The History of The Hoppings
The Hoppings is a major annual event in the North East and is the largest travelling fairground in Europe; showmen travel from all over the country to attend. The Town Moor Fair, which was founded in 1882, is held on a large open space, covering 28-30 acres.
It all started in 1721, when the annual Northumberland horseracing meeting relocated to Newcastle’s Town Moor from Killingworth, some 10 miles away. After years of dispute regarding the races, it was relocated again and The North of England Temperance Festival Association held a two-day event on the Town Moor in 1882, attracting over 200,000 people.
It is known that showmen paid around £10 for rent. After much success, the organisers of the Festival decided to make it a ‘Carnival of the people of the North’.
For over the next 50 years, the fair carried on, introducing The Rotor, the first ever spinning wall ride in 1951 and the Hook-a -Duck made its first appearance in 1958. By 1982, having your palm read cost 50 or 60 pence and The Hoppings had celebrated its 100th anniversary with thousands of revellers attending.
A year later, free fairground outings were organised for underprivileged children, where the Showmen’s Guild donated the rides. This brought in over 3,000 Variety Club Children. However, by 1985, attendance dipped to 100,000 as the recession hit. In the late 80’s and early 90’s, The Hoppings was even at risk of closing, but after reducing policing costs and increasing the use of the car park, The Hoppings saw a great profit in 1991. To mark the end of The Hoppings that year, a firework display took place on June 29th.
By 2002, the fair celebrated its 120th anniversary. For the next 10 years, the fair saw the return of the Waltzer, faced some challenges such as bad weather and a few small fires. Show families from The Hoppings managed to raise around £2,300 for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation and many memories were made.
Unfortunately in 2013, the Town Moor did not prove to be fit for ride purposes, due to the bad weather from the year before. It was believed that the fair would end after 130 years but given its popularity, the Freemen, The Showmen’s Guild and Newcastle City Council closely collaborated to ensure that in 2014, The Hoppings would return.
Throughout the years, the amusements have changed from steam driven, ornately carved and decorated roundabouts to the white knuckle rides of today but the fair remains a temperance event.
Where does the term ‘Hoppings’ come from?
Several origins have been suggested for the name. Most relate to dancing, the word ‘hopping’ meaning a dance in Middle English (old fairs included dancing). Another idea stems from the clothing which the travellers used to wear – old, sack-like tops and pants. Clothing often became infested with fleas from the animals that travelled with the fair. People were often seen ‘jumping’ or ‘hopping’ about, itching from the bites which they received. Or the name may derive from the Anglo-Saxon word “hoppen” meaning funfair.
‘THE HOPPINGS: NEWCASTLE’S TOWN MOOR FAIR’ BY PAUL LANAGAN
Part of what makes the Hoppings such an exciting event is the captivating history that accompanies the fair. Paul Lanagan is a local man who has dedicated much time and research into unveiling the historic features of the Hoppings and of the people who make it what it is each year, dating right back to its origins in 1882.
He has published a well-regarded book which chronicles the history of the Hoppings from its days as the Temperance Festival through to the 2009 mega-fairground. Containing hundreds of photos covering the Victorian steam machines and modern Millennium thrill rides, the book gives insight into the showmen that continuously shape Hoppings history, plus an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at how the fair is set up.
Praise has been widespread for Paul’s work:
“The Hoppings is one of the greatest fairs in Britain. Beginning as a temperance festival, it has evolved for over a century as a pleasure fair of epic proportions. Through the work of the Northern Syndicate, the people of Newcastle and the north-east are treated to one of the best selections of travelling attractions in the country. Paul Lanagan’s book fills a void by telling the story of this unique event.”
Stephen Smith, Fairground Society
“For more than a century the Hoppings has delighted and amazed the people of the north-east. Now Paul Lanagan has captured on paper some of its magic, with wonderful photographs to remind us of the exotic wild animals, waxwork models, marionette shows, thrilling stunts and pugilistic heroes from the past. The Hoppings remains a high spot of the Northern year, a proud part of our heritage. This is a book to enjoy and then treasure for your children.”
Denise Robertson, TV Agony Aunt & Best Selling Author
Below are PDFs showing some of the excellent research Paul has completed on The Hoppings – please take a read through and dive into to the wonderful history that surrounds our favourite North East fair.