Hull Fair

Humber Museums Partnership - Hull Fair

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About Hull Fair

Hull Fair unites Hull.

For 8 days in October, a car park becomes a theme park, and the city is enthralled.

And love it or hate it, you’ve got an opinion about it.

The fair has a long history in Hull, stretching back over 700 years. It is part of the the fabric of the city, an unforgettable highlight of the calendar.

We go to the fair today just like our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents before us.

This exhibition brings together contributions from Hull and beyond, as showpeople and Hull’s residents share their memories and stories of the fair.

What does Hull Fair mean to you?

Hull Fair is…
Noisy, bright, smells amazing, expensive, fun, colourful, crowded, an indicator of bad weather, dark, exciting, full of special memories with my family

Experience the fair through the eyes of three generations of fairgoers in this ten minute film.

    Click here to see images in full size

  • Absolutely love the fair. I no longer go on the rides myself but take my grandchildren who also love the rides. The atmosphere, the buzz, the tradition. Love to see all the children enjoying themselves. Look forward to buying the brandy snap on the way home but it has to be Wrights

  • My best memory as a child was going on the sea storm with my mum and the dodgems with my dad. The last past 5 years I have worked with the fair on the burger vans and noodle hut and see the same people each year is nice and a really good atmosphere. Chelsea

  • Hull Fair is… expensive, however the joy, excitement and smiles from my children make it worthwhile

  • Hull Fair is... vibrant like a rainbow

Great Days, Happy Days

We invited our visitors to speak to Hull writer Russ Litten about their memories of the fair. This video is the result.

    Click here to see images in full size

  • A drawing of Hull Fair by one of our visitors

    A drawing of a carousel
  • The Gallagher's shooting range, c. 1950s

    A colour photograph of the Gallagher's shooting range
  • A poem, 'It Always Rains In October', sent in by Lyn Lewis

Work and Play

“There is much harder graft and preparation that goes on behind the bright lights and loud music painted stalls and exciting rides and coconut shy’s and hoopla’s, darts and even 22 Remington rifles at my grandad’s famous gun gallery, the only one of its kind at Hull Fair, firing live bullets at glass bottles and ping pong balls floating up from jets of water! So very dangerous! Now when I think of it – and yet there were never any accidents. Amazing really!

As young teenagers, and even younger we all had a job to do, it was the normal thing for us, and when the fair was open we would mind the stalls, and hoopla’s, or mini rides – whatever! They were long days, at the big fairs like Hull, Nottingham Goose Fair, and Newcastle Town Moor – all big fairs.

Which of course meant we had to be on our feet from midday till midnight when the fair (regardless of the weather) would close. Then thankfully we could ‘pack-up’ that was the term used – all of us would be tired, and yet because us teenagers all wanted to see our traveller friends, we would meet up around the stalls, even though it was dark – we had some fun, and a bit of ‘smooching’ with our chosen favourite guy or gal!

“Always a traveller”, we never mixed with a “punter”, it was just not the don’t thing, even today, its much the same format – showbiz people usually marry each other, it’s been that way for generations, although, myself and some of my cousins have married out even if it didn’t always work out!”

Dilly Gallagher, part of the Gallagher family of showmen from Hull

    Click here to see images in full size

  • The Gallagher family had a shooting range for over 100 years

    A black and white photograph of the Gallagher's shooting range
  • Visitors would use real loaded rifles to shoot at targets, or at ping pong balls floating on jets of water!

    Gallagher family members pose with rifles in front of the shooting range
  • Working the fair was hard work - it was a long day and the whole family pitched in

    Black and white photograph of showmen in front of a stall
  • But there was still time for some fun at the fair, too!

    Black and white photograph of a girl holding two monkeys

Chicken Joe – the man you all know

Chicken Joe was a Hull Fair character still remembered among visitors of a certain age. Chicken Joe, or Joe Barak, attended the fair in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. He ran a spinner stall for Ling’s Family amusements. What made the stall stand out was the chance of winning a bag of groceries with a whole fresh chicken on top – a huge treat that was normally saved for Christmas!

Monkeying Around

Visitors of a certain age will remember that between the 1950s and 1970s, photographers would put monkeys on the shoulders of fairgoers and take their pictures.

Nowadays there are no animals at the fair.

In the video below, artist Anna Bean explored memories and monkeys in her 2015 residency which saw her set up shop at the fair, inviting visitors and showmen to create fun, vibrant images, with a hint of the strange.


“I remember the flea circus. We all stood round a small circular table and the fleas would perform. One was pulling a tiny chariot. It had a tiny feather tied round it. Another trick was a flea crossing a wire.
I also remember the so called ‘freak show’ where it was mostly specimens in bottles like the two headed lamb. Horrible to us little kids!
For two little sisters the stall with the fairy dolls was the favourite. They had sticky out net dresses and feathers in their hair. Hull Fair was the highlight of the year.”

Jean Bove

Coppers and Candyfloss

“I like working Hull Fair – a lot of policing is the bad stuff but Hull Fair is 99% good.
I think it used to bring out a bit of good in people.
Policing Hull Fair has changed for the better. It was a lot more reserved… now you’re encouraged to engage with people and join in.
The worst job was the convoy on the last night – shutting all the roads and getting the lorries in was an absolute nightmare.”
PCSO Richard Whelan

Bright Lights

“I have always had a fascination with the lights at Hull Fair on all the rides and stalls. It is just over the last couple of years i have taken my camera to the fair in an evening and tried to capture something different. I then created my own music to add to the photographs to help interpret what I was feeling.”
-Maurice, artist

Video by Octovision Media

A Child’s Eye View

“Hull Fair is… going on lots of fun rides with my sister. My favourite ride is the jumping jack. I like the hotdogs from Hull Fair. This year I got a captain America lightsabre”

“Hull Fair is… noisy and colourful with lots of different smells and lots of sweets. The big wheel is the best ride because you can see everything from the top”

What is it like to live on Walton Street?

