Traditional fairgrounds were the most popular and eagerly
anticipated events in cities, towns and villages across the United
Kingdom and especially so in the first half of the 20th century. In
that inter-war era the music hall’s dominance was starting to fade
with the rise of cinema and radio becoming increasingly popular
forms of entertainment.
Nothing however replaced the joy
and excitement of the annual fair arriving for two or three days
each year. David Slattery-Christy’s book gives us an insight into
the life of his grandfather Reg Pratley, born in a small Berkshire
village called Appleton near Oxford, who literally ran away to
realise his dream to be a fairground showman. He worked and toured
with the famous William (Billy) Nichols fairground empire and
established himself as a Master Showman by the time of his death. It
is also a fascinating insight into the life in those small rural
communities of that period; a life that has now all but disappeared.
Walter Edward Reginald Pratley,
known to his family as Reg, was a Berkshire farm boy with a dream.
He wanted to escape the everyday and experience adventure. Hearing
stories of his families lost heritage as travellers from his
grandmother Lucy Clemstone Pratley awoke his dream. When the
fairground came to his village of Appleton near Oxford he befriended
them and decided that the fair would never leave him behind again
when they packed up and left.
Fate, the Royal Navy, love and the
Great War all stood in his way but he survived against the odds and
managed to make his dream come true. During the 1920s and 1930s he
became a respected Master Showman travelling for the famous William
(Billy) Nichols and his fairground empire. His Gallopers were his
pride and joy and he named the carved wooden horses after his
children. His travelling circuit included London's Forest Gate and
annual fairgrounds at Reading, Newbury, Swindon, Abingdon, Banbury,
Stratford Upon Avon to name a few and of course Oxford's famous St
A few months prior to WW2 tragedy
struck him and his family. Nothing was ever the same again. This is
his story and a story of that time when the fairground reigned
supreme for leisure and excitement and was eagerly awaited each year
by thousands in towns and villages across the country.
My grandfather's story is truly
remarkable and is now preserved as part of fairground and social
history from the early 20th Century.
David is an award-winning
playwright and author of several books and has worked on many
theatre, musical theatre and film projects. His play on the life of
preeminent Victorian music hall comedian titled ‘Naturally Insane!
The Life of Dan Leno’ had a successful tour and will have a West End
showcase at the Criterion Theatre in 2021. He was also the Ivor
Novello Consultant on the BAFTA and OSCAR winning Film Gosford
Park.He studied for a BA (Hons) in Journalism at London’s City
University; a PGCE at Lancaster University and a Master of Arts in
Scriptwriting (Dist) at the University of Central Lancashire. In
addition to this he has undertaken Research and History courses at
the University of Oxford.
**Signed by the author**