. That’s disconcerting.’
On the whole, however, the showmen have a good relationship with the local community and are proud to be welcomed back by those who have got to know them in previous years. ‘My ride is the tea cups,’ says Philip, ‘and some years mothers will come up to me nodding at their children and say, “He’s a bit too big for it now,” and smile. That gives me real pleasure. You don’t love a ride because of how big it is, but because of the pleasure it gives.’
Like many others in the UK, the showmen have been bitten by the economic recession, with the cost of fuel also a big problem. ‘It used to be that you’d only do a six-mile radius, then in recent years we’ve been going all over, and now the net is closing in again. It’s a fine balancing act, to work out the costs. It’s £5,000 for a full tank of petrol to London and back,’ says David Sr. ‘So you have to be sure you’ll make it back.’ And these days people have less to spend. Many come to the fair just to soak up the atmosphere but there’s no bitterness on the part of the showmen: ‘That’s part of the service too. The beauty of the thing is you can come and spend as much or as little as you like.’
‘We want to help the public through any predicament they may be in, whether that is by providing entertainment or charity.’ Michael McKean
‘I’m thirty-three and I’m with my father ninety per cent of the time, always helping each other out. You can’t say that in many communities these days.’ Clark McKean
The fun of the fair
The economic troubles haven’t stopped the lodge’s charitable intentions. Providing spectacle for all, the Showmen’s Lodge is guided by a philosophy of giving back to the communities that give to them. ‘At the consecration meeting they raised £1,400, which shows their generosity,’ says David Hagger.
Recently, Michael ran a free fair for children with additional needs in Derbyshire on the care in the community day. ‘Jimmy asked me and I said yes. Simple as that. And there was no trouble getting others to take part. Just the looks on the little kids’ faces made it worthwhile,’ he says. ‘But this isn’t just because we’re Freemasons. In the showmen community there is a strong tradition of charity.’
Famous showman Pat Collins, Showmen’s Guild president from 1920 to 1929, ran free fairs for orphans of the time. ‘We want to help the public through any predicament they may be in, whether that is by providing entertainment or charity,’ Michael says. ‘During World War I, we provided ambulances to take the wounded from the front, and during World War II showmen all chipped in and bought a Spitfire, known as “The Fun of the Fair”.’ Within their community they have raised more than £100,000 through Molliefest, a fair held to support a sick child.
As the day wound down, conversation moved from charity work to lifestyle. So what’s it like living in a caravan? ‘Same as living in a house. We have every luxury you can imagine,’ says David Sr. Do you ever go to the fair when you’re on holiday? Laughter from Clark, ‘I’ve been to Puerto Rico and seen fairs you wouldn’t want to stand next to, never mind ride on.’
Is it dangerous? ‘How many scars do you want to see?’ laughs Little David. Followed quickly by: ‘No! We are brought up knowing how to look after our equipment. We can spot trouble a country mile off and look out for each other.’ There is no doubt that these men are genuinely committed to each other and the communities they visit.
Then I ask the question that’s been on the tip of my tongue all day: ‘What’s your favourite ride?’ Little David replies immediately: ‘The waltzer. We have a saying: you can take the boy out of the waltzer, but you can’t take the waltzer out of the boy.’ David Jr’s dad chips in with less sentiment: ‘I like whatever ride takes the most money. If someone says to me, can you get such and such, the answer is always yes. Because even if I can’t get it, I know a man who can. We’ve got any event covered.’
Letters to the editor - No. 24 Winter 2013
More than fair
I should like, through Freemasonry Today, to thank the owners of the dodgems featured in the article ‘More Than Fair’ in the last issue. The reason for my thanks is that my brother-in-law, Philip Mosley, was physically and mentally handicapped and used to love the fair coming to Buxton. He would get very excited when he saw it. The dodgems was his favourite ride and they allowed him to go on it at any time without paying.
After I married my wife, Philip lived with us because of his parents’ death. This thank you has been a long time in coming – Philip passed on in 1987 – but I hope it’s better late than never. He must have enjoyed those dodgems for about forty-five years, some of that before my time.
On behalf of my wife Brenda and the Mosley family I thank the owners of that dodgems ride and wish that they prosper long. Thank you also for your interesting magazine, which I pass along as far as Malta.
David Storer, High Peak Lodge, No. 1952, Buxton, Derbyshire
Everyone’s a winner
More than 700 children and carers visited the second annual funfair for people with additional needs. Organised at Long Eaton by Derbyshire masons, the event was held for children with conditions such as Down’s syndrome and autism, and for those with extreme learning difficulties. Also involved were Erewash Borough Council, the Showmen’s Guild, McKean’s Amusements, St John Ambulance, and the local police and fire service. Showmen’s Guild president David Wallis, Erewash Mayor Cllr Jennifer Hulls, Derbyshire PGM Graham Rudd and Michael McKean all gave their support, while the children each went home clutching a teddy bear provided by the Province.
To find out more about the work of the Showmen’s Lodge>>>
It was tremendous to hear the news of the new Royal baby, Prince George. You will be glad that a message of congratulations was sent on behalf of members to Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
Talking of good news, it is heart-warming to hear, as I go around the Provinces and Districts, more and more members speaking openly about the fun of membership as they enjoy, each in their own special way, their hobby, Freemasonry. This enjoyment is becoming infectious, helping to both recruit and, importantly, retain members. Together with the increasing support from family members, this is a clear reflection of the success of the current initiatives that are making sure there is a relevant future for Freemasonry.
