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Great Dorset Steam Fair

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Great Dorset Steam Fair

Typical sight in the heavy haulage arena, three road locomotives combining efforts to haul a trailer, carrying a small diesel shunter, around the arena (2007).

The Great Dorset Steam Fair (abbreviated GDSF, and since 2010 also known as The National Heritage Show) is an annual show featuring steam-powered vehicles and machinery. It now covers 600 acres (2.4 km2) and runs for five days from the Wednesday after the UK August bank holiday. It is reputedly the largest collection of steam and vintage equipment to be seen anywhere in the world.[1] The fair was founded by Michael Oliver, who died in 2009, and has been held in Dorset, England, every summer since 1969. The show is now run by Michael Oliver's son, Martin Oliver through Great Dorset Steam Fair Ltd.


Established in 1969, for the first 15 years of its existence the steam fair (then known as 'Stourpaine Steam Fair') was held at Stourpaine Bushes,[2] then in 1985 it temporarily moved to nearby Everley Hill, as Bushes Farm were delayed in harvesting the crops from the fields used by the steam fair due to the weather conditions.[2] In 1988, after 3 years at Everley Hill, where access by large crowds was difficult, it moved to its current permanent home at Tarrant Hinton, north of Blandford Forum, where access is vastly improved.[2]


The steam fair in 2004

The most numerous exhibits are fairground organs in the UK.

The show regularly attracts around 200,000 visitors,[3] and there can be 30,000 people on site, making the fair the fifth largest population centre in Dorset, after Bournemouth, Poole, Weymouth and Christchurch (the population of the historic town of Dorchester being only half that number).[4]

A speciality of the show is the display of traction engines and steam rollers performing the work for which they were designed. Such displays include heavy haulage, threshing, sawing logs, ploughing and road-making. The main arena of the show is purposely sited on the slope of a hill to allow both steam- and internal combustion-powered machinery to demonstrate their capacity for heavy load hauling. One of the main displays is the "Showman's Line up", in the vintage fairground section, which is thought to be the largest collection of showman's engines in the world.

Since 2003, the show has contracted its own radio station, Steam Fair FM, broadcasting 24 hours daily from the Saturday prior to the show, to the Monday following – 10 days in all. The station, which is also streamed on the internet, covers show news and views, weather and other relevant information with plenty of listener dedications and a format of "Vintage Hits".[5] During the event, the station is advertised on roads in the surrounding area and provides traffic news for drivers using the A354 Blandford to Salisbury road that passes the show site.

The end of the fair is marked with a Thanksgiving Service on the Sunday, at 12 noon, and takes place on the stage of Dean's Bioscope, the Silver Bell, organised for many years by Chris Edmonds, the Lay Chaplain until his death in 2007. The Rev'd Dr Michael Foster, a friend of Chris, and the local Rector of Tarrant Hinton, continued to organise the Thanksgiving Service, with Sally, Chris' widow. Fr Michael was appointed Chaplain to the Show at the Thanksgiving Service September 2011, having been Assistant Chaplain for some four years. It was Fr Michael who conducted the founder of the Fair, Michael Oliver's Funeral in 2009.

For the 40th anniversary, in 2008, the organisers recreated the very first fair, by tracing all of the exhibits that were displayed at the 1968 show.[6]

Great Dorset Steam Fair 2011 Panorama
A panoramic view of the 2011 Great Dorset Steam Fair taken from high ground on the extreme South West of the edge of rally site adjacent to Blandford Camp.

Dorset Sound Festival

Night-time view of the line-up of showman's engines, in the fairground (2007).

2008 saw the start of the Dorset Sound Festival, a music event that is held alongside the main fair, designed to entertain a wide variety of musical tastes. The festival included five stages: the Main Stage, Real Ale Stage, Folk Stage, Country & Western Marquee and the Black Bull Marquee. Bands featured were mainly tribute acts, including the Bootleg Beatles.

In 2009, the Main Stage was changed from being inside a marquee to an outdoor concert stage. This required a concert ticket to be purchased unlike the other marquees that are free to visitors of the fair. 2009 saw the start of a new event called Steam Sounds that showcases unsigned artists from around the local area on the outdoor stage. The Main Stage is now free to all and does not require a ticket for entry as of 2014

World Records

On 31 August 2013, GDSF set a new World Record for the largest parade of steam rollers, when 103 rollers were driven into the main arena for a photo call. The previous record had been set by GDSF in 2003 with 32 steam rollers. The requirements for the record attempt, which took place on a newly created 80m-long (260 ft) section of road at the showground, included the fact the vehicles had to be moving.[7] The citation from Guinness World Records is as follows:[8]

The largest parade of steam rollers consists of 103 vintage steam rollers and was achieved by the Great Dorset Steam Fair (UK) in Tarrant Hinton, Dorset, UK, on 31 August 2013.[8]

A regular section of the fair is the road making demonstration, where workers in period costume use vintage equipment to demonstrate how roads were built before the invention of tarmacadam, using crushed stone. An extra section of road was built during the 2013 show, for the purpose of breaking the record: "greatest number of steam rollers going over a newly laid piece of road". The 103 steam rollers, and a large number of diesel rollers, were all driven over the new section of road before continuing to the main arena. "Lord Jellicoe", a Fowler formerly owned by the founder of the fair, Michael Oliver, was the 33rd roller in the procession and hence the first to break the record. Also taking part in the parade was "Betsy", the Aveling & Porter roller restored by steeplejack, Fred Dibnah.[9]

See also


  1. ^ "The Great Dorset Steam Fair". BBC. 2005. Retrieved 29 May 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c "History of the show". GDSF. Retrieved 2013-07-31. 
  3. ^ Preview of 38th Fair, BBC Dorset, 2006.
  4. ^ Paul Appleton and Ian Allan, A Celebration of Great Dorset Steam, 2006. ISBN 0-7110-3195-9.
  5. ^ "Steam Fair FM". Great Dorset Steam Fair. Retrieved 19 October 2010. 
  6. ^ Great Dorset Steam Fair – 2007 Programme.
  7. ^ "Fred Dibnah's steamroller in Great Dorset Steam Fair record attempt". BBC News Dorset. 31 August 2013. Archived from the original on 29 November 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "'"Entry for 'Largest Parade of Steam Rollers. Guinness World Records. 29 November 2013. Archived from the original on 29 November 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2013. 
  9. ^ "Dorset steamrollers world record confirmed". BBC News Dorset. 29 November 2013. Archived from the original on 29 November 2013. Retrieved 29 November 2013. 

External links

  • Official website
  • Music Festival
  • BBC Dorset 2008 report
  • BBC Dorset report on 37th Fair (2005)

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