King’s Lynn showman ready for another year on the road

Norfolk original Nipper Appleton with his Ghost Train, which will be part of the Lynn Mart 2016. Pic

Norfolk original Nipper Appleton with his Ghost Train, which will be part of the Lynn Mart 2016. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Lawrence 'Nipper' Appleton comes from a long line of showmen and has spent much of his life on the road with the fair. Over the years, his white knuckle rides have entertained thousands of families across the country. He talks ahead of The Mart opening in King's Lynn at the weekend.

The colourful spectical of the King's Lynn Mart at night view from a roof top on the Tuesday Market

The colourful spectical of the King's Lynn Mart at night view from a roof top on the Tuesday Market Place. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Saturday marks the start of another busy year of running fairground rides for 'Nipper' Appleton.

King's Lynn is the first funfair in the showmen's calendar and after a fortnight on the Tuesday Market Place, he will make his way to Peterborough. By Easter, he will be in London; there will be stops in Wellingborough and Corby too.

He's booked to be at the Cambridge Midsummer Fair for the end of June and will be spending the summer touring the West Country.

'And we keep on moving until just after Christmas,' he said. 'We have a month or so off for a bit of a rest and to carry out maintenance work on the rides – and then we're back on the road again.

'But I do pop back home every now and then to check the post, pay the bills and catch up on life.'

Home for Nipper is King's Lynn, which hosts one of the oldest fairs in the country every year. His base is just off Loke Road, close to the town centre.

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'We chose to settle here because the people always made us feel so welcome,' he said.

The Mart is an 800-year-old tradition well established in the town's heritage; the charter marking the Valentine's Day fair was granted by Henry VIII in 1537.

Another connection the west Norfolk town has to the fairground is the great achievements of Frederick Savage who worked with the Showmen's Guild to develop new rides in Victorian times.

Mr Savage lived in King's Lynn and pioneered the application of steam power to fairground barrel organs and went on to develop a unique industry manufacturing power-driven roundabouts, swings and joy-wheels.

The tradition is so deep-rooted that each year, the standing mayor of West Norfolk and North West Norfolk MP Henry Bellingham usually attend the Mart's official opening. They even get into the spirit of the occasion by braving one of the rides.

Mr Appleton said: 'I'm really looking forward to the opening on Saturday.

'The Mart is such a great tradition and I'm so pleased that people still enjoy it after all this time – they come back year after year.'

He added: 'When I stand with the dignitaries at the opening, I see all these familiar faces in the crowd. Words can't describe how much that means to me.'

But the fairs Mr Appleton grew up with touring the country are very different from the one that will be set up later this week.

While today's fairs seem to cater for adrenaline junkies with fast rides that turn upside down and reach great heights, years ago there was much more variety and entertainment available.

'Television was rubbish and people wanted to watch live entertainment when they went out,' Mr Appleton said.

'And we made our living providing that entertainment.'

The eldest of 14 brothers and sisters, his family travelled the country in a converted bus. As the children grew up and space became tight, hammocks were tied up for them to sleep in.

Mr Appleton recalls being dressed up as a Mexican as a child; his father, also called Lawrence, instructing him to bang on a drum and entice people into the live show. His father was also a fire eater and sword swallower.

One of their most popular acts was 'Tianga the Jungle Girl'. Visitors would pay to see a young girl sitting in a glass case, with her body covered with exotic animals such as snakes and iguanas.

Mr Appleton said: 'My father would also be dressed up outside in a safari suit, trying to get people through the door. It's what we did back in those days; it's how life was.

'But the atmosphere at the fair was always incredible. People would come along and wander around to be entertained by all of the shows.'

Local boys would attempt to win a fight in the boxing booths, curious audiences were intrigued by the touring 'freak shows' and lifelong friendships were formed during the fun and enjoyment.

Mr Appleton added: 'I still see friendships form at the modern-day fair too. Even though the fairs have changed lots over the years, separate groups of teenagers get chatting and go on rides together.

'It's definitely the white knuckle rides that the kids want these days; years ago the rides were so mellow in comparison to what we have now.'

He puts his flare as an entertainer down to his entrepreneurial grandmother, Eugenie Williams who used May West as her stage name, and was a popular entertainer at the fair.

'I am a showman and it's in my blood,' he laughs. 'I wouldn't know where to start with any other trade.'

At 74 though, surely he is thinking about retirement soon?

He said: 'Not at all. When you stop, that's when your body starts to go wrong.'

The King's Lynn Mart opens on Saturday at noon. Children's day will be on Monday, February 15 from noon where reduced rates apply for youngsters. The Tuesday Market Place will be closed to vehicles from 10pm on Wednesday.

What are your memories of the King's Lynn Mart? Email louise.hepburn@archant.co.uk

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