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Vardos of the United Kingdom
Picture Library 4
Vardo History County

Showman's waggon

Being loaded with a Hiab on to a flatback lorry  - great nostalgic photo.

Picture courtesy of Les Wattam.



Showman’s waggon
Built about 1900 by Jonathan Carman of Heamoor, Penzance. In the 1940's it was home to Sven Berlin, one of the St Ives school of artists, and his family. However, Sven left his wife and children, who remained living in the wagon in a woodland clearing near St Ives. In the 1950's they went to London, and the caravan, though remaining in the family's ownership, was abandoned for 40 years.

Frank Pollard, who owned the land it was on, restored the exterior in 1995-99, and when he died it was taken to Goongillings Farm. The interior has now been refitted, and it is a holiday let in a meadow behind the farmyard.

Pictures and info courtesy of
Barbara Pugh, Goongillings Cottages.


The "heron wagon"

A striking showman's wagon decorated in red and green with cream unders. Lovely distinct heron carvings on the front panels. Now a museum piece.

Photo courtesy of Paulton's Park.



Openlot - Bowtop

With unders built in the early 30's. This is a modest but pretty little wagon on artillery wheels with pneumatic tyres. There is the usual seating, rudimentary cupboards, double bed with storage below, and queenie stove. 

The burgundy paintwork has some very nice scrollwork, with swallows and fruit designs on the front, and horses heads on the body sides.

This wagon had previously been restored and the canvas replaced.

Pictures and info courtesy of Keith.



On artillery wheels, finished in burgundy and cream, with side ribs carefully decorated.

S ladders and shafts.

Coyright UnKn.


Gypsy caravan
- a rare and fine example, totally restored.  Has shafts, queenie stove and steps. Finished in burgundy with cream unders, prancing horse on the door, and bay window to the rear.

Pictures courtesy of 
Hugh, Gypsy Caravans UK.

Newly built ledge waggon

Fabulous example, beautifully finished. Built by a 72 year old ex-pilot from scratch. What a flyer!

Picture courtesy of Les Wattam.


New ledge waggon

Built by a 72 year old ex-pilot from scratch. Beautiful!

Pictures courtesy of Les Wattam.


Nostalgic yesteryear's

These three waggons once belonged to Alfred Slade and were eventually sold at Reading carriage sales: 

An early "3 quarter" Ledge,
A genuine Reading
and typical Bowtop.

Alf remarked "he couldn't watch ".

Pictures courtesy of Les Wattam.
Extra information courtesy of Alfred.


Small Bowtop/Openlot

Decorated in red and yellow with detailed scroll work.

Picture courtesy of Les Wattam.



Bowtop at Stow Fair

Window and door type. Beautifully finished in green, excellent goldleaf and scroll work, with cream unders. Wooden spoked wheels and S steps.

Picture special thanks to Les Wattam.



Salvaged from a woodland in Kent and transported by lowloader to Essex, where it has been stored in a barn for the last 30 years.

No ladder or shafts, and the wheels are not original, just old iron wheels for moving. A lonely relic in urgent need of careful restoration.

Pictures courtesy of Chris.


Miniature Bowtop

This wagon has been hand-built by Joseph, who was a coach builder. It took 3 years to make and was finally completed in summer 2006. Joe visited several musuem, consulted various experts and made it totally from scratch, including wheels, chassis, leaf springs and the bowtop.

The dainty little waggon has numerous hand- painted panels depicting horses, chickens and flowers. Inside there is a small bed and seating area. The wagon measures 6 foot long, 3 foot wide and 5 foot tall.

Pictures courtesy of Joe and Simon.


Miniature Bowtop, recently built. Cute example.

Copyright UnKn.


Bowtop - Openlot

Newly built and well constructed. Subtly decorated to a traditional theme in mid green with cream unders. On artillery wheels with curved steps - lovely example of a modern built waggon.

Picture courtesy of Steve.


"Reading Caravan"
Weald & Downland Open Air Museum

In 2003 the museum acquired this Romany caravan from Mrs Everington of Cowden near East Grinstead to provide an interesting contrast to the other living vans already in their collection.

Fortunately for the museum, Mrs Everington was able to provide them with over 80 years of the caravan’s history and detailed information of repairs and upkeep, