Folly Farm in Pembrokeshire, Wales, is a zoo and amusement park mostly geared toward entertaining young children. It also contains a hidden gem: a nostalgic collection of vintage fairground rides which are a delight.
The selection is housed indoors and traces the particularly British version of the history of these rides, with vintage machines and sideshows beginning from the turn of the 20th century all the way to the 1970s. They’re all examples of rides which, at one time, were taken on the road. Some also had more permanent homes, including some which were installed in the 1951 Festival of Britain Pleasure Garden at Battersea (this actually stayed open until the 1970s). Even those who are not interested in the engineering, which made the best use of the materials available at the time, will surely be impressed by the original artwork which has been beautifully restored. Each ride is accompanied by an information board that gives details of its manufacture and history of ownership and location.
Included in the park is a 1922 Galloper, classic Flying Chair and Speedway rides, two Waltzers, a 1960s ghost train, a ride based on 1950s British TV puppet Muffin the Mule, and an imported 1970s American built Twister.
One of the most important machines is the Caterpillar which started life in 1950 as an experimental ride called Toboggan but was quickly converted to the current format by adding the mechanism to cover the riders, plunging them into darkness. This example was the last Caterpillar to tour widely in the U.K. Another notable ride is the Skid, by the Lakin company, which was built in 1936 and is one of the best remaining working examples of this type of ride, also known as the Swish or the Swirl.
There is also a classic kid’s ride called the Austin Car ride, which is a very truncated version of a Driving School ride from the 1960s. The Folly Farm example of the Dodgem Cars is a 1950 model built by the famous British manufacturer Supercar.
In the UK, low stakes gambling machines have always been a feature of traveling fairs. There is a collection of such machines from the 1940s through to the 1960s including both “one armed bandits” and a range of very primitive ones which involve firing a ball through a spiral track in an attempt to hit various winning targets. There is also an old Try Your Strength machine and a collection of old coin operated children’s rides.
Apart from the indoor location and the fact that the floor is very clean, unlike the litter-strewn mud baths of the traditional 1970s British traveling fairs, this living museum of fun is like walking back in time by about 50 years.