Freak shows, pomegranates and Chicken Night – five burning questions about Hull Fair answered

With such a history, it is no surprise Hull Fair is littered with myths and mysteries.

There are plenty of stories about the fair and we wonder how some odd traditions ever came about.

We all have nagging questions when we head to the fair and Hull Live has spoken to some of those involved to get the answers.

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For instance, why are pomegranates so popular at Hull Fair and what happened to all the different side shows? Is Chicken Night really a thing?

As our annual trips blur into one memory of brandy snaps, Bob Carver’s, waltzers, big wheels, bright lights and loud music, it is difficult to remember what actually happened.

Childhood memories can be laced with nostalgia and gossip and reality can become distorted. And sometimes we simply need to know what the facts are about it all.

Here is is what some Hull Fair stalwarts and operators say about these myths and mysteries.

Why are pomegranates sold at Hull Fair?

Right along the length of Walton Street you will see stall after stall selling the exotic ‘pommie’ but why has it become so popular?

With its messy pulp and finicky pips, it is hardly on-the-go food for a fair visit.

There is a story that one stallholder got to the fair late one year and when he went down to the market all he could get was pomegranates. But he used his sales skills and managed to sell them all – and the rest is history.

Former stallholder James Finnie, 77, has been coming to Hull Fair since he was 13 years old.



Stallholder selling pomengranates at Hull Fair
Stallholder selling pomengranates at Hull Fair

He previously told Hull Live: “We have always sold brandy snaps and coconuts and we used to sell a lot of peanuts.

“But peanuts became less popular and we had to diversify. I’m not sure when pomegranates came in but they seem to sell well.

“I think part of the reason we sell them is that they are just coming into season as Hull Fair starts.

“Stallholders used to go to the Fruit Market in Hull to get the food for the fair and they always managed to get the pommies before they were in the shops.

“It is not an obvious snack for Hull Fair and they are certainly an acquired taste.”

Are some of the games physically/literally impossible to win?

You have all seen them. What appears on the face of it to be a relatively easy challenge to win a ten-foot tall cuddly toy suddenly seems very difficult indeed.

Whether it is hanging on to a bar for two minutes, putting a ball into a bucket or getting a score of 100 in darts, what seemed a breeze becomes very frustrating after your fourth go.



Hook A Duck at Hull Fair
Hook A Duck at Hull Fair

But the chairman of the Yorkshire Showmen’s Guild Garry Leach, who has manned game stalls for almost half a century, gets very annoyed by such insinuations.

He said: “The biggest issue is not stopping people from winning but trying to ensure they do win.

“We have a store where you try to shoot down a star with a rifle. There are rumours the barrels have been bent. But the rifle simply wouldn’t work if that was the case. It would be much easier just to make the star bigger and more difficult to shoot down.

“It is much better if someone sees a couple of people leave your store with big cuddly toys. They will then go over to have a try themselves. If you stand by a stall for ten minutes and no one wins, you’re not going to have a go.

“I have run a hook-a-duck for 45 years and every single person has won.

Is it true there used to be monkeys at Hull Fair?

Yes it is and there are plenty of old photographs out there to prove it.

Monkeys would be dressed in jumpers and a photographer would put them on the shoulders of fair goers and take their picture. People could then buy the photographs if they wanted.

They were a popular mainstay of Hull Fair from the 1950s to the 1970s.

What happened to all the side shows?

Let’s be honest, many of the side shows simply are not acceptable now.

No one would be comfortable going to stare at them.

Animal rights groups would also be deeply unhappy with the ‘freak shows’ that once graced Hull Fair.

Gilbert Chadwick, who now runs a fun house, remembers the side show he and his family ran.



Generic shot of a freak show
Generic shot of a freak show

The 84-year-old previously said: “We used to have a freak animal show. We would have sheep with six legs, a calf with two heads and a horse the size of a dog.

“These were all real animals and we would go round farms and buy them.

“We would have around 15 live animals and tour the country. We would ask the farms to look after the animals until they were needed and they were well looked after.

“The RSPCA would visit us often but there was a campaign to ban such shows and we were forced to stop.

“None of the shows exist anymore. Many could not exist with the changes in attitude these days.”

Does Chicken Night exist?

There have been strong rumours for years and many are adamant Chicken Night exists or has existed.

Basically, the night is said to take place before the fair when people can go and test the rides out for just a £1 to make sure they are safe.

However, Mr Leach has dismissed such claims and says people would never be used as guinea pigs.

He said: “This is a total urban myth. It sounds like something you might have read on Facebook but this rumour has been around for years and years.

“We would never use customers as guinea pigs no matter how little we charge.

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“We do have happy hours and discounts when there are quiet periods and some operators will reduce prices to compete.

“I guess stranger rumours like this are all part of the Hull Fair tradition.”

Testing the safety of rides involves more mundane but important processes.

Hull City Council works closely with the ride operators to ensure everything is in order.

Watch: rides and stalls arrive at Walton Street car park for Hull Fair 2021


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A spokeswoman previously told the Mail: “A daily check sheet is completed and signed off by the nominated person or the ride owner. This ensures a log is kept of any faults which would be rectified as necessary.

“We also ask operators to supply us copies of their safety documentation certificates, public liability insurance, risk assessments, method statements and emergency plans.

“We liaise with the Health and Safety Executive and follow their strict guidelines for this type of event. The Health and Safety Executive may choose to do spot checks throughout the fair.”

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