Southend-on-Sea (c) Jason Hawkes

Britain from the Air - Fairground

All the fun of the fair

Fairs first began in the medieval period, in around 1200 AD. They started off as markets rather than the funfairs that we know today. Medieval fairs were more like modern agricultural shows and, according to legend, also had a tradition of wife-selling.

Some fairs offered local specialities; Birmingham had an Onion Fair and Great Yarmouth a Herring Fair. Scarborough Fair lasted a full 45 days and attracted traders from France, Spain, Italy and the Baltic to sell their wine, silk and spices.

Entertainment was only a small part of early fairs, with basic games for people to play and animals to ride. Tightrope walkers, clowns and puppets also provided amusement. By the end of the 19th century, entertainment had taken over from more traditional pursuits.

History of the fairground

The roundabout is one of the earliest fairground rides. The first ones to emerge, in the early 19th century, had crudely fashioned dobby horses whose head and body were made from lumps of wood, and legs were simply round sticks.

Most roundabouts initially ran on man-power, with children taking turns at pushing the horses around in exchange for a free ride. Sometimes they were pulled by ponies, and a bicycle-powered roundabout was even invented - the Velocipede.

Later, steam power took over and the roundabout continued to grow in popularity. It is still a stalwart of the modern fair today albeit in a faster, scarier version.


Blackpool Pleasure Beach is probably our most famous fairground, attracting over 6 million people every year. But for centuries Blackpool was a quiet sleepy seaside village. The advent of the railways and increasing mobility of the working classes changed it forever.

During 'Wakes Week' when mill owners closed their factory for a week every year, entire workforces would decamp to places like Blackpool. Another boost came when the post-war Labour government introduced paid holidays for all employees. Blackpool developed quickly as a holiday resort.


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Location: Southend-on-Sea, Essex, SS1 2EL
Grid reference: TQ 88573 85010

Britain from the Air - Fairground credits

Thank you to -

Jason Hawkes for aerial photography

Text researched and written by the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)

According to Guinness World Records, Mumbo Jumbo is the steepest rollercoaster made from steel. ‘It plunges people down an overhang of 112 degrees from a high point of 30 metres.’