Arts: Roll up to buy artistic fairground attractions

Most people will have come away from a fairground with nothing more than a goldfish, or a stick of candy floss. Jojo Moyes says that today enthusiasts will have the chance to buy more substantial souvenirs.

Carousel art enthusiasts will have a rare opportunity to buy historic pieces of fairground art today when a collection goes under the hammer at Wookey Hole caves in Somerset.

The Tussaud's collection, one of the finest of its kind in the world, is expected to fetch up to pounds 400,000. It includes important pieces from major British carvers, as well as French and American figures, some of which were brought to England for a stage production of the musical Carousel.

The collection was built up in the 1960s and 1970s by Lord and Lady Bangor in their Trad shop in Portobello Road, west London, and was bought by the Tussaud's Group in 1973. It has been on display at the Wookey Hole Caves near Wells in Somerset ever since.

But now its owners are selling off the 300-odd carved pieces. The sale, which will be carried out by the auctioneers Christie's, has attracted interest from buyers across the world.

A Christie's spokeswoman said: "We have sent out a huge number of catalogues for this sale, somewhere in the region of 1,500. People have been expressing an interest from all over the world, but particularly from the United States."

The pieces include a double-seater Andean bear, an Orton and Spooner galloping dragon, and a large painted figure of a roaring lion carved by Daniel Muller at the Dentzel workshop in Philadelphia before 1900. It is expected to fetch up to pounds 20,000.

Fairground art dates from medieval times, when the folk carving was designed to entice ordinary people. It was inspired by work done on ships and shop fronts, rather than the fine carving in church screens.

Pieces were often gilded, to prompt thoughts of exotic palaces, and many featured animals, such as camels and zebras, that ordinary rural folk would not have even heard of.

Fairground rides were initially peripheral to the main business of the fair - that of selling animals and hiring servants. But by the 19th century the rides had become an attraction in themselves.

Most pieces were regularly dismantled as the rides were moved on, and repainted every two or three years so that many are no longer true to their original appearance.

Peter Haylings, at Wookey Hole Caves, said: "The display has been at the caves for 20 years and has been enjoyed by over 6 million visitors. It is a fascinating, colourful exhibition and we regard some of the exhibits as old friends.

"The collection is now likely to be spread throughout the world."

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