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HISTORY

THE SHOW WITH A DIFFERENCE

So runs the slogan which has been emblazoned on Steven’s

transport for many years. 

It is no idle boast.  Steven’s Fair is different, or rather special.

Joe Stevens died on 9th September 2008.  He always ploughed his

own furrow. His fair has a unique “Show Biz” glamour about it,

reminiscent of Billy Smart’s circus. Indeed, it is to Billy Smart

that we must look to find the roots of Stevens Carnival Fun Fair. 

This was because Joe Stevens in 1942 married Peggy Smart,

daughter of the late Billy Smart of Circus fame.  They were very

keen dancers and Joe was at one time the all Surrey ballroom

dancing champion.

At this time Billy Smart was still predominantly a fairground

riding master. His Fair was the best in the London area. He was

certainly the most enterprising Showman in the London section

and was always breaking new ground, especially with hospital

carnivals and “holidays at home” fairs during the war. Joe

Stevens naturally fitted into the Smart family fair and learnt well.

1946 was a very big year for Billy Smart. He opened his new

World circus, which was to become Britain’s largest travelling

show, for the first time ever at Southall Park.  Not only that, he

also took delivery of four new machines. 

A brand new Lang Wheel Dodgems, Big Wheel, Octopus and

Dive Bomber. These were in addition to his Gallopers,

Coronation Ark, Swirl, Ghost Train and enormous Brooklands’s

Track, the largest car track ever to travel in this country, Billy

Smart’s combined circus and fair was certainly “The Greatest

show on Earth’.  He was now the top Showman in Britain and

was travelling the largest number of big rides together ever

owned by one man in this country before or since. 

Travelling such a large combined show posed the problem of

finding enough grounds big enough to take the circus and the

fair together. The Circus, which was originally an adjunct to the

fair, went from strength to strength and as the 1940’s wore on the

circus became more important to Billy Smart than the fair. As

well as touring the Travlling such a large combined show posed

the problem of finding enough grounds bigenough to take the

circus and the fair together. The Circus, which was originally

an adjunct to the fair, went from strength to strength and as the

1940’s wore on the circus became more important to Billy Smart

than the fair. As well as touring the Circus also did frequent

TV programmes for the BBC. The annual Christmas Day

programmes attracting record audiences.  Royal Performances

took place in London, raising thousands of pounds for charity. 

The circus stopped travelling in 1971 but continued its TV

spectaculars until 1983.

This is where Joe Stevens starts to take an important role,

because Billy Smart started to sell off his machines and reduce

his stake in the fair as he became more and more preoccupied

with the circus. So it came to pass that during the early 1950’s a

gradual transfer took  place whereby Joe Stevens ultimately

took over Billy Smart’s fair, This is rather an over-

simplification, he did not  simply take over the Smart

machines. He bought his own, one by one, and it could be said

that by the mid 1950’s the Fair became officially Stevens.

No fewer than 24 big riding machines have passed through Joe

Stevens’ hands from 1945 to 1984. The very first ride he owned

was a delightful Lang Wheel Juvenile Autodrome, delivered

new in 1945 and travelled, of course, with Billy Smart’s fair.

This was very quickly followed in the same year by a new

Ghost Train.  This is the one that is now stored at Dingle’s

Fairground Heritage Centre in Devon.  

1959 was a golden year for Joe Stevens.   With five superb rides

Stevens was now a really great show.  To celebrate Mr Stevens

had a handsome glossy brochure produced at the end of the

year as a publicity tool to send out to Carnival organisers. The

booklet had  photographs of all the machines taken at night,

pictures of all the family, Joe Stevens, his wife Peggy and

children  Joseph, Charmaine, Perrin and Peggy as well as his

brother Len who was at this time acting as advance Publicity 

Manager for the fair. 

This a fitting point to pause and examine the transport which

Joe Stevens had at this time. Then, as now, his vehicles were a

wonderful spectacle, all painted yellow with orange wheels,

mudguards and underframes. In 1959 they all had whitewall

tyres. The emphasis was very much on loaded Lorries, the

philosophy being that each lorry carried its own machine and

powered it through the prop shaft to a rear mounted dynamo.

All the Lorries and tractors were quite elderly at the time, as

was general in the fairground business in those days.

