|Botton Brothers' Gallopers, no date (National Fairground Archive)|
My 4x Great Grandmother, Mary Booth (1791-1849), first wife of Samuel Barrass, one of my long line of canal mariners and keelmen, had a younger brother called Thomas.
Thomas was the lockman at Eastwood Top Lock in Rotherham in the middle of the 19th century. But for once, it's not my watermen and sailors that are in focus this week!
|Rotherham Fair April 1962 (National Fairground Archive Image Database)|
|W. H. Marshall's Fowler engine - number 10318 Sunny Boy II - photographed 1940 (National Fairground Archive)|
By 1871, with their eldest children William and Maria in tow, the couple were living in Rotherham's College Inn Yard, dealing from their travelling caravan. I don't know what William was selling, but it wasn't long before the new steam powered amusements, powered by steam engines and painted all the colours of the rainbow, had him hooked. These early attractions were spreading through the land, catching everyone's imaginations on fire!
|Morley Brothers' Steam Swings photographed Easter 1938. (National Fairground Archive)|
The eldest son William sometimes told the census man he was born in plain old Eastwood. At the turn of the century he served a term in Stafford Jail. But in 1891, working as a lighterman in Hull, he clearly told the census enumerator an extraordinary tale. The census says he was born in "Eton Forest (in the actual forest)"!
Now, I have ancestors born on keels, ancestors born at sea, but never in an "actual" forest! What makes this twice as fascinating, is that there's no such forest with that name anywhere near Rotherham or anywhere else in Yorkshire or England, as far as I can discover. I'm hoping one of you dear friends reading this might be able to help me with this, if you've any ideas?
|W. H. Marshall's Burrell engine - number 3945 Prince of Wales - photographed 24 August 1935 (National Fairground Archive)|
In 1881, the Heeson's travelling caravan was parked on census night in Barnsley, in Hoyland Common Market Place. William is listed as a licensed hawker, and there is another daughter, Jane. She was born in Aston, in Sheffield. No settled village life for this branch of the family!
|F. Walker's Rollicking Jeep photographed September 1947 (National Fairground Archive)|
Youngest son Edward, who seems to have inherited his father and mother's passion for the painted ponies, steam horses and swings, was born in Riddings, Derbyshire as they passed that way in the summer of 1884. Now they weren't just "hawkers", but were listed as having "steam horses" in tow with the caravan!
|W. H. Church's Fair photographed October 1937 (National Fairground Archive)|
Tragically, aged just 60, William was to die a few weeks after this census was taken, leaving the travelling gear to his widow, my distant cousin Sarah. She carried on the Heeson family business, assisted by her son Edward.
There was an inquest into the death of William by the West Yorkshire Coronor. His death certificate reveals that he died in an horrific accident, being knocked down and crushed under his own traction engine in Scissett near Huddersfield. There is a story that he was in the habit of leaving his shoe laces and buttons undone. This may have contributed to his tripping and coming to this tragic and grisley end.
In 1911 it is Sarah who is "Amusement Caterer", as the fairground folks are still called today, living by then in Gorton Terrace, Kinsley near Pontefract. How she ever felt quite the same about the "fun" aspect of the job is left to our imaginations.
|General view from flats of Pontefract Fair, November 1985. (National Fairground Archive)|
Edward became her "Assistant Amusement Caterer", and by 1911 had been married for the past five years to Emma Musgrave. Their household is noisily full of Edward and Emma's children as well as several nieces, nephews and grandchildren, including the intriguingly named "Sir Edward Heeson Hallford" and "Richard Eduard Thomas Birks Heeson".
Looking through the Fairground Archives online, and message boards, I see the Heeson name still connected to the amusement trade in Yorkshire even today. I would love to know more. Can you help me?
My next stop will be researching deeper through two wonderful UK fairground resources:
UK Fairground Ancestors
National Fairground Archive
Actor Larry Lamb explores his own Fairground Ancestry on BBC1s Who Do You Think You Are?
Looking forward to hearing from anybody else who has an interest in their fairground folks from the past!
|T. Whyatt's Living Wagon, no date (National Fairground Archive)|