Chesterfield man's new book about old funfairs highlights travelling characters who were popular visitors to Derbyshire villages

As a little boy Andrew McKinley loved riding the speedway bike when the fair visited his village.

Friday, 20th May 2022, 5:28 pm

On the hook a duck stall he could win a little plastic skeleton while older funfair visitors would aim for a packet of cigarettes on the shooting range or try to bag a live goldfish.

Andrew’s fascination with travelling fairs and the much-loved characters who ran them has stayed with him all his life.

He has now published two books about the attractions that journeyed around Derbyshire villages, helped in no small part by the insider knowledge he gleaned in 15 years of reporting and writing for the World’s Fair trade newspaper.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

Andrew McKinley with his new book Derbyshire Village Fairs Remembered which is released at the beginning of June.

His first publication, Strangers In The Night, was released in July last year. Andrew said: “It’s about a showman called Timmy Ray and his stepsister Ria Bishop who travelled all around Derbyshire with a very small funfair. Timmy only had one lorry, a trailer and gipsy caravan. His sister lived in the caravan and Timmy lived in the lorry. As a kid of about six or seven I think it was the first funfair I ever visited, set up in a field behind the Hollingwood Hotel. Timmy had a set of big swingboats, slot machines with ballbearings and three or four side stalls such as coconut shy, win a goldfish and a cork shooting range.

"Timmy’s funfair held a fascination for me and I wanted to find out more about him. He used to winter at Arkwright behind the old Miners Welfare Club in the Sixties and in later life at Mickley. Timmy died in 1982 when he was 73, just hours after being admitted to hospital.”

Funfairs operated by Timmy Ray and the Sykes family were popular visitors to small communities in Derbyshire.

Andrew, 66, who lives in Birdholme, Chesterfield, said: “They would appear in villages such as Darley Dale, Youlgreave, Bonsall, Winster, Ashover, Crich. If you didn’t live in the village, you wouldn't know anyhing about them. They'd just turn up, didn't do anyone any harm and gave a lot of pleasure to a lot of people. It was a great occasion for the kids; one person in Youlgreave told me that when the fair arrived it would go past the school and the children couldn’t concentrate on their work because they were so excited.”

Eyam Fair in 1988 (photo: Dave Homer)

His second book, Derbyshire Village Fairs Remembered, is due for release on June 1. Andrew said: “I go into the history of a lot of families and fairs. There’s the Oadley family who used to travel around Derbyshire from the turn of the century up to the Forties. Many years ago I got an interview with one of the family – Olive Pinder, the daughter of Lilly Pinder (nee Oadley), one of 11 children. Olive lived in Bolsover and I always made sure that I drove because Olive loved her whisky. Do I regret one night when I wasn’t driving and there were half tumblers of straight whisky!”

Another interview was with Jack Sykes, whose parents Jack and Clara launched the Sykes funfair which the family ran until 1966.

“The book is full of photographs that people won't have seen before - fairground transport that used to go to villages, family photos, old photos from the turn of the century and one at Barlow taken in 1910.

"I’ve delved into unusual fairs such as Hardwick Feast and there’s a clip on my YouTube channel which shows it flooded in the 1960s.”

Bill Holdworth's sideshow at Tideswell Wakes in June 1988 (photo: Dave Homer).

A recipe for Derbyshire Wakes Cakes is included in Andrew’s second book. He said: “The initial thing with wakes is that they were celebrations for the well dressings and flower festivals and commemorating a certain saint for that particular village. Showmen like Timmy Ray and Jack Sykes would concentrate on that week every year up in the hills. There are only a couple of true wakes fairs left in the county, at Shirland and Tideswell.”

Andrew said the old-fashioned funfair petered out in about the mid to late Seventies and he wasn’t enamoured with its successor. He said: “When I was doing the World's Fair, I’d see five or six fairs throughout the county week in and week out and report on them for the paper. All you got was boom, boom, boom music and drunken kids who would come off the waltzers, throw up and cause trouble.”

But life as a writer for the trade newspaper did have its up side. Andrew recalls being invited to a lunch in Nottingham where the guest speaker was David Essex who was starring in All The Fun Of The Fair at the city’s Theatre Royal. Andrew said: “I met David and had a very long conversation with him. He's a self-confessed fairground freak who loves the old-time ones. He used to be mad about the Wall of the Death, typical of the character that he played in the film That'll Be The Day.”

On a trip to an old-fashioned fair at White Waltham, near Maidenhead, Andrew spotted legendary guitarist and Led Zeppelin founder Jimmy Page with his wife and children on the galloping horses and later got his autograph.

Riddings Wakes in the early 1900s (photo: Alfreton Historic Group).

While he doesn’t consider himself as the next JK Rowling, Andrew has enjoyed writing his books. He said: “I wrote the first one during lockdown to get rid of the boredom and I started the second one in November last year as winter is not a great time for me.”

Andrew suffers PTSD as the result of an accident eight years ago when he was knocked down on a zebra crossing on the road where he has lived for 40 years. His leg was broken in seven places from the knee downwards and was at risk of being amputated but surgeons at Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital managed to save it. Following the accident, Andrew took early retirement from a job in sales.

Derbyshire Village Fairs Remembered is available for collection from Andrew McKinley, 254 Derby Road, Birdholme, Chesterfield, S40 2ER, priced £12.95, payable by cash or cheque. Copies can be posted for an extra £3.

Timmy Ray's cork shooter sign.
The late Albert Barker and his dog walking through floodwater at Hardwick Feast in the 1960s. (photo: Ann Pashley)