MAYBE it’s the dizzying speed of the waltzers and the smell of burned sugar from candyfloss mingled with the earthy scent of damp grass underfoot that makes the fairground special. Or the way the hook-a-duck, hoopla and shooting gallery stallholders call in customers low and fast over the mic. Or the bitter-sweet nostalgia of the carousel music, brightly-lit horses whirling in the darkness.

Call it the carnival, the fun fair or, traditionally in Scotland, the Shows, this shared memory brings out the kid in most people. But increasingly, say Scottish showpeople, it is under threat.

A combination of pressures from increased regulation to spiralling licensing fees, combined with moves by local authorities to shift them from traditional showyard sites – where they spend the winter in family groups of mobile homes – means the 4,000-strong population is now dwindling fast.

Some 80 per cent are based in Glasgow yards and they say they are being squeezed out by regeneration plans.

First they were moved from Partick, then east end areas for the M74 extension. There are no yards left in Bridgeton thanks to Commonwealth Games redevelopment. Clyde Gateway’s claim of “successful relocation” of the showfolk is disputed by the families, who say they were simply forced out. Now the showdown has moved to Govan: the area’s last two yards sit on land earmarked for a £17 million redevelopment.

Along the Clyde, Glasgow City Council – with the local regeneration body Central Govan Action Plan (CGAP) and Govan Housing Association – is planning 130 homes, plus commercial and leisure facilities. The council says the land – home to 15 show families – has lain “moribund and underutilised” for decades. But showpeople want a say.

On Water Row, just past the carved dancing bear and hidden by iron railings, is the first yard, overseen by Jimmy Stringfellow, now almost 70 but rocking a pair of blue crocodile-skin shoes. In spacious mobile homes house live four branches of his

family. The yard is a jumble of packed-up show equipment.

Stringfellow and wife Diane have lived here for 35 years and brought up four children. Two have stayed with their own families. He was an elder of Govan Old Parish Church next door, known as the Showman’s Church, served on local committees and noised up a few folk on the way. But last month he was served an eviction notice by the council. It was not the first but he’s worried.

“This yard is part of our identity,” he says. “Now we’re living day to day. We’ve been like that for 36 years but now I’d like them to leave us alone and let us live our lives here.”

Showpeople are often mistaken for gypsy travellers, he says, but are unrelated. While both suffer verbal abuse and discrimination, showpeople do not have protected minority status. Stringfellow claims the eviction notice is discrimination. “I’d like to be treated like anyone else,” he says. “We have planning and licensing and everything else we need. We do not want to move anywhere.”

Diane, 65, isn’t sleeping. “It’s getting too much, this stress,” she says. “When I was younger it didn’t bother me but it does now. I can’t take it any more.”

Nearby is Teresa and Rodney Johnstone’s neat and tidy yard where they have lived for 29 years. They belong to show families deeply linked to Govan’s history. Teresa is part of the well-known Wilmot family. Her father and his father before were born and bred in Govan yards. They tried and failed to buy this land.

Just days before development plans were announced last November a council rep knocked on the door of the site to tell them they would be asked to move. Rodney Johnstone hadn’t even had time to gather his extended family – there are 11 caravans here – to tell them before it was in the papers. Johnstone says: “We were last to find out. It went public and everyone on the yard was panicking.”

It is hard to find a replacement yard. “They have offered us a couple of things but they are no good,” says Johnstone. “The reality is there is still nowhere for us to go at the present time.”

Teresa, meanwhile, worries about what it will mean for her elderly parents who can walk to the shops here and for the kids at local schools. She is frustrated by the way showfolk don’t feature in regeneration plans. A recent consultation poster, inviting views about Govan’s future, shows her caravan site with a large question mark over it. She saw it by chance and it hit her like a body blow.

Glasgow’s housing strategy says the needs of showpeople should be taken into account in regeneration, she claims. But it doesn’t come as a huge surprise they are an afterthought.

“What if we end up in the same situation five years down the line?” she asks. “People say it’s our choice to live in a caravan but it’s part of us – it’s who we are. It would be a different situation if it was tenements. We provide entertainment to communities across Scotland,” she says. “And yeah, we are a dying breed. There is discrimination. We pay council tax, we are regulated and yet we are treated like second-class citizens.”

In the yards the anxiety is palpable. A teenager who doesn’t want to be named because she fears school bullying says: “If we do get moved to another site I worry about how long it might be before we get moved somewhere else again As a kid you shouldn’t have to worry about where you’re living.”

She wishes more people could experience her life, surrounded by a close-knit community who look out for each other. She explains: “My site is different from houses because you have all these people who care about you living all around you.”

But there is also discrimination and verbal abuse. “It’s happened even when I’m on the street just outside here –

being called all sorts of names. My parents taught me to treat other people as you want to be treated – always use your manners and talk nicely.”

Artist and researcher Dr Tara S Beall has studied the heritage of showpeople in Govan, and believes discrimination plays a part in decisions here.

“The show families in these yards have a great connection to Govan that goes back many generations and they are part of the diverse community of Govan today,” she says. “I think it would be extremely unfortunate – if not downright tragic – if they were forced out.”

Showpeople and fairground communities have had a fundamental impact on the rhythm of Scottish life, she notes. “People remember their first kiss on the waltzers or duelling with their brothers and sisters on the dodgems – it’s part of Scotland’s shared history.

“Yet it is almost impossible to overstate the precarity of fairground culture in Scotland now. Scottish showpeople face increasing pressure to find workable sites where they can live, and fairgrounds where they can make a living. In both cases the threat to their livelihood is driven by policy.”

William Hammond of the Scottish Showmen’s Guild agrees. “We are not counted when it comes to redevelopment,” he says. “They just move us out. I’d like to see us being recognised as part of the community. We are an important part of Glasgow’s history.”

Development is expected to start in September 2019. A city council spokesman said it will continue to negotiate with show families “with a view to finding alternative and mutually acceptable locations within the city”.

Deirdre Gaughan, chair of Central Govan Action Plan, adds: “We now have a huge opportunity to be ambitious and deliver something very special at Water Row, an inspiring development that reflects the site’s significance, meets local needs and gives Govan the extra it needs to really draw people to the area. We want to grab this opportunity with both hands and ensure it gets it done right.”

But she makes no mention of the showpeople, who can only hope it gets done right by them, too.

The History of the Fairground

THEIR roots go back to medieval fairs. But what we recognise as ‘the Shows’ in Scotland can be traced to the early 19th century – Scottish show families touring today had relatives working in those fairs. They were made up of a vast number of weird and wonderful “side shows” with jugglers, acrobats, freak shows, halls of mirrors, magic tricks and everything in between.

The Showmen’s Guild was born in response to a planned Movable Dwellings Bill in 1888, which would have made the lives of travelling showfolk all but impossible. They fought and won. Meanwhile, the fair was changing, with hand-powered rides overshadowed by the steam carousel. Mechanisation made the fairground futuristic, with the latest attractions of the age such as ghost shows, films and X-ray photography.

Rides became faster to meet the demand of thrill-seekers, with feeder stalls surrounding the big attractions to keep them at the showground. Unlike American carnivals no-one person is in charge – show families, who have usually known each other all their lives, co-operate to create the magic.