57, Stanley Street, Rothwell, Kettering, Northamptonshire, England
In the May-June edition of Iron Men which reached me on May 29th, Anna Mae quotes from a letter sent in by Berton Blazek concerning the railway locomotive 'Dunrobin.' I suppose it is an unusual thing to find at Fort Steele in British Columbia, although its design when compared to other British locomotives from that era is nothing out of the ordinary. Mr. Blazek says it was built in 1894 my own information says 1895. In reality it was probably built in 94 and first run in 95. Anyway, give or take a year, it does not really matter. 'Dunrobin' is the name of the locomotive. It is an 0-4-4T built by Sharp Stewart & Company for the Duke of Sutherland's private railway between Golspie and Helmsdale, which was opened in 1871.
The engine was kept in its own private shed at Dunrobin, but the Duke and his heirs had the right to run it, with its special saloon, over the Highland system as desired. Many notable personalities traveled in it at various times; among them the Kings mentioned by Mr. Blazek and also Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany. This was, of course, before the 1914-18 War with Germany.
The locomotive was not used after about 1920, and remained at Dunrobin until 1952 when it was moved to the south of England and was preserved on the premises of the Romney Hythe & Dymchurch Railway at New Romney. In 1965 it was sold to a Canadian businessman in Victoria, Canada. I hope this throws a bit more light upon this locomotive, and I am personally very pleased to know that it has found a good home in Canada one where it is allowed to operate instead of mouldering in a static museum.
Each year here in Rothwell, we have an annual fair. The amusements build up in the centre of the town in the streets (unusual these days because of the flow of modern traffic) and everyone has great fun. It lasts for 7 days, and as I write this, we have one day to go before the 1970 fair ends. Locally it is known as 'Rowell Fair' Rowell being the old English name for Rothwell. This is the 767th annual Rowell Fair.
King John granted a Charter to the town allowing the first fair to be held in 1204. He signed the Charter in Westminister, witnessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishops of Norwich and London on the 26th of January in that year. The original Charter still exists and a friend of mine is hoping to get a photostat copy of it very soon. One of the attractions of this year's fair was William Ashley's Galloping Horses, a very beautiful set and one of only a handful still existing which work by means of a real steam centre engine. A big tank of water stands in the centre near to the engine, and it is quite a sight to see the engineer piling coke into the firebox every little while. Last Tuesday afternoon during a lull in the proceedings I spoke to William Ashley and asked him if I could photograph the centre engine, and he told me to go ahead. It was a bit difficult as I had to use the flash and had to keep poking the camera in between the horses heads to fit the engine into the viewfinder. The engine has a Works Number of 422 and was built by Savage of King's. Lynn in Norfolk, England.
In recent years the 'Rowell Fair Society,' a group formed to help preserve the traditions of this ancient fair, has held an annual models exhibition in the Church Sunday School buildings to coincide with the first 3 days of the fair. This exhibition of the fairground, steam and other models, plus interesting photographs, etc., is fast becoming one of the best known in the country, and many fine models were on exhibition this year. Fair models and steam go together easily because of the very fine Steam Road Locomotives which the showmen once used to pull their loads and to supply power; plus, of course, the centre engines as mentioned already in connection with the galloping horses. Such engines were used in other rides also, and even today I know that Harry Lee still has a set of Steam Yachts in working order.
At each Rowell Fair at 6 am on the Monday following Trinity Sunday, Norman Hall, bailiff to the Lady Of The Manor, mounted on a white horse and accompanied by six halbadiers, reads the Charter proclaiming the fair open. He starts at the Parish Church at 6 am and then proceeds around the centre of the town for an hour, reading it at spots which coincide with a pub or hotel. This year a crowd of 800 to 1,000 people followed this ancient ceremony which is accompanied by a brass band.
Each year the Rowell Fair Society produces a Super 8 colour film about the fair and everything to do with it including the Charter reading and the models exhibition. I had the honour of shooting off the first 3 reels of film this year which showed the fair building up in the streets. After that I handed the cameras to others for filming the other parts, but I did do some sound recording which is used to give the correct sound to the various sequences of the film. I was so pleased with the atmosphere captured at the Charter reading at 6 am that I have decided to have a few 45 rpm extended play discs pressed of this. The disc will contain the Church Clock striking 6 am, followed by the band playing the National Anthem, and then Norman Hall reading the Charter. Then we cut to the War Memorial where the dead of the town (through military service in the two World Wars) are remembered as the procession stops while the band plays 'The Lord Is My Shepherd.' This is followed by the band playing part of a march tune to end side one of the record. Side two of the record has no cuts and has the sounds of the band leading the procession through the town to the last Charter reading which takes place at 7 am outside of 'The Sun Inn.' During the actual ceremony, Norman Hall reads the Charter 8 times. At each pub or inn he is given a drink of rum and milk and the halbadiers a half pint of beer. By tradition, the crowd has a real great time when this ceremony is taking place and bags of soot, flour and rotten eggs are thrown at the Charter party and the band. This year crackers and smoke bombs were also let off. Many direct hits were scored with the flour bombs, but the hour passed without serious trouble with the police only having to make one arrest a student who got too carried away and behaved stupidly by smashing a traffic signal. But the 45 rpm disc with the 767th Charter reading on it will be a rare item as only a handful of copies are being pressed and will be snapped up by historians and collectors. Anyone interested in hearing this can write to me and I will arrange for a disc to be sent on loan if none are left for sale.
It is good that after 767 years this ceremony still holds its own in this modern world. I should mention that Norman Hall does not read the actual Charter granted by King John, but an ammended version granted by King James 1st a sort of renewal of the original, but both Charters are preserved in London with the original signatures of the two Kings concerned. It is a sobering thought that over 500 annual fairs had taken place in Rothwell before the steam engine was developed and over 700 before steam was ousted out by diesel and whatever else may follow.
Well the Steam Rally Season is upon us again in this country. They differ from yours in as much as the rally field, while containing many fine examples of threshing and ploughing traction engines which are in steam and usually parade around the ground do share the honours with the magnificent Showmen's Road Locomotives which every rally organiser tries to include. One or more of these colourful engines will put the crowning glory upon any rally, plus, of course, a fairground organ if possible sometimes several. This reminds me that the Rowell Fair Society had Arthur Mills bring along his wonderful 89 key Gavioli Fair Organ for the 3 days of the models exhibition, giving open air public recitals. The organ was built in 1902 and was originally in James Crightons Bi6scope Show (a traveling cinema before the movie houses were built). Arthur Mills, who now owns the organ, is the head of a dry cleaning firm at Rushden in Northamptonshire, and pulls the organ truck around with an old fire engine.