Contrary to popular belief – Walton Street residents don’t get the week’s rent free or reduced council tax. Some residents find the fair annoying – it’s loud, it’s crowded, and you can’t get anywhere very easily because of the closed roads…
“Never seen anything like it. Walton Street was at a standstill on the Saturday. It’s risky. And parking is horrendous. Living down here at Hull Fair is a nightmare”
“The bin men don’t come during Fair week”
“I get some anxiety so I don’t go. It’s too much for me”
“Your bungalow’s going boom boom boom boom – you’re turning your telly up”

Other Walton Street residents look forward to it…
“The clean up in the morning is very impressive. The people that work there are really nice”
“It’s nice to see people go by and kiddies enjoying themsen. There’s very little mess. We like it – look forward to it, to be honest”
“Been here 30 years – I love the Fair”
“Doesn’t bother me – I’ve got triple glazing, I can’t hear it.”

School at the fair?

Hull Fair is one of the biggest and longest lasting fairs in the UK. The existence of the pop-up school allows the children of showmen to come with them for the two weeks that Hull Fair is being set up and runs. They can see friends from the community, and they can work on distance learning school work with dedicated help from teachers.

“I do quite like it [Hull Fair school] because there’s loads of other children that I’ve not saw for maybe a long time and like – we don’t go to always the same fairs a lot so – that’s why I quite like coming here.

Yeah. Cuz we quite like it because we get to go to like – football tournaments and all sorts like that with school so – that’s why I quite like coming as well.

I do quite like Hull Fair because it’s – it’s always quite busy and we always take some money, so – that’s why we’ve come.”

Grayson, aged 12, a pupil at the Hull Fair school. His parents are showpeople who come to Hull Fair.

Making it Happen – The Showmen’s Guild

Memories from Gary Leach, Chairman of the Yorkshire Section of the Showmen’s Guild.

“I’m 62 in 15 days – and I’ve been going to Hull Fair for 61 year”

“That stall there has been in our family for 100 year – at the moment now it’s an archery stall, but years ago, it was a coconut shy. And this position here, that goes at the back, was a football game, we call them a penalty… me and me brother – from being a little kid, 3, 4 year old, I can remember – you could sit and watch the lights and people playing and things. I thought it was fantastic. It was the only fair you could actually do that on, because obviously this was netted on the side like a football net, so you could see into it. Watch the world go by, you know. Like people watching but on a grander scale, was basically what we was doing.”

The Showmen’s Guild works closely with Hull City Council to organise the fair, something that takes the whole year.

“Most people think that we just roll up but they don’t understand – I’ll do several meetings a year, and we do table top exercises with HSE, for all eventualities… My grandson has the run of that fair… So when you go on them rides, it don’t matter how big or high or fast it goes, I would like to know, that when my grandson gets on there, that they’re 100% safe – just like anybody else’s kids”

Making it Happen – Hull City Council

Cheryl Ribbitt, Events Officer at Hull City Council, shares some of her memories of working behind the scenes of the fair.

“As a City Council Event Officer I was tasked with taking over the management of Hull Fair in 1993 and managed the event until 2013. I am still involved in the fair and have many fond memories of many tenants especially those with unusual names such as Shufflebottom, Crick, Littliernhurnest, Hancock, Silcock and Tunicliffe to name a few. I can honestly say the Showmen are the nicest of people to work with and having a women run and manage a fair was something that didn’t happen that often but I worked with them and gained their respect and ran many years of successful fairs. The showmen believe strongly in family values and that is why so many of the tenants have been involved in the fair through many generations with their families over many years and even some can go back to when the fair moved to Walton Street back in 1888.

Hull Fair has always been my favourite event since starting in the Events Team in 1984 in the City Council and I am very proud that the fair continues to be as popular as ever.”

Your memories

Here are just some of the conversations our visitors had with Russ Litten.

Alf – “The flea circus still amazes me today”

Your memories

Gail – “We used to stand around the outside of the waltzers… we hung around there for ages. The thing was, we never actually went on the waltzers because we were too scared!”

Your memories

Josie – “I like when you can go on the rides that take you really high up, because I’ve never seen Hull like that before, and when you see it from like, the very top, it’s just a different perspective”

Your memories

Laurel – “I think I like it more now I’m older”

Tell Us What You Think

We’d love to know what you thought about the Hull Fair exhibition. Your responses will help inform our decision-making around programming of future works, both digital and in-person. Please help by completing our short survey Click here to Complete Survey

With thanks to
Arts Council England
Allen Bagshawe
Beats Bus
Carnegie Heritage Centre
Community Café
The Fairground Association of Great Britain
The Gallagher family and Jim Dunn
George Norris
Hessle Road Network
Humberside Police
Hull City Council
John Culine
Kathleen Guthrie and the Hull Fair School
The National Fairground and Circus Archive
Octovision Media, Storyboard Media, and Nova Studios
Russ Litten
The Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain
Thoresby, Chilton and Priory Primary Schools
Transport Tots
The Tuby family
And everyone else who contributed to the exhibition

Some posts have been edited for length and clarity.