It seems that Goose Fair, Nottingham’s travelling fair with 800 years of history may not take place this year. The Showmen’s Guild have reacted badly to the possibility that the fair will fenced off and and visitors required to prove their Covid19 status. They may even be required to pay a fee to enter the fairground.
The fair was cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic, but with restrictions on events being lifted, everyone hoped that this important cultural event would return this year.
My novel The Showman would not have been written had it not been for my own memories of Goose Fair.
The Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain is the principal trade association for travelling showmen. The people it represents gain their livelihoods by presenting amusements at funfairs. They come from wide variety of historical backgrounds. There are some whose roots go back to the time of the strolling players and entertainers, but most are the descendants of those who were attracted into the fairground business during the period of great expansion that followed the introduction of steam-powered rides in the nineteenth century.
Here’s a short section from The Showman, where Michael is meeting someone from The Showmen’s Guild, hoping for answers about why he was taken away from his family as a child.
“But all is not lost Michael. There are a few options that I can suggest. But first, I want to show you some photographs which I think you will be interested in. At least they will confirm that the Mattoni family were travelling showmen back in the day.”
James looked around and saw that a larger and more private table had become available nearby.
“Let’s move to that table where we can talk better.”
No sooner had they moved then a man and a woman took their place at the small table and sat down. The man saw that a packet of Peter Stuyvesant cigarettes had been left and took them over to Michael, who thanked him. The man joked that they weren’t his brand anyway.
Michael liked his friendly nature and insisted that he tried one. The man accepted. Michael provided him with a light using his Zippo lighter.
When the man had returned, James Proctor then produced two photographs from the envelope. Both were black and white copies of originals. The quality was not great but the images were sufficient to appreciate them.
Michael was left to look and absorb their content.
The first showed three men stood in front of some kind of fairground machinery and a painted wooden structure. On the ornately carved wooden fascia were the words ‘Mattoni’s Cake Walk’. The men in the photograph, whilst looking at the camera, had little expression on their faces. Whenever the photograph was dated, it was from a time when photographs were rare and normally taken in a formal setting. The subjects looked inconvenienced and uneasy. The three men all had a similar swarthy complexion and features. One was clearly older and wearing a brimmed hat and the two younger ones were about the same age, and wearing floppy caps.
Michael wanted to ask questions but James suggested he takes his time and look at the second one. This was a photograph of a larger group of people, possibly an extended family. They were gathered in a field and there were wooden caravans behind them.
Michael scanned his eyes over the photograph and saw what looked like the same three men, this time with women of similar ages. There were children too, three in total, a girl of about seven and a girl of about six. This girl was holding a baby in her arms.
“Is this my family? Is my stepmother on here?”