Interview by Gary Radice
: Added November 2002, updated December 2003, July 2006, July 2009
In the very early days of themagiceye website, Paul Grimshaw was interviewed about his attempts to restore a Speedway Ark. themagiceye is proud to present the original interviews with Paul from 2002 and 2003 and, in addition, catches up on his progress to date. Thanks to Paul Grimshaw, Stephen Smith and Nick Laister for permission to reproduce the photographs.
From 'All The Fun Of The Fair' Website
"The Ark/Speedway, consists of a set of platforms, being driven round an undulating track (going up & down, round & round). Fixed to the platforms are Animals (Ark) or Motorbikes (Speedway). There are normally Chariots (Seats) for the faint-hearted, and chrome handrails on the outside of the animals/bikes for safety.
The Ark was first seen in the 1930s, and many still travel today. Although over shadowed by many of the modern 'white knuckle' rides - they are still popular. Groups of teenagers especially like to stand up, 'walk the platforms' and try to outdo each other for daring!
Many were manufactured by Orton and Spooner. There are many variations on the theme, mainly to keep up with fashion, and usually created by the showmen themselves:-
Noahs Ark' - Animals 2 by 2
'Ben Hur Speedway' - With emphasis on the Chariots
'Easy Rider Speedway' - Chopper style motorbikes
'Disco Rider' - Any of the above with a disco theme"  

Ride manufacturers Orton and Spooner of Burton on Trent built the ride in 1932 for Eastern Counties section showman Henry Thurston, one of the Thurstons based in Norwich who travelled that area.

When the ride was travelled by the Thurston family it was used with a 1922 Burrell 5nhp 14 ton Showmans Road Locomotive 'Margaret' (Works No. 3926 - Reg. No. NO 4999). The engine was originally used with a Chairoplane ride and was named after Henry Thurston's wife.

From October 2002:

themagiceye: How many of these Ark rides are still operating in fairgrounds today?
Paul Grimshaw: Of the estimated 250 originally built there are believed to be around 20 Arks still in existence, and of these around 13 are still operational. The remainder are packed away or in a derelict condition. [Update: Paul has asked us to point out that some of his early research on the number of arks built and surviving was inaccurate].
The trend is towards replacing traditional rides with more economical modern rides that are quicker to set up and cheaper to run.
Why bother to restore it?
Increasing numbers of older rides are being left to rot or be scrapped. In the next decade it is estimated that at least a further 7 rides will be withdrawn from operation. If this trend continued, the Ark ride would be extinct in operation within the next 20 years.

From The Warrington Guardian, September 2002
Paul, aged 40, said, "I feel the traditional English fair is dying out, and so is our rich heritage. Today's travelling fairs are harsh and have a diminishing appeal for family visitors.
"Many of the older fairground rides are being discarded in favour of more modern rides which take less time and workforce to set up. Consequently the traditional rides are either being packed away or at the back of showmen's yards".  
He added: "Older rides are not only part of the travelling fairground history, but also part of the country's cultural and industrial heritage."
There is a 1930s fairground ride at the Black Country Living Museum but Paul, who works at the Liverpool Institute for the performing arts, wants to restore another ride because no two were made the same

How much is it costing you to buy?
A maximum purchase cost of £5,000 has been set to purchase a ride in need of restoration.
Rides in very poor condition could only be used as patterns from which to build a new ride and so canít be considered as an option. Rides in reasonable condition exist but are difficult to find. Rides in operational condition do not fall within the scope of the project.
Where are you buying it from?
There are still a few rides known to be packed in yards around the country and a good deal of research and negotiation would be needed to find and inspect them.
Since May 2000, discounting the handful of rides advertised as going concerns, around 5 rides needing work have been advertised. Two of these five are in very poor condition and suitable only for scrap. The others are in reasonable condition, of the right age and within the price criteria.
Where's the money coming from?
The original idea was to fund the project by establishing a legally recognisable Society, with a minimum of 5 and a maximum of 10 members, each contributing an equal share towards the project.
The remainder of funds is coming from Heritage Lottery Funding (HLF) or commercial sponsorship.
How long do you envisage the work will take to complete?
The project could take 2-5 years to complete.
What sort of help have you been offered so far?
I've had two committed offers of cash support and numerous enquiries and offers of general support and skilled help via telephone and email.
Who will be able to ride it once restored?
If HLF is granted then the ride will need to be available to the general public as an item of the country's cultural heritage ideally at a heritage living museum or at vintage rallies.
Where will it be kept?
This is a matter for concern at the moment. I'm looking for offers of storage and workshop facilities. Failing that I will have to pay commercial rates for suitable premises.

How will you pay for on going running and maintenance costs?
Good point. This is being treated as a separate agenda.
If a syndicate owned it they would then meet the ride and running costs - other possibilities include commercial sponsorship, charitable status, etc.
What sort of exposure has this story had in the media?
So far I've had 3 local press stories to try and gauge local interest. I've also set up a web site to support the project: www.ridersofthelostark.co.uk [2009 Note: This link is now obsolete].

Can anyone help with the project?
Anyone can contact me to offer support [as at 2002]. I'm looking for storage facilities in the NW of England and people with fairground related mechanical and electrical knowledge.

An example of an Ark at Folly Farm, Pembrokeshire. Photograph: Nick Laister/www.joylandbooks.com

Photograph: Paul Grimshaw

Photograph: Paul Grimshaw



THEMAGICEYE  |  Terms and Conditions |  Privacy Policy |  Contact Us