Goose Fair

Goose Fair

It is easy to forget how heavily we relied on buses during the 1950s when car ownership was so much lower than it is today. Any major function was an occasion to run a special bus service. Many cities’ blinds featured such exotic destinations as “Football Ground” and “Races” as well as the more general “Special” “Works Service” “School bus” etc. Nottingham City Transport had one unique destination – “Goose Fair”.

Each year showmen from every part of the country converged on the city for three days – the first Thursday, Friday and Saturday in October. The history of the fair goes back to mediaeval times, and for many years it was held in the city centre, in what is now the Old Market Square and surrounding streets. By 1928 congestion and the re-development of the Old Market Square forced the fair to migrate to the Forest recreation ground, about a mile and a half from the city centre. This necessitated public transport to move the vast number of fair-goers to and fro. There were, of course, regular Corporation bus (and tram) routes that passed nearby, but the crowds would have swamped these services, and seriously interfered with the needs of ordinary passengers. So a dedicated Goose Fair service was introduced by Nottingham Corporation (later City) Transport.

The city terminus was on the south side of the Old Market Square, and it always seemed that sufficient buses were provided at any given time to just exceed demand. A long queue was constantly gathering – but it was shifted quickly, and it was rare to have to wait for more than 10 minutes. There would be up to three buses standing nose to tail. An inspector would divide the head of the queue up into blocks of about 50 people for each bus, and load up two at a time. There was no point in having standing loads, as this would have made fare collection difficult on a journey of no more than 6 or 7 minutes. On average, a bus was leaving about every 2 minutes at the busiest times.

The Goose Fair service must have absorbed about 10 – 12 vehicles. As with all extra demands on resources, it drew heavily on the second-line fleet. In the mid-50s that meant mainly pre-war AEC Regents, or utility Guy Arabs and Daimler CWA6s. From 1956 when the big fleet of Regent Vs came on-stream, some of the early post-war fleet of Regent IIIs (Roberts and Metro-Cammell bodies) and Daimler CVD6s (Roberts and Brush) were released from front line work to take their turn as well.

I mentioned fare collection, and with Ultimate ticket machines, only two fares to issue (adult and child), no stops or bells to mess about with, and the driver maintaining a moderate speed of about 15-20 mph all the way, the conductor could collect a full set without too much trouble. About 1955 I think the fare was 4d (purple tickets) and 2d (green). Later it was 6d and 3d, but as 6d fares on NCT were 3d (pink) double issues it became even easier. There were lots of family groups travelling, so “three and two halves” produced a reel of eight 3d tickets – very quickly. No doubt multiples of 3d also reduced the number of old pennies taken, so lightening the conductor’s load –four shillings worth of old pennies (equivalent in value to 20p) weighed a pound. Try tripping lightly up and down stairs with that hung round your neck!

The route was round the east and north sides of the Old Market Square, then up Market Street, across the left hand side of Theatre Square and along Goldsmith Street, Waverley Street and Mount Hooton Road, to the Forest main gate. At the time this route was normally only followed by the infrequent NCT service 2. More recently, it has been adopted for the trams. After unloading, the buses turned in a circuit of roads not usually frequented by buses, and then returned to Mount Hooton Road to pick up a return load – right where the Forest tram stop is now sited.

I seem to remember that there was an inspector stationed here as well. Obviously, traffic was uneven with lots of people heading to the fair at certain times of the day, and a major flow of home-going revellers building up from about 8.30 in the evening until close of play about 11.00 (and lots of sticky-fingered kids with candy floss and toffee apples!) So it was a work of art for the inspectors, relying on past experience and current information from incoming crews, to regulate the flow of buses to concentrate them at whichever end they were most needed. (No mobile phones in those days!) By mid-evening many buses to the fair were running empty, simply to provide needed capacity for the city-bound journey.

This was one of the few times in the year when the oldest rolling stock came out on ordinary public service (as opposed to works services and rush hour enhancements). Other occasions were race day specials to Colwick racecourse, football services to Trent Bridge, a tour of Nottingham that ran on occasional bank holiday Mondays (price one shilling), and, I believe, a special service to Newton air-display, in conjunction with other operators, taking NCT buses well outside their usual city-bound sphere of influence.

Stephen Ford

Many thanks to Stephen for a most fascinating description of this particular "bespoke" service. The article is so well composed and written that, even as a virtual stranger to Nottingham as I am, I was able to fully assimilate every aspect of the operation of the special facility and I can imagine what a well organised and efficient feature it must have been. In 1955/6 I was in the RAF at Patrington, East Yorkshire with a chap from Gedling, Nottingham and I lost count of the number of times he informed me that those lesser mortals who had never visited The Goose Fair "hadn't lived." Well, I still haven't visited it and I'm still around !! Incidentally I'm almost sure that the Fair featured in the classic movie "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning", along with the Raleigh bicycle factory, didn't it ??

Chris Youhill

Thanks for your kind comments Chris. You may well be right about Saturday Night and Sunday Morning. The film actually contained a few shots of buses in Nottingham. See here The series of three shots shows five buses : (1) NCT Regent III/Park Royal OTV 176; (2) Trent PD3 on route 61B to East Kirkby; (3) One of the standard NCT 6-wheel BUT/Brush trolleybuses; (4) Following the trolleybus a Notts & Derby Traction Bristol KSW6G; (5) in the far distance the back of a Midland General AEC/Weymann. The location is Derby Road, with the steps of the Roman Catholic cathedral visible on the extreme right.

Stephen Ford

As a native and resident of Nottingham, I found the Goose Fair article fascinating, and very accurate!

Bob Gell

Unexpected burst of nostalgia! I lived in Nottingham as a kid in the early 1960s and I've traveled on those buses several times with my parents. Completely forgotten about them until reading this. I was always fascinated by how they were totally full in one direction and empty in the opposite, depending on the time of day. And even though I knew nothing about buses, I noticed that those used on this service were always very old. If you've ever been to Goose Fair you'll know that you can tell when you are near the site by the sounds and smells - even when you're on a bus. Normally for me, a bus service was a bus service, but that one had a special atmosphere which I can still remember. And yes, it does feature in "Saturday Night Sunday Morning. The film was reissued on DVD a couple of years ago and I bought a copy (still available on Amazon). For bus spotters, there are a lot of street scenes of life in the early 60s which you might find interesting.



The fair scene in the film was actually shot at a fair on Wimbledon Common due to the time of year it was filmed.

Roger Broughton



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