May 26 2013 Latest news:
John Phillips , Senior Reporter
Friday, July 20, 2012
As Dagenham prepares to host its last town show, the Post looks back at the origins of the festival held for sun-kissed - and drenched - revellers for six decades.
Dagenham Town Show, an ultimate mix of jaw-dropping stunts, festival fun and live music, was born in 1952 during a bitter-sweet year that saw Queen Elizabeth inherit the throne after the death of her father and Britain scoop medals at the Helsinki Olympics.
Town chiefs had held the festival in rotation with Romford and Hornchurch, but decided to go it alone after successfully hosting the so-called Three Towns Show at Central Park in 1951.
Visitors paid a shilling and sixpence to get in, before heading for marquees full of exhibits in a park arena behind the Civic Centre in Wood Lane.
Families were given tasters in a myriad of activities like cake-decorating, embroidery, calligraphy and even lampshade-making.
A fine collection of trophies won by local sporting associations was on display, as well as livestock including poultry, birds and fish.
The festival gradually expanded with a dog show and parachute displays and became a shop window for local groups and societies.
Fairground rides and a firework display were added and in 1954, organisers launched a carnival procession including a float for the Carnival Queen.
Sport became a major feature of the festival, with archery demonstrations by The Planet Bowmen of Dagenham in 1953 and early exponents of the trampoline called The Bouncing Dillons in 1954.
Town Show chiefs launched motor scooter obstacle races in 1957 before staging a full-blown rally in 1959.
The same year, they also introduced cycle track racing at Old Dagenham Park in Ballards Road, where the opening carnival procession usually starts.
The parade also began in other parts of the borough.
Alan Johnson, 81, the chairman of Chadwell Heath Historical Society said: “It used to start in Chadwell Heath at one time. When I was younger I used to take the kids. It will be missed. People enjoy the Town Show. But given the circumstances, it takes a lot of money to put it on. I will be sad to see it go.”
Over the years, the organisers kept adding new sporting activities. The 1956 show featured boxing, badminton, athletics and even acrobats and in 1961 a host of team sports included five-a-side football, netball and tug-of-war.
In the Eighties attendances fell and admission fees no longer covered the costs.
In 1993, the event lost £100,000 and the following year entrance fees were scrapped and the first commercial stands were unveiled at Central Park, alongside council and community marquees.
Dagenham Town Show has become one of the biggest free-entry summer events in east London but became mired in the recession and the festival is now set to be held for the last time, on its 60th anniversary year.
Barking and Dagenham Council leader, Cllr Liam Smith, said: “Unfortunately, due to the coalition government significantly cutting our budgets, my colleagues and I have had to make some very difficult decisions about what services the council can continue to fund. Of course there are services that have to be provided, but everything else has had to be looked at and scrutinised due to the unprecedented levels of savings that are needed.
“As a result we have decided to stop funding the Dagenham Town Show after this year.”
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