by Dave Page
: From thegalloper.com, December 2000
It's times like these that make websites like this worth doing. A whole day spent watching the Gallopers at permanent vintage fairground Hollycombe being stripped from steps to centre truck! DAVE PAGE took his camera, everyone else did the work.

Hollycombe is an eerie place in November, haunted by the tarpaulined ghosts of traction engines and the strange shapes of dismantled this and that waiting for next season to begin. The only thing louder than the sound of silence is the deafening roar of things rusting.

But there was another roar to be heard, the roar of the wind ripping through the trees and carrying great clouds of leaves with it on this most desolate of winter days.

And that very same wind also carried the sound of laughter, a sound that led me through the trees into the old fairground where the Gallopers were being prepared for the last ride of the year on the storage truck.

For those of you who have not been down to Liphook the Galloper set is a true classic, built by Tidman in about 1912. From new the machine travelled mainly in Kent, operating constantly up until a move to Ireland, where it was acquired by our old friend Billy Butlin. On returning to England it was eventually picked up by restorer Keith Emmett and sold to John Baldock, owner of Hollycombe, in 1987.

It's quite a compact ride, looking very 'busy' with all the horses on. A lot of the woodwork is original, particularly the roundings which are certainly very wooden, very heavy and very definitely painted by artist Fred Fowle.

A Tidman engine has been fitted since its arrival at Hollycombe (it was electrically driven from the mid 1950s) and it now comes complete with fibreglass replicas of Orton&Spooner horses, plus some wonderful Gondolas.

A strange feature of the machine that remains to this day are the platform rods that are cased in wood rather than brass. A set of four revolving pillars has been added to the centre.

But to business… The one thing you learn quickly at Hollycombe is that nobody stands on ceremony and by the time I'd arrived Colin Healey and the team were already removing the steps and loading the Gondolas onto a flatbed truck. And that set the tone as it was pretty much non-stop for the rest of the day, apart from the cups of tea that kept appearing and a bag of chips for lunch.

Apparently the record for taking down the Gallopers is two and half hours (which excludes packing the truck) but this year the weather made sure that it was a long hard slog. The atmosphere may have been jovial but it masked the fact that this was hard physical work (not to mention dangerous) being carried out in the most appalling conditions imaginable.

The pictures on this page don't tell you about the high winds (which made life fun under the tilt), the constant rain, the cold and the thick paste of mud and leaves underfoot.

It's also difficult to convey just how heavy Galloper bits are. I helped carry some stepping pieces, a few swifts and a rounding board (particularly nasty) and nearly killed myself in the process. And for the record, lifting a horse with irons still attached is physically impossible unless you happen to be a Hollycombe volunteer! I don't know what they put in the tea down there but it seems to work a treat.

Of course, being a spectator gives you an excuse to wander off every now and then to explore what else is in the only fixed old-time fairground in the country. In various states of winter undress is the old Bioscope, the Steam Swings, the Razzle Dazzle, the Big Wheel and a group of juvenile rides. My only regret was not being able to see the old Dobby set, which had already been taken down.

And there's a lot more to Hollycombe than the fairground. Tucked away in an out building is a ship's engine for example and everywhere you look you'll find traction engines, living vans, quarry engines that serve a fully operational railway - and there's also the miniature railway that's having a lot of work done on it for next season.

Back at the Gallopers it was all hands to the pumps. Forklifts and tractors kept appearing to take things away, there were people crawling in the spaces around the centre and under the tilt, undoing this, demanding screwdrivers for that and hammering away at things that had spent half the year out in the open.

And gradually it came down, the team scuttling back and forth from the truck carrying floor panels, decorative boards, horses, cranks, quarterings and support rods. By late afternoon all that remained was the centre truck and a very wet bunch of people.

You've got to hand it to these guys - they don't get paid, they do it because they want to. They want to be ankle deep in a soup of mud and leaves. They want to be covered from head to foot in grease. They want to stand around in the cold all day soaked to the skin. And most of all they want the likes of you and I to enjoy what they do and keep coming back for more. See you there next April!


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