Farmer battles illness to restore historic Norfolk circus wagon

Paul Tomlin

Paul Tomlin (second right) with, from left sons Ben and Dan, George Clarke, partner Katharine, Raymond Evans and daughter Kirsten - Credit: Plum Pictures at Channel 4

A farmer with a rare muscle-wasting condition has restored a historic circus wagon found in Norfolk.

Paul Tomlin holidayed at Brown's Holiday Park at Heacham in the 1950s with his family.

An old wagon stood on the site amid the holiday homes which was believed to have once formed part of a circus.

More than half a century later, Mr Tomlin snapped it up when he saw it on an online auction site.

Paul Tomlin

The former circus wagon after making the journey from Norfolk to Oxfordshire - Credit: Plum PIctures Amazing Spaces

Despite being diagnosed with myofibrillar myopathy, a very rare genetic form of muscular dystrophy, he set about restoring it. on his farm in Witney, Oxfordshire.

Mr Tomlin, who had previously restored horse-drawn carts,  battled on through extreme bouts of fatigue, his vulnerability to the cold and his inability to climb up steps and work at height. 

The former head of the joinery workshop at  Blenheim Palace had  to relinquish some of the tasks that previously he would have been able to complete with ease and let others do them.

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"It's a very frustrating process when you begin to realise there are things you just can't do at all," he said. "If you go down on the ground, you have to make sure there's a chair nearby so you can get up. 

"If you get up on a step ladder, you get up one step and your legs are like lumps of lead."

The restoration, carried out over the winter, took around eight months. Described as a legacy project for his children and grandchildren, the wagon  would have been used in the late 1890s to transport circus/fairground tents and equipment around the country. Like many similar vans of that type, it was turned into living accommodation in the 1920s.

The project caught the attention of Channel 4 TV show George Clarke's Amazing Spaces, which filmed Mr Tomlin, family and friends at work on the wagon.

George Clarke

TV presenter George Clarke with the restored circus wagon - Credit: Plum Pictures at Channel 4

Presenter George Clarke said: “It was honour to meet Paul, one of the most skilled and brave people I’ve ever encountered. He didn’t give up when he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, instead he worked tirelessly to build something for his children and grandchildren to stand as a lasting memory to a true master craftsman.”

Robert Burley, director of campaigns, care and support at charity Muscular Dystrophy UK, said: “We were absolutely delighted to see Paul’s impressive circus wagon restoration on George Clarke’s Amazing Spaces. Muscle-wasting conditions are progressive illnesses, so it was great to see Paul complete such a physically gruelling task with the help of his friends and family."