I grew up on Carters Steam Fair, the world’s largest and most beautiful vintage travelling funfair. We still operate today travelling around the Home Counties, Essex, Staffordshire, Bath and beyond.
As a child I was fascinated by the paintwork on the rides, and so I pestered signpainter Stan Wilkinson to teach me how to paint. Stan was from the proper tradition of signwriting, having been taught as a young man by a master signwriter, who in turn learnt the same way, going back to the 19th century.
For me, learning from this linage that directly links to the master painters of the Victorian age was an opportunity not to be missed. I am proud to have learnt the traditional way in an age when it is unusual to learn a skill through hard work and a long apprenticeship.
Every spring the Fair pulls out for the season and my time is spent travelling and running our rides. In the winter the real work begins: restoring and maintaining the vintage equipment. Paintwork of mine and my team can be seen on the majority of the fair’s attractions.
During the winter months I run intensive signwriting and fairground art courses from our winter quarters where I pass on the knowledge to more people that are passionate, as I am, about keeping these old skills alive.
Courses are very popular and book up quickly, and we have had people travelling from all over Europe and further afield specially to take part. Aaron Stephens, who works closely with me, came to one of the first signwriting courses and showed a natural aptitude for the craft – after an apprenticeship he is still working as part of the team today.
As well as running our busy paintshop, and Carters Steam Fair I am also an artist in my own right. I was involved as a guest curator for Peter Blake’s curation in the Museum of Everything and I have given talks on signwriting and its place in folk art at universities and art schools, in addition to signwriting commissions for the Brit Awards and the English National Opera amongst others.
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Hope to see you soon at one of my courses or at Carters Steam Fair.
About The Fair
Carters Steam Fair began in 1977 when my parents John and Anna Carter bought our Jubilee Steam Gallopers that we still operate today. Their passion for vintage fairground rides grew, and together with my mum’s artistic talent Carters soon became known as specialists in vintage rides and restoration.
We sadly lost my dad to Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2000 but we felt that the show must go on in his honour- we have inherited his love for the fair and what it stands for. To this day together with my wife Georgina each year we take our collection of over 25 vintage rides and attractions to over 20 or so locations in the UK.
Our rides date from the 1890s to the 1960s and many were found in a dilapidated condition. We painstakingly research the history of the ride, tracking down original photographs and documents wherever possible. Together with my team, we faithfully restore the rides to glory so that they look ‘factory fresh’ for the thousands of families that come to see us each year. Our collection of rides and side-stalls makes us the largest travelling vintage funfair in the world, but also makes us one of the largest collection of signwriting and fairground art too. While many signwriters paint one off items for clients, together with my team we have painted all of our rides, side stalls, living wagons and vintage vehicles that we use to tour the fair. It’s rare to see so many pieces of traditional signwriting and fairground art in one real life, working location. We have even held a signwriting festival to showcase the work of signwriters to a wider audience. When we tour, I offer guided tours of our fairground art at selected locations– a visit to the fair is truly a visual spectacle!
Our hard work in preserving the fair and its artwork has meant that it has featured in many films and TV shows including Rocket Man, the Oscar-winning Theory of Everything, Paddington 2, Call the Midwife and more. We have also hosted photo shoots for brands and even a photo workshop for aspiring photographers. You can find out more about hiring the fair on our website CartersSteamFair.co.uk
2020 is a tricky year for so many heritage attractions and we have been devasted that we are unable to tour the fair but are looking forward to returning when we can. Please keep an eye on our website for more information.
An interview with Joby’s signwriting mentor