In this autumn issue, we take a ride with the Showmen’s Lodge to discover that the ties binding Freemasons can also be found in the people who run the waltzers and dodgems at the fairground. We go on the road with a welfare adviser from the Royal Masonic Trust for Girls and Boys, as she helps a family get back on its feet. We also meet Mark Smith, a Provincial Grand Almoner, and find out that while masonic support can involve making a donation to a worthy cause, it is also about spending time with people in your community.
I mentioned hobbies earlier, and to thrill anyone with a taste for classic cars we get in the driving seat with Aston Martin as it celebrates its one hundredth birthday at Freemasons’ Hall. There is also an interview with Prestonian Lecturer Tony Harvey, who has been travelling around the UK to explain how Freemasonry and Scouting have more in common than you might first think. I believe that these stories and features show why Freemasonry not only helps society but is also very much a part of it.
On a final note, I was pleased to have had the opportunity to speak on Radio 4’s Last Word obituary programme about the late Michael Baigent, our consultant editor. He was a good friend with an enormously inquisitive mind, about which John Hamill writes more fully later in this issue of Freemasonry Today.
‘It is heart-warming to hear, as I go around the Provinces and Districts, more and more members speaking openly about the fun of membership.’
Thanks to the generosity of Freemasons in the Nottingham area, more than 200 children with disabilities were able to enjoy all the fun of the fair.
Members came from three lodges – Edwalton Lodge, No. 8214, and St Giles Lodge, No. 4316, both from Nottingham, and the Showman’s Lodge, No. 9826, from Loughborough. They worked with The Showmen’s Guild to make this fun day a reality.
Gordon Cowieson of Edwalton Lodge said, ‘The Showmen’s Guild has been really generous once again in opening up the fairground at Bramcote Hills Park a day early in support of children with special needs. In addition to experiencing the rides, the children also get to enjoy the usual hot dogs, beefburgers, candyfloss and ice cream.’
Peter Barratt, also of Edwalton Lodge, added, ‘The lodges involved raise funds throughout the year to cover the cost of running the event and then give generously of their time on the day to make sure it is a safe and enjoyable occasion for all.’
A key supporter of the event was the Nottingham masonic charity Teddies for Loving Care (TLC), which gave a donation towards running costs. TLC also had a stall at the fairground and ensured that every child who attended left with their own teddy bear. Also enjoying the day were the Provincial Grand Master for Nottinghamshire, Robin Wilson, and his wife Margaret, plus the Mayor of Broxtowe.
Specialist lodges: all the fun of the fair
A newly-consecrated lodge has been set up for travelling showmen, John Jackson reports
When the ancient Goose Fair, well over 700 years old, gets underway at Nottingham in October, among the showmen who will be entertaining the thousands of visitors will be members of a newly consecrated Lodge, The Showmen’s No. 9826.
Showmen have been associated with fairs as far back as at least Roman times, the word ‘fair’ deriving from the Latin word ‘feria’ meaning ‘holiday’. As fairgrounds became established, many were granted charter status by the sovereign, and a number of these charter fairs exist today with their showmen in attendance.
These include King’s Lynn, under a charter granted by King John in 1204, which traditionally starts the travelling showmen’s season on St Valentine’s Day – 14 February.
The association with the church still continues to this day, for the opening ceremony at King’s Lynn begins with a blessing from the Mayor’s Chaplain.
These early fairs were originally for the sale of livestock, but quickly attracted the travelling showmen, and many fairs were associated with Saints’ days and the early Christian church.
The granting of a charter by the sovereign was much prized, as it laid down the dates, provided protection against rival fairs and gave the right to collect dues and tolls. In return, there was an obligation to hold the fair on the stated dates.
Many autumn fairs did not have a charter and were known as ‘Mop’ or ‘Hiring’ fairs, and some still exist. At these fairs, prospective employers reviewed potential employees.
Sometimes a second fair – known as a Run-Away Mop – was held for those seeking to change jobs or those who had not found work on the first occasion.
With the showmen travelling hundreds of miles, it has not been easy trying to put a Lodge together for such a mobile group of Masons. The original idea came from secretary Paul Maltby, but it would not have got off the ground but for the enthusiasm of Darren Jones, first Master, and his Uncle Jimmy Wheatley, first Senior Warden.
The Lodge, consecrated in February, has 31 founders – all showmen – and many of them run the big rides, so popular with children. It was because they were so scattered that the idea of a Lodge arose. However, the plan has been an instant success, with seven candidates lining up to become Masons as well as five joining members waiting to come on board. The Lodge will hold its meetings at Loughborough in the Province of Leicestershire and Rutland, whose Provincial Grand Master, RW Bro Michael H Roalfe, officiated at the consecration meeting.
The Lodge was also given a great deal of help by Richard Moss of Belper Masonic Regalia in Derbyshire.
Summer is the busiest time for showmen, so the Lodge will be meeting five times a year ‘out of season’ in September, November, December, January and February.
Although showmen are spread over the country, there is a central organisation, the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, which is both a trade union and trade association, and was originally formed around 1888-1889 as the United Kingdom Van Dwellers Protection Association (the Guild). There is also a Showmen's Guild Lodge No. 9089 associated with the Guild, which meets at Clevedon in Somerset.