The first of a regular feature in the Torbay Weekly. BBC radio and TV presenter David Fitzgerald, universally known as Fitz. has spent his life in Devon and has especially fond connections with Torbay. In his first Big Interview with Torbay’s naturally inspiring personalities, Fitz talks to Simon Devey about the importance of the fairground to the Bay and how it has changed over the years:

Anderton and Rowlands fair at Torre AbbeyAnderton and Rowlands fair at Torre Abbey

What do you know of the travelling fair grounds? Was it part of your childhood - the noise, the lights and the colour washing over you as you plastered your face with candy floss, lost control of a dodgem and then chanced your luck on the shove penny machine?

The rides are still there, stored for the moment, the families are still there, waiting for the restrictions to be lifted, but what will the future bring for this way of life generations?

One of the main families behind the showmen tradition lives in Torquay, not recent arrivals as Simon DeVey from the Anderton and Rowland Fair explains.

“We arrived in the 1870s and there was already a group of travelling showmen called the Hancock family. We were, of the day, a little more modern, more adventurous and we took over the sites and brought in new ideas.

“The fairs financed the local regattas and, in fact, we still have that link today but, of course, there were a lot more in those times. Things have changed over the years and we have lost so many gatherings and so many fairground pitches.”

Simon was speaking to me from his latest business, again a slight change in direction for the family, the Geo Park Café on The Esplanade, Paignton.

“We have been here for seven generations and each sees a change to the business. Before we got into the big fairground rides, Professor Anderton was a magician. His son Arthur took the name Captain Rowland and became a lion tamer. As time went on, Arthur Rowland ventured in picture houses and opened a string of them. They were not the first in the area but we provided the first ‘talkie’ cinema in the Bay. I think I am right in saying it was called The Empire in Market Street and was managed by Arthur’s daughter Patsy Rowland. She had a son called John Wilson who was an architect and lived in Maidencombe.”

SO WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ORIGINAL ANDERTON FAMILY?

“It was Professor Anderton’s sons Albert and Rowland that ran it for a while but their daughter married a French man called George DeVey, hence the name change. It is still owned by the family but like a lot of businesses we have had to diversify.

“The village green where the fair drew up, no longer exists. In the olden days people rarely left their area but now travel the world. Youngsters now go to Alton Towers or Disneyworld; our attractions have to equal any theme park.

“Although I still oversee the running of the fairs, I have had to change direction and have opened the Geo Park Café on Paignton seafront. It’s a beautiful park for tourists and locals alike.

“Obviously very quiet at the moment and the entire Anderton and Rowland fair is closed down, something that even Hitler couldn’t manage. When World War Two came along, my grandfather and his two brothers joined up so grandmother and several of the fairground ladies kept things running for the duration but this situation is very different.”

YOU CERTAINLY SOUND VERY PROUD TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH THE AREA

“I am, this is the family home and has been for decades. Actually, I have just remembered another link. The first motorcar that ever came to Torbay belonged to Anderton and Rowlands. The Professor and the Captain led the parade into town in a ‘horseless carriage’ and then set up a marquee and charged a penny to see it. I think it was an 1896 Benz Viktoria. The first car in Torbay, if not the South West. I would love to know where it went.”

AND THE FUTURE

“My sons George junior and young Simon are in the business. They are looking after the nuts and bolts of moving the fair, I try to keep up with the paperwork and admin. As for the future…ask me in a few years time. The world is changing.”