Stalls have been a feature of fairs from the days when fairs were for trading rather than amusement. Ease of transport has always been important to the stallholder and the earliest stalls were very simple – just a couple of frames with a sheet of timber laid across the top to form the table. When pleasure fairs reached their zenith in the period before the First World War stalls grew in size into huge bow topped affairs. The twenties saw a return to a simpler style and this has remained with us to the present day. Today the stall is almost unique in being built up from component parts rather than from a trailer.
Lines of side stalls were once very common around the perimeter of a fair – ‘holding in’ the sides and ends. From the punters point of view they offered a cheap game, maybe 3d or 6d in the old money, with attractive and apparently valuable prizes on offer. From the Showman’s perspective they could provide useful additional attractions and employment for older or younger members of the family.
Despite its apparent simplicity the side stall is a masterpiece of trade skills with carpenters and blacksmiths working together. Careful examination of original stalls will show the care that has gone into their design and construction and just how ‘fit for purpose’ they are.
Materials used are of the thinnest sections and everything comes apart into flat pieces or bars. The only assembled parts on this model are the stool and ball box – both quite small. The stall is largely held together by gravity and the tilt with simple tongue and slot brackets used wherever possible and the minimum number of nuts and bolts. Altogether this minimises the transport requirements which in the earliest days may have been a hand or horse drawn cart. Into the 50’s and 60’s stalls often travelled inside or on top of converted buses or box vans which doubled as living accommodation.
The slotted brackets used for many of the ‘joins’ between the bars are quite difficult to make by hand and I provide a set of these etched in brass.