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
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
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
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
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
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!