Shad does the Wiston Steam Fair


Last weekend at Wiston Park in Steyning thousands of people gathered together to celebrate the age of steam and it was wonderful to see young and old joining together to be part of a community event. The Wiston Steam Fair is volunteer-led, no big corporations, just charitable organisations and local businesses keen to commemorate the development of the commercial steam engine and show-off their steam-related contraptions. It’s a far cry from the digital world we live in now and it’s a reminder of life before automation when people lived and worked in the country, handcrafting goods in workshops and not washing their hands. Then steam power replaced wind and water power as a means to drive machinery during the industrial revolution in the late 19th century and humanity plunged down a new trajectory that would change the face of the world in many ways.

Thankfully the mid-morning sun was a pleasant 19c as opposed to the crazy 26c the south coast had endured over the previous few days, so the grass felt cool under my paws and John didn’t have to pack my frozen water bottle which I lick when I get too hot. As we wandered along the rows of exhibits, my senses were stirred by bizarre sounds and smells like the pungent whiff of hot-dogs and chips and the discordant mix of tunes from the carnival rides and the fairground organ. I stood mesmerised by the carousel going round and round with the porcelain ponies going up and down and I had to fight the urge the jump up for a ride. I thought it would be fun and I was sure an attractive black feline would get a discount on the admission price so I hopped on, picturing myself sitting debonair atop a haughty horse. Sadly the reality was quite different and the undulating flow of movement gave me motion sickness. I stepped carefully towards the edge of the merry-go-round swaying back and forth when my John appeared from nowhere and scooped me into his arms. Well that was fine, there was no time for frivolity anyway as John was keen to ditch the digital for the day and start using his old-fashioned second-hand film camera.

There were hundreds of exhibits as well as displays of more than 50 different steam machines from rollers to locomotives, lorries and traction engines. Some of them were rusty and dirty straight from the farm, while others looked pristine coated in shiny paints of burgundy or British racing green. Whatever the condition of the engine, each one was tended to with pride by people tinkering with mechanical parts or polishing brass-work and wooden panels. A little girl waved at me as she drove her miniature plough past me and the cheeky miniature train driver tooted his klaxon which made my jump. John and I caught the trailer ride up the hill and I’ve never seen so many buses in one place before. Yellow, green and red double-deckers as far as my eyes could see, along with old military vehicles, bicycles and motorcycles. We followed the vintage vehicle parade down to the next field while I scanned the spectacle for a yellow Robin Reliant van labelled Trotters Independent Traders. Although I didn’t see any faces I recognised from Only Fools and Horses, there were plenty of Del Boys around, like this guy eating an ice-cream with his rusty brown dog who was wagging his tail furiously while he licked his vanilla cone.

Shad does the Steyning Steam Rally

I might be an enlightened cat living in a modern world, but my soul is traditional which might be why I enjoy seeing humans use time-honoured practical skills to build and nurture things of beauty, such as six-foot scratch posts, steam engines and home-made raspberry jam.  My old-fashioned curiosity was satisfied at the fourth annual Wiston Steam Rally last weekend which was held in Steyning in the middle of the charming West Sussex countryside.


There were a variety of stalls and craft tents selling local products as well as a fairground, although John wouldn’t have noticed the entertainment because he spent most of the time with his head up a coal-bunker!  Regular readers may know that he is a real steam enthusiast and was happy to be strolling around in the open air surrounded by like-minded people.  There was no room for obsessive compulsive disorder amongst the steam engine aficionados who were busy working on a machine with one oil-covered hand while munching sandwiches with the other!


There were apparently over 600 exhibits including steam engines, vintage and classic cars, lorries, military vehicles, tractors, bikes and motorbikes.  Can you see the colourful object that depicts 3 ladies carrying union jacks, 2 attractive blonde heads adorned with wings, angelic cherubs playing musical instruments and a flamingo?  It’s actually a magnificently sculpted organ and if you look carefully you can see the pipes showing through the gaps in the craftsmanship.  Wood-cutting techniques were also being demonstrated and it is worth noting that the woodmanship was being carried out with proper consideration to ecological woodland management.


My little paws were feeling the strain as we headed towards the exit so a kind black dog let me hitch a ride with him on a miniature tractor while John walked beside me.  My trip in the trailer was a bit bumpy and there was a faint whiff of farmyard substances about the dog, but it was good fun and made people laugh.  By the time we got to the car for the journey home, I settled happily down for my pre-supper nap, a smile on my face and a purr in my heart.