All the Fun of the Fair at Sworders

A magnificent large fairground carousel galloper horse by Anderson, c.1895. Estimate: £5000-7000. Sworders

All the fun of the fair comes to Sworders this spring with the sale of the John Barker collection. The array of exceptional late 19th and early 20th century fairground horses, carvings and regalia comes for sale on March 7th.

A passion fired by his grandfather, who worked the fairgrounds in their golden era, John Barker has collected fairground art for over half a century. Purchasing his first carousel carving from a junk shop in Cookham aged 14, he estimates that as much as 80% of his collection has been acquired from the USA, where some of the very best pieces were exported to collectors from the 1960s to the 1990s.

A 35-key juvenile fairground organ by Limonaire Frères, c. 1910 estimate £12,000-15,000. Sworders

After the success of selling a small portion of his collection at Sworders in 2018, John Barker has consigned 47 different fairground attractions to the sale, having kept around a dozen pieces to pass on to his grandchildren. “I can’t lie. It is a wrench parting ways, as each piece is exceptional and it’s been a lifelong passion finding and restoring them. However, I look forward to seeing how they are enjoyed by other collectors, knowing my name will always be connected to them.”


Among Barker’s favourite pieces in the sale is a torso mount from a famous ride created by the celebrated Burton-on-Trent carver Charles Spooner. Particularly adept at catering to public taste, this model of Joseph Chamberlain wearing a tam-o’-shanter and monocle was part of very topical carousel of 12 centaurs carved with the heads of Boer War leaders that debuted at the Neath Fair in Swansea in September 1900.
Joseph Chamberlain, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, was not first choice with the punters who preferred to ride Kitchener, Roberts, Baden-Powell or other ‘war heroes’. Quietly removed from the ride and replaced. It was unlikely Spooner ever carved another. This, the 2ft 5in (73cm) top half of the figure, is expected to bring £6,000-8,000.

A rare and important carved fairground carousel mount torso by C J Spooner, c.1900. Estimate £6000-8000. Sworders

Spooner produced a huge variety of animal figures for fairground roundabouts, ranging from the usual galloping horses to ostriches, bears, lions, donkeys, pigs, goats and turkeys.

A couple of rarities in the sale are an ‘outside row’ carving of an animated juvenile elephant wearing a colourful saddlecloth (estimate £7,000-9,000) and an ornate pair of juvenile ‘Dobby’ horse carousel mounts, likely taken from a juvenile ride owned by W.H. Marshall & Sons of Bradford.

An extremely rare juvenile elephant fairground carousel mount by C J Spooner, c.1890. Estimate: £7000-9000. Sworders

There are several examples from the Bristol workshop of Arthur Anderson. The son of a woodcarver who had made figureheads for wooden ships, he turned out dozens of superb animals for fairs all over Britain. When he died in 1936, it is said that classic English fairground horse died with him.

A large Anderson galloper c.1895, probably carved for Walter Sharples whose initials appear to the saddle, is guided at £5,000-7,000 while a rare juvenile carousel mount in the form of a lion, with initials for the famed Worcestershire-based showman Alfred Scarrott, estimated at £3,000-5,000.

Link to catalogue here.

See also: Buckler’s Hard Opens Landscape Exhibition

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