While on a recent holiday in Devon we visited Dingles Steam Village at Lifton, just off of the A30, 7 miles east of Launceston. We followed the brown signs and had no trouble finding it. After parking the car in the spacious car park, we entered the new reception area and paid our entry fee of £6.00 per adult and £4.50 for children then, with eager anticipation, we passed into the first exhibition hall.
The first hall contained a variety of steam engines most of which were working on steam piped from a central boiler, there were stationary engines, marine engines and a Fowler roller which was one of the fleet operated by Dingles all ticking over gently, filling the hall with the sounds and smells of working steam machinery. A nice touch was a steam steering engine from a ship that can be operated by members of the public, demonstrating how a ship was steered at sea. On further investigation, some interesting items of fairground art can be seen including rounding boards and beautiful show fronts depicting jungle scenes and chariot racers, marvellous examples of the skill of the showmen.
Passing into an open ended barn type building we found a selection of steam and petrol vehicles, the steam including a Burrell roller and a large Marshall traction engine named ‘Titan’ but there were also several packing trucks that had once belonged the Edwards of Swindon, a Wiltshire showman and these we found very interesting as they were in ‘as worked’ condition and we could imagine them travelling behind a showman’s engine from fair to fair.
We visited on Good Friday and the South West Organ Festival was taking place with a number of visiting instruments dotted around the site. Outside a Burrell Showman’s engine was generating for a machine together with a couple of Scammells who were making rather more noise than the steamer, this with the various organs created quite a din.
The new Fairground Heritage Centre contained some beautiful vintage fairground machines including Dodgems, a switchback, a speedway and an orbiter with some side stalls and shows. There were also two living vans and some packing trucks dotted about in the huge agricultural building which housed the collection. The building does nothing to enhance the fairground ‘feel’ and there is no atmosphere at all which is a great shame. Compared to Thursford with its subdued lighting and ‘cosier’ atmosphere Dingles fairground is stark and characterless, something that hopefully will change as the museum develops in the future.
The Dingles Steam Village is worth a visit especially if you are keen on fairground history, it contains some fine machines and artwork and we are sure that it will get better and better, see what you think.