However, they were very handsome and all had headboards

proclaiming “Here Comes Stevens” over the cabs.  This

convoy was a wonderful looking lot altogether.

A Dodgem ride originally owned by Stevens was

immortalised by being heavily featured in the film “That’ll Be

the Day”. Mr. Stevens started 1962 with a brand new Dodgem

from Supercar. For his new Supercar Track, Mr. Stevens had a

fleet of 20 new cars made in Italy by Spaggiari and Barbieri

with fibreglass bodies and balloon bumpers, the first such

cars to be seen in this country.

In addition, his lovely Swirl attended the winter fair and

circus in the Kelvin Hall, Glasgow for eighteen years.

For 1972 Stevens had a brand new Twist built at Ilkeston to

their own specification.  This was a pioneering machine, the

basic idea of which has been widely copied since.

It was an artic load with fold up floor and pay box on the swan

neck. The drive to the three column sets of cars was by

friction, a system which has been used on nearly all

subsequent floor mounted Twists.

It gave a ride which was faster and smoother than any other Twist made

up to that time. This pioneering prototype spawned many Stevens’ built

Twists including the latest generation of “Twisters” built by Stevens at

their own Chertsey premises. Joe Stevens’ younger son Perrin was by now

taking a large part of the running of the fair. Indeed he already owned the

last two Twists and those that were to come after. The Dodgem was also

his. For 1980 Perrin had a new Meteorite from Sam Ward. In 1981 Stevens’

presented a spectacular ride from the U.S.A., the famous Super Loop. Also

that year Perrin made the first of a new generation of Twists at Chertsey,

the “Sizzler’s”. These have fibreglass cars, a Perspex pay box and boxed in

panels round the top frame covered in running lights. These Twists are,

for my money, the best such machines ever built. 1983 saw the third

Sizzler Twist, again built by Perrin Stevens at Chertsey. The practice up to

now was to build a new Twist each winter, run it for a season and then

sell it.

The demand for Stevens Twist Ride became so great Perrin opened an

additional factory in Corby, Northants, manufacturing Twist rides which

were exported all over the world. 

Perrin sadly died in a car accident in 1990 aged 36.  His

son also named Perrin Stevens is still manufacturing

Rides.

In 1973, Mr Stevens and all his tenants joined the

Showmen’s Guild. Many of us thought that this would

spell the end of the uniqueness of Stevens’ fair as other  rides from Guild

members infiltrated Stevens’ grounds, fortunately this did not happen,

going on to give even more variety to Stevens Fair.

Stevens fair has always gone further afield and travelled greater distances

than any other major firm. This is partly historic.

Operating outside the Guild as Mr Stevens did until 1973 (and as did Billy Smart

from 1946 onwards

During the winter of 1977/8    Stevens’ had a new Maxwell Waltzer of revolutionary

design. It was a spinning top machine, the fifth such made by Maxwell’s. What

really made it so revolutionary was, first, the low flat across the front six sections.

Previous Waltzers had a high flat across the back six sections. Also this new ride

had hydraulic drive to the outside rims of the platforms, ten black fibreglass cars,

and an illuminated black and orange pay box which looked like a giant juke box. 

During this winter, we heard that Stevens’ were one of four firms to be having a

new Sobema Matterhorn imported from Belgium. The Stevens one, was the last of

the four to arrive and made its debut opening in Victoria Park, Hayward’s Heath

on the 11th July 1984 and was a sensation! I had watched it build up for the first

time during the previous two days when it still had all its packing  materials round

it, corrugated cardboard and so on. This wonderful ride was “The Event” of 1984 as

far as I was concerned and I think the best Matterhorn yet imported, with its

illuminated cars and mountain scenery stretching right across the centre.

Joe Stevens’s elder daughter Charmaine (who was christened in Billy Smarts

Circus ring) has always been heavily involved in the business all her life.  Taking on

the running of the Fair after her father’s death, with the help of her family.

Conclusion When Stevens’ fair comes to town, even for private business, it is a real

event in the community. 

Mike Hanna  wrote the above article because Stevens’ are one of his favourite

firms.  I hope you have found it interesting, and urge you to visit a Stevens’ fair as

soon as possible if you have never seen them. You will not be disappointed.  It is

definitely  Stevens': The Show with a Difference.  

Perrin Stevens
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