Walsall Town Show 2009: Pat Collins 150

Brian Collins, great-nephew of Pat Collins, with Scammell Showtrac ‘The Major’ the first vehicle of a new fleet which replaced the showman’s traction engines in the 1950s.

Dateline:  10 August 2009

Summer finally arrived with a bang in Walsall on Saturday 8 August as thousands took to the Arboretum to enjoy all the fun of the fair – and much more – over a sun-drenched weekend at a brand new event celebrating the 150th birthday of Pat Collins, fairgound mogul, cinema pioneer and Walsall politician.

Mayor Pat receives the Freedom of the Borough, 1939 (WLHC).

“The King of Showmen” made his home and headquarters in Walsall and Bloxwich from the late 1800s to his death in 1943, and is a local legend as well as being world-famous for his Amusement Empire which spread across the UK with travelling fairs and fairgrounds all over.  He was also strongly civic-minded, and at various times was a Walsall Councillor, Alderman, Mayor and Liberal MP, receiving the Freedom of the Borough in 1939 in honour of his service.

The Mayor of Walsall, Councillor John O’Hare, opens Walsall Town Show.  L to R:  Mayoress Diane Leese, the Mayor of Walsall, Councillor Anthony Harris, WW2 veterans and former employees of Pat Collins Jim Ryan and James Williams, Snr.

Organised by Councillor Anthony Harris (proprietor of the modern Pat Collins Fun Fairs) and his showland family, with the support of Walsall Council, the show aimed to celebrate the past in style  and thrill today’s audience – and did so in spades.  Opened by the Mayor of Walsall Councillor John O’Hare, and ably supervised by Anthony and Michael Harris, who were everywhere,Walsall Town Show began at full-tilt and didn’t slow down till closing time on Sunday.

Family and friends:  L to R:  Misia Collins, Brian Collins, Lily Collins, John Collins, Anthony Harris, Bill Hunt, Michael Collins.

The Mayor was joined by members of both the Collins and the Harris families, the latter having a long association with Pat and his successors, as well as former employees of his company.  Mr. John Collins joined with the Mayor in cutting a very special 150th Birthday cake for Pat Collins, which was then sold off for charity.

John Collins cuts the cake.

The Mayor also cut the cake, joined by (L to R:) Michael Harris, Mrs. Christina Harris, Councillor Anthony Harris and Mayoress Diane Leese.

The sounds and smells of the hey-day of the fairground filled the air as Pat Collins’ Showman’s engine ‘Wait & See’ (built 1921) thunderously powered up the incredible Wonderland Organ (1908) which once formed part of Pat’s early travelling Bioscope cinema.

It takes you back:  Pat Collins’ 1908 Wonderland Organ powered by his 1921 Showman’s Engine ‘Wait & See’, the latter purchased in 1923. Both owned by Bill Hunt of Oldbury.

Bill Hunt, owner and restorer of ‘Wait & See’ and the Wonderland Organ.

Clive Bull and John Goodwin, operators of ‘Wait & See’ on Saturday.

Showman’s Engine ‘Admiral Beatty’ gets up steam.

Len Crane’s steam crane hits a sticky patch!

And a nod to the post-Pat era of the famous fairground company was given by a sparkling display of preserved Showman’s trucks from the 1950s and later, most notably Pat Collins Scammell Showtrac No. 1, “The Major”.  In the afternoons these vehicles paraded around the arena for the public to see.

Former Pat Collins employee Len Watkins and Mrs. Pam Watkins with ‘The Major’.

The parade

Steve Evans and his father Bill (seated) with Steve’s restored William Hayes ERF tractor unit.

Covering all eras was a large Model Show marquee packed with detailed motorised models of rides and fairground transport built by skilled enthusiasts from across the country.  The model show was organised by Chris Gibson of the Fairground Association of Great Britain, with help from colleague Dave Lester, and was complemented by an historical display on Pat Collins and Captain Herbert Clarke from Walsall Local History Centre.

Graham Downie, Chairman of the Fairground Association of Great Britain, studies a motorised model of a ‘Roley Poley’ ride like that owned by Pat Collins, created by modeller John Bland (looking on).

Modeller Phil Cummings specialises in modern Harris era Pat Collins transport.

