Arthur Bird at Cambridge Fair

Arthur Bird at Cambridge Fair

Although the Costsessy Estate went on the market in 1913 the Great War intervened, during which the buildings were used by the War Office. The main disposal took place after 1918. The area now known as New Costessey attracted many people returning from the Great War in search of a home. The living quarters were pretty basic; a lot of the “houses” around New Costessey were old railway carriages, and the rest were wooden bungalows. When I lived in New Costessey shortly after I was married in the mid 1980s there were still a few of these wooden shacks left and still inhabited.

One such family who moved in to New Costessey was the Shufflebottoms, originally from Lancashire. Fairground families such as the Shufflebottoms move around a lot, and they  were no exception. They had bases in Dartford in Kent and in Leeds, as well as their home in Costessey. Arthur Bird was related to the Shufflebottoms, and as you can see, part of his equipment was a Fairground engine. Driving a traction engine the 60 miles to Cambridge, at a speed of 10 mile an hour, and including stops for water and coal, would have been a good day’s journey. Fairground operators were the one class of driver who were allowed to tow more than one trailer, so the procession would have been long as well as slow. The Bird family were namely for their Wild West Show which perhaps would not have required much equipment, though it undoubtedly included horses who needed transportation. More wagons would have been needed for Bird’s “Famous Racing Yachts”, another of his attractions. As well as his Showman’s engine, which was a Fowler, Arthur Bird also had a Savage’s portable engine for powering his rides. The Fowler had been built in 1906 and was first registered at Maidstone in Kent. For travelling about in a slightly faster fashion he had a Morris Oxford. This car of the 1930s was probably the version which succeeded the famous Morris Bullnose.

There was an annual round of Fairs that took the rides and the show and the families that operated them around the country.  Lynn Mart is on Valentines Day, Norwich has its Easter Fair, Midsummers Fair in Cambridge in June and St Giles Fair in Oxford in September are just a few of them. Oxford might seem rather far away for an entertainment based in Costessey, but St Giles Fair was on Arthur Bird’s route. At over 120 miles this was definitely a two day trip, spending the night in his living van no doubt. We know he had one because he insured it for fire and contents in 1930.  Some dates inevitably clashed; the routes were laid down and largely inherited from generation to generation.

There has always been a certain linkage between gipsies and fairground people, and it may be no coincidence that Costessey is also a longstanding place for gipsies, still possessing a site. I have detailed the connections of the Drake family of travellers with Barney Welch of Costessey, and an earlier member of the same family appears in the memoirs of life in Costessey by Sir Alfred Munnings.

The Bird family lived in Kabin Road and Gurney Road where I think the showman’s equipment was stored when not being used. The Kabin which gave the road its name was a General Stores on the Norwich Road. This was still going when I lived nearby in the 1980s although the building had been replaced by a brick built one 10 or so years earlier.  The shop later became a branch of Plug and Socket, the electrical retailers, and is now a charity shop. Arthur Bird’s wife was Margaret neé Shufflebottom, which explains the relationship between the two families.

For those who want to learn more of Arthur Bird, including his time in Norwich as the publican of the Gardeners Arms in Timber Hill I recommend you to visit this page: (click here).




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