centrepiece: Carter's classics

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The family Carter's horses have been galloping a long while. Since 1895 they have made their rounds, never missing a season and, to mark their centenary, John Carter (left) has been investing heavily on their backs.

It has cost more than £5,000 to regild, with real gold leaf, Carter's Jubilee Steam Gallopers so they glow in their original glory.

They are a carousel, then? "Certainly not," Carter says, affronted. "Carousels are American; they have other animals. A gentleman in Victorian England would ride only a horse. And a lady could mount it only one way, so gallopers always turn in the right direction - clockwise."

Carter's Steam Fair also boasts Chairoplanes, Steam Yachts, an Octopus, proper swings and classic dodgems. They have been tended lovingly all winter by John, his wife Anna and their children, Zed, Seth, Amber, Joby and Rose, who are all barkers and showmen too.

Anna has repainted the rides with traditional fairground motifs. "I've done 10 jungle scenes; zebras chased by lions, wildebeests attacked by crocs, very dramatic and a bit vicious. These used to be very inaccurate because the original artists had never seen such animals."

The fair has emerged from its winter yard and starts its annual tour tomorow in Ravenscourt Park where John Carter's artistry begins.

"I treat each ride as a building. I am constructing a village, creating spaces, manipulating people. This fair is architecture that moves."

Anna emphasises that this is a family affair. "We deal in thrills, not violence. It's all good corny stuff."

Their private quarters add to the show too - art deco caravans, a Twenties coach and several wondrous vehicles, including the Fowler Steam Road locomotive (1913), the oldest working lorry in the country and the Gavioli Fairground Organ.

In 1988 Michael Jackson tried to buy the lot for £1m, but then he never had much of an idea of family values.

Julian May

John Carter's Steam Fair 1, 2 Apr, Ravenscourt Park, Hammersmith, W4.

Gallopers 100th birthday party celebrity charity event in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children, 7 Apr, Homefields recreation ground, Chiswick Lane, W4. Information: 0628 822221