Walsall Local History Centre representatives Libby Warren and Paul Ford presented a display on Pat’s history in Bloxwich and Walsall, as well as Captain Herbert Clarke the lion tamer.

Traditional thrill rides such as the ‘Chair-O-Planes’, ‘Waltzer’ and ‘Dodgems’ joined modern white-knuckle monsters like ‘Chaos’, ‘Scream’ and ‘City Hopper’, the latter run by Charles Harris, son of Anthony, giving a fantastic flavour of fun fairs past and present.

All the fun of the fair:   Thrilled Walsall folk ride Charles Harris’s ‘City Hopper’ in brilliant sunshine.

Flying the Chair-O-Planes way!

The Scream Guys:  two Pat Collins staff members get into the spirit of the occasion!

Spooky?  The Ghost Train, an old favourite with youngsters.

Dodgy driving in the Dodgems?  Not a bit of it!

A thumbs-up from The Waltzer Girls!

Serious thrill-seekers got their money’s worth with a ride on Chaos.

Broad smiles were to be seen everywhere on children of all ages, their parents – and their pets, who joined the heaving throngs packing out Walsall Arboretum extension on both days.

Steve Harbach with his steam-powered scale model of ‘The Griffin’.

The lads of 196 Walsall Squadron Air Training Corps.  L to R:  Sgt. Hancox, Cadets Wilkes, Wakelam and Smith.

Sandwell Model Boat Club.  L to R:  Peter Wise, Sidney Sims, Martin Brindley, Harry Green.

A multitude of stalls and displays, including many from local charities as well as Smooth Radio, supported the main attractions.  There was also a simulated beach, donkey rides and traditional Punch and Judy shows bringing the seaside to Walsall for the little ones (and their parents!).

That’s the way to do it!

Another fine old tradtion:  the donkey rides.

The icing on the cake was provided by stunning motorbike stunts and monster trucks which drew gasps of amazement from thrill-seeking crowds.  Sky-high Freestyle Moto-X performances by dare-devils Gary Taylor and Dave Wiggins of UK FMX amazed the assembled throng with their spectacular aerial acrobatics.

Dare-devils Gary Taylor and Dave Wiggins of UK FMX wowed amazed crowds in mid-air.

This was followed in thunderous style echoed by the sound of the audience’s jaws hitting the ground when monster 7-litre V8-powered trucks ‘Big Pete’ driven by Michael “Murt” Murty and ‘Grim Reaper’ by his father Steve took to the air with the battle cry “Do you want to see some damage?!” – they did!  

‘Big Pete’ reaches for the sky, driven by Michael “Murt” Murty.

Around ten thousand people attended Walsall Town Show over the weekend.  As well as opening the show, the Mayor of Walsall was there with the Mayoress Diane Leese to raise money for blind and deaf residents in the borough with a tent for the Mayor’s Charity.

Jim Williams, President of the Showmen’s Guild, with Anthony Harris’s fathers’ Scammell.

The current President of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain, Jim Williams, represented the Guild, of which Pat Collins himself was the longest serving President.  And the youngest son of Pat Collins’ amazing lion tamer Captain Herbert Clarke, Michael Clarke, also enjoyed a visit to the show on Saturday with his wife Margaret.

Michael and Mrs. Margaret Clarke meet Councillor Anthony Harris. 

Councillor Harris said afterward: “Judging from the feedback we’ve had everyone enjoyed themselves and that’s what it’s all about.”

“The tickets were a good price so that families with children didn’t have to pay a fortune to get in and we made sure there was plenty for them to see and do once they got through the gates.  The sun shone throughout the weekend and we think we had around ten thousand people over both days.”

“It was meant to be a celebration of Pat Collins’ life and his contribution over the years and I think we gave everyone a weekend to remember.”

With this year’s Walsall Town Show show clearly a huge success, plans are already being made for for next year’s event, with a different theme.  Hopefully the weather will be as good for that weekend!  Whatever, it is clear that the town is still keeping the flag flying for dear old Pat!

The Edditer was at the show on Sunday too – for ‘all the fun of the fair’ (Picture by Rob Saxon).. 

The Edditer

PHOTOS BY STUART WILLIAMS UNLESS OTHERWISE INDICATED.

News, heritage and information for Bloxwich and district

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