By the 18th century, fairs, originally held for the trading of goods, had become more festive and even rowdy occasions. The attractions included sideshows, freak shows and performers. By the start of the 20th century, these events had become similar to modern funfairs, incorporating attractions and rides. Funfairs are held in some of London’s parks and commons, many of which have been taking place for centuries.
Barnet Horse Fair began in the 16th century. It was originally held twice a year, but today it is an annual event. The sale of horses and other livestock declined during the 20th century, and the funfair is now the main attraction. The fair became so popular that Barnet became cockney rhyming slang for hair (Barnet Fair = hair).
A fair has been held on Hampstead Heath since the late 19th century. It is traditionally held over Easter and other bank holidays. It was extremely popular: 30,000–50,000 people often attended a bank holiday Fair. In 1910, attendance records were broken on Easter Monday when an estimated 200,000 people visited the fair. In 1920, the event attracted royalty when Queen Alexandra drove past to view the Easter Monday festivities and attractions. The fair’s popularity continued during and after the Second World War. By the end of the century, a small permanent fair was established on the nearby Vale of Health.
The Battersea Fun Fair began life in 1951 as the Pleasure Gardens of the Festival of Britain. The fair continued until the mid-1970s, with many attractions and rides such as the Big Dipper rollercoaster and the Water Chute.
In the early 20th century, arcade machines were the precursor to ‘movies’. Mutoscope machines, which worked like a flick book, were many people’s first experience of ‘moving pictures’. The popularity of these machines prompted the first amusement arcades. Previously, just single machines were found in shops or bars.
The first permanent amusement arcade in the United Kingdom was opened in 1896 in Upper Street, Islington by George Barren. Popularity for arcade games increased, but during the First World War, manufacture of the machines diminished. However, arcades were still operated during the war by the Barren family, who had premises on the Strand, Coventry Street and in Westminster. Another company that produced slot machines was Wondermatics, in Tottenham, which stopped making arcade machines in 1965.