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MMD > Archives > February 2000 > 2000.02.23 > 01Prev  Next

Showman's Terms in Great Britain
By Douglas Bush

In MMD00222, Tom McAuley asked about the British names of fairground
rides and attractions.

Gallopers --  These are merry go rounds.  Roundabout tends to be the
generic name used in Britain, with gallopers referring to a particular

On gallopers the riders will sit on mounts, most frequently horses,
hence the name 'Galloping Horses Ride'.  Ostriches are also often
found, and less commonly other animals such as bears.  These are
suspended from cranks mounted in the roof of the machine.  The rotation
of the cranks gives the animals a galloping motion, hence the name.  In
addition to the 'up-down, forward-backward' motion, mounts are allowed
to move outwards in a controlled manner as the ride revolves.

 [ The bottom of the suspension pole is not constrained, and so it
 [ moves outward due to centrifugal force.  -- Robbie

Roundabouts with suspended mounts but without cranks are called dobby sets.

A picture of a set of gallopers can found on page 65 of the Fair Organ
Preservation Society book 'On Display'.

Bioscope Show -- The bioscope is a travelling cinema.  They first
appeared in the late 1890's and continued during the early 1900s.
It is via the bioscope show that moving pictures were first presented
to the general public, before the formation of permanent cinemas in
towns and cities.

Bioscope shows probably contained the largest and most elaborate organs
used on British fairgrounds.  On many, the organ was used to front the
show.  Often, dancers performed on a stage in front of the organ to
attract the next audience.

Bioscope showfronts can be seen on pages 14 and 15 of 'On Display'.
Further information on Bioscope shows can be found at the National
Fairground Archive web site:

Scenic Railway -- The scenic railway was a very large fairground ride.
It consisted of a circular track, 60 feet or so in diameter.  The track
contained two hills situated opposite each other.  The passengers rode
around the track in carriages that were elaborately carved, and often
took the form of animals such as dragons, peacocks or whales.  There
would be 8 or 9 carriages, each sitting 8 or 10 people.  Each carriage
could weigh one ton!

The center of the ride would be filled with a large organ, often cut
down from the then out-of-fashion bioscope shows, and scenery (hence
the name) such as a jungle with ruined temples and working waterfalls
-- the idea being to take the passenger on a journey through the
imagination.  I can not imagine this concept finding favour in the
present day.

Although a number of scenic railways survived into the 1950s, I am not
aware of any currently in existence.  A carriage from a 'Whale' scenic
can be seen at the bottom of page 20 of the book 'On Display'.  For an
indication of what a complete ride looks like, take a look at the
switchback ride shown in Brian Steptoe's article at the following web

The switchback, of which I know of two surviving examples, was of a
similar design and concept to the scenic.  However, they are smaller
and do not contain the elaborate scenery effects.

The term 'Scenic Railway' is now applied to Roller Coasters, but is
probably falling from use.

Carnival -- In Britain, this refers to a street festival and is not
used for travelling fairgrounds.  If the fair is located on a permanent
site they can be called a 'pleasure beach', presumably due to the fact
that they are traditionally found on the coast.

I hope that the above is of help,


Douglas Bush

(Message sent Wed 23 Feb 2000, 21:56:56 GMT, from time zone GMT.)

Key Words in Subject:  Britain, Great, Showman's, Terms

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