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The Bressingham Gallopers: A piece of fairground history

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Bressingham -gallopers -horses (1)We’re hugely proud of our Gallopers! They’ve been with us here at Bressingham since 1968 when Alan Bloom, the museum and garden’s founder, bought them as a present for his wife.

By that point they were already almost 100 years old, having been built in 1876 by Fredrick Savage in King's Lynn.

Before being bought by Alan, the Gallopers had previously enjoyed a long and varied life.

Operated by the Thurston family of Norfolk until 1934, the Gallopers then took a trip to Whitley Bay, then being taken to the Breckon of Fife in Scotland, before being brought all the way back down the country not far from where they were built!

The restoration of the Bressingham Gallopers

The Bressingham Gallopers is a 3-A-Breast Set, one of the higher spec models - so it would not have been cheap!

If you were a showman in the 1870’s you would have looked through the Savage's Catalogue and picked what specifications and reconfiguration you required.

You might have wanted lit mirrors in the middle, or barley and sugar twists on the brass poles.  Whoever originally bought it, spent a lot of money to get a top of the range model.

When the Gallopers arrived they were in a sorry state.

None of the original horses or carvings had survived; neither had any of the brass poles and twists.

So Flora Bloom (Alan's wife) set about raising money and getting a team of people to put it back into the state it would have been at it's best - it took them around 5 years to get it into the state that we try to preserve it in now

The Gallopers that visitors ride on today at Bressingham are not wholly original - they contains a wide variety of models of horse which originate from several carvers.

In fact, there is actually only one original 'Savage' horse (the original Kings Lynn manufacturers) on it which was donated to us just a few of years ago.

Up until then It's spent most it's life without it's Savage Horses!

What’s powering the Gallopers?

All of the Galloper’s gearing and mechanics are original.

We recently rebuilt the steam engine which drives the ride, situated in the middle. It now has a more powerful tank than the one it came with!

It was originally built to run on both electricity and steam - in around 2004 we replaced all the electric motors to maintain it's ability to run on both forms of power.

Most week days the Gallopers are powered electrically, but at the weekends, during holidays and event days we still often run it on steam.

Bressingham -gallopersWhat is the most challenging aspect of maintaining the gallopers?

We try to maintain the balance between Restoration and Conservation whilst keeping everything running.

The biggest ongoing challenge is damage done to the paintwork by the rivets in people's jeans - But we’re not planning on introducing a dress code!

We've got 3 spare horses so there are always some that are being re-varnished or repainted.  We research the paint method used for each manufacturer of horse and take inspiration from classic show-ground colours and designs.

There are some modern twists, but it's all base metal colours and then lacquers on top, rather than paint.

In places the finished horse has 20 layers of lacquers to create the final colour.

We have a rolling program of constant re-varnishing; just to keep them in the best state (A bit like painting the Forth Bridge!).

Obviously sunlight and being outside can cause weather damage, so the outer ring gets covered up, to try and protect against wind, rain and sun damage when the gallopers are not in use.

Are any of the Galloper animals extra special?

The Gallopers have a mixture 30 horses, ostriches and cockerels at one time. We also have one spare cockerel and three spare horses.

I think everybody has different favourites. The most rare and valuable is the Orton & Spooner carved horse, widely regarded as amongst Britain’s finest fairground ride carvers.

Fairground law also says there should always be at least one black horse (we have two!), they are the two that are most popular with the public.

To the Bressingham staff, though, the extra special ones are those named after volunteers, staff or family members that are no longer with us or have made a huge contribution to Bressingham.

So everyone on the team here, as they walk past the gallopers, has their own favourite that they’ll give a fond pat on the nose (or beak!).

Is there anything we should’ve mentioned?

Do you have any memories, comments or questions on vintage fairground rides?

Is there anything you think we should have mentioned?

If there is get in touch and let us know – you can also do it on Facebook or Twitter.


By Alastair Baker at 24 Sep 2014, 17:30 PM