Pleasure Fair Days by Philip Phillips.
In the mid 1980s the Leader made a request for reminiscences of the pleasure fairs that visited Wrexham since about the 1850 when the railway came to town. Up to the mark stepped Mr Albert Plinston of Court Road who had family links with these fairs from the late 19th century. He noted that his family had attended these fairs in many parts of the country as well as setting up locally in Caergwrle, Summerhill, Pentre Broughton, Brymbo , Rhos, Cefn and of course, Wrexham. With regard to the Cefn Fair he recalls that he was only four or five years old when he remembered seeing a man with a large Russian bear, attached to a chain, performing a kind of dance in a street close by Cefn Bank fairground.
Mr Plinston continued “ I can remember many of the stories told by my parents of their younger days in the fairs and as I grew up I joined my father in the business. I well remember in the 1920s, while the various amusements were being set up, chatting to Pat Collins when something happened to the magnificent steam driven organ which resulted in near disaster.
Two families more than any other have left their mark on Wrexham Pleasure Fairs. Pat Collins, mentioned above , born on a fairground in Chester, was the doyen of showmen and the organ which accompanied his amusements was the largest and the most powerful in the country. On Sundays when the show closed down he would arrange a recital of sacred and classical music on the organ and for many years they were a popular attraction after people came from church. All the proceeds went to charity. Pat Collins became a prominent figure in public life and at one time he was Member of Parliament for Walsall, known as the showman’s MP. His first wife hailed from Chester and after her death in 1933 she was buried in Wrexham cemetary. The Collins family are still in the show business to this day.
However, the family most associated with the Wrexham fair, virtually since its inception is Wrexham’s very own Simons family. George and John Simons are the fourth generation of travelling showmen descended from John Litchfield Simons, who started his travelling career with a Menagerie and later ran a Bioscope show. He died in his caravan on the Beast Market in Wrexham in 1903 and is buried in Wrexham cemetery. Ellen Simons, John’s widow, along with their seven sons and five daughters, carried on the business. The fact that the family was born into the show business is evidenced by John and Ellen’s grandson, George, being born in a caravan in the Hat Inn yard Charles Street. On the 23rd April 1941, George Simons Junior, as he was then known, married Elizabeth Connell at St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral in Wrexham. Lizzie, as she was known, the daughter of another travelling showman Thomas Connell and his wife Sarah Connell, nee Greatorex, was born on 8th March 1915 in a caravan in the Foresters Arms yard, Rhosllanerchrugog.
The Wrexham Fair is established by charter and the Simons family have faithfully kept the tradition of the fairs for over 130 years.The centuries old link between Wrexham April Fairs and the Beast Market was broken in 1976 when it was moved to Eagles Meadow which was aquired by the council in 1957.The fair was again moved on when Eagles Meadow was transformed into a modern shopping complex.The current site for the fair is near Waterworld. When I spoke to John Simons last week he admitted that the current site is far from ideal but that they would ‘hang on’ in the hope of finding a more suitable venue for the fair. For the sake of a town that is fast losing its traditions and character we must all hope that their search is fruitful.
Source: Philip Phillips; NWN Media. First published in Evening Leader.