Behind the fair
John Edward Silcock is descended from a long line of travelling Silcocks, whose fairground roots can be traced back to the early part of the 20th Century.
John’s grandfather, Edward Silcock, was one of four brothers who got their first taste of becoming fun fair operators by running a games stall outside the coal mines in Wigan each night as the miners made their way home.
The Silcock Brothers (Lawrence, Edward, Herbert and Arthur) started travelling just before the First World War with a set of swings, a children’s ride and a barrel organ, equipping themselves with a large three-abreast set of Gallopers (Carousel) around 1918.
The family really made their name, however, at Warrington Potato Market, operating a number of suceessful ‘Holiday at Home’ fairs during the War, at which the rides and attractions operated under ‘blackout’ covers. From then on, Silcock’s and Warrington have become instrinsically linked.
Silcock Bros went on to build up a run of fairs in places like Ashton-in-Makerfield, St Helens and of course Warrington (home to the long-running Walking Day fairs), as well as appearing at world-famous events like Nottingham Goose Fair. Often they bought the sites on which they opened, and the family still own some of them today.
One of Silcock’s most well-known presentations is the annual Daisy Nook Easter Fair in Failsworth near Oldham. The event’s popularity was such that LS Lowry was inspired to paint a picture of the holiday crowds there, and this work of art can now be found hanging on the walls of 10Downing Street.
In the early years, steam was the main source of power on the fairs. One of Silcock’s first steam traction engines was ‘Admiral Beatty,’ which was bought in 1920 and put to work straight away on the latest ride, the Electric Yachts.
A popular ride in the 1930s and 40s was the Swirl, or Swirl of Life. It was transported in purpose-built colourful box trucks emblazoned proudly with the family’s name. The firm’s logistics have remained an eye-catching part of the fair ever since and there’s never any mistaking when “Silcock’s of Warrington” are in town!
In 1948, Silcock Bros bought a Dodgem track and Edward’s two sons, Edward Jnr (‘young Ted’) and Herbert, formed themselves into a partnership, E & H Silcock Bros. In 1955, Edward Jnr took delivery of a brand-new 10-car Waltzer from the famous Scottish ride builder, Maxwell’s of Musselburgh, adding a Cyclone Twist ride around a decade later.
Edward had four children, Carol, Stella, Maxine, and John Edward Silcock. Following the untimely death of his father, John Edward took over the business in 1981 at the age of 20.
Although the Waltzer, Dodgems and Twist remained an integral part of the offering – and still do – in 1992 John brought his selection of rides bang up to date by adding a a Miami (Tropical Trip) and Matterhorn (Thriller Express). The Miami was replaced by a newer version (Side Kick) in 1996 .
As well as adding new rides, John has also established new fairs at a number of major events, including the as the V and Creamfields music festivals. These and events such as the St Helens Show attract crowds in the hundreds of thousands, and the amusements rub shoulders with everything from skydiving displays and stunt shows to performances from the world’s leading bands and DJs. A far cry from those humble beginnings outside the coal mines!
Various rides have been updated and replaced in recent years, including a hi-tech new Twister in 2000. The latest attraction to grace the JE Sillcock stable is the awesome adrenaline ride the Freak Out, which arrived from Holland to replace the Matterhorn in 2003.
Thanks to the many contacts cultivated over the years, Silcock’s can also offer a full range of fairgroundattractions, from kiddie rides and food kiosks to full-size travelling rollercoasters and giant Ferris Wheels.
John Edward Silcock is now one of the leading fairground operators in the North West of England and thanks to the various descendants of “the four brothers,” Silcock’s remain one of the best known names in the business.
With thanks to National Fairground Archive for additional information. Historical images copyright Warrington Library, Jack Leeson, Rowland Scott and Ron Taylor Collections and courtesy National Fairground Archive.