Visit the Houghton-le-Spring Heritage Centre
[ YOU ARE HERE: Houghton Heritage > Articles > Houghton Feast > Fairgrounds ]


All the fun of the fair at the Houghton Feast fairgrounds

Houghton-le-Spring Fairgrounds

Read about the Houghton Feast fairgrounds in this limited edition commemorative booklet or watch footage of the Lake fairground in 1954 on this DVD.

Copies available at: | From this site

The Lake fair in 1912


The ancient festival of Houghton Feast is intertwined with the history of the Parish Church of St Michael & All Angels and has its origins over 800 years ago as Michaelmas, the Church’s dedication day. A common misbelief is that Rector Bernard Gilpin (1557 to 1583) founded the event, or that it originated as a celebration of his safe return to Houghton after his arrest for heresy when the country was under the rule of Mary I; when in fact the Feast predates Gilpin’s arrival at Houghton.
Copyright © Books of the North 2000 - 2011.

The festival, which is still centred on the historic parish church, has taken many forms over the years. Horse racing was a big feature of the Feast up until the last race in 1938, and it is the large crowds of miners and their families with a few pennies to spare that attracted stalls, show booths and roundabouts to the Market Place.

The Lake Fairground in 1963

By 1881, the fair had become an attraction in itself and had spread to the Lake grounds and the surrounding streets. Older Houghtonians will remember the many side stalls which lined the roads from Nesham Place, down Church Street and along the Broadway, selling pies, mussels, cockles and Pease pudding sandwiches. Some may even recall the rides situated on old Robinson Street, now the Co-Op car park.

The town’s redevelopments saw the fairgrounds vacate the Market Place and Lake and move to the Rectory Field in 1968. Originally the Festival lasted four days, starting on the Saturday and finishing on the Tuesday but festivities now cover ten days or more.

A framed photo was presented to John Murphy to mark the occasion

This year, 2008, marks the fortieth anniversary since the fairgrounds switched to the Rectory Field. It also coincides with the sixtieth anniversary since showman John Murphy Snr first visited Houghton Feast with the Waltzer.

Let us pay tribute to the showmen who have been bringing all the fun of the fair to Houghton Feast for well over 100 years.


Article and research by Paul Lanagan, local historian

If you have enjoyed this article and would like to make a donation towards the website's costs please click below:


The Mayor of Sunderland and showman John Murphy, 2007


A few examples of commonly used words, unique to the fairground, which the reader may not be familiar with:

Build up – building up a ride, machine or stall.

Dobbies – a small hand or steam powered carousel, featuring animals, usually horses.

Flash – the illuminated board on the ride front, usually featuring the ride or showfamily’s name (e.g Murphy's Waltzer).

Gaff – when referring to the fairground site or the busiest day of the fair (e.g the Gaff Day or "What time does the gaff open?").

Gallopers – the galloping horses carousel.

Gratings – wooden flooring on a Waltzer or Ark, which surrounds the revolving platforms.

Kiosk – stall selling food and drink.

Living wagon – a showman’s home, similar to a large caravan.

Lorry – powerful motor vehicle used to pull the fairground loads; never referred to as a wagon as this could cause confusion with a living wagon.

Miami – generic name for a ride with a rising and falling row of seats, which move in a circular motion.

Pull down – dismantling a ride, machine or stall.

Pull on – the day of arrival at a site for the showmen.

Round game – a round shaped stall, such as hook-a-duck, also known as round stall.

Side joint – a straight-sided stall, such as a coconut shy, usually found around the perimeter of a fair, also known as a side stall.

Slip – a helter skelter, also known as a lighthouse slip.

Tilt – canvas covering used on the rooftops of rides and stalls.


If you have memories or photos to share, or copies of past Houghton Feast programmes which you would like to donate, please get in touch by email.


Article and research by Paul Lanagan, local historian

If you have enjoyed this article and would like to make a donation towards the website's costs please click below:




[ YOU ARE HERE: Houghton Heritage > Articles > Houghton Feast > Fairgrounds ]


Copyright © 2011 - All Rights Reserved | About this site

The Gilpin family crest

PAGE UPDATED: 28/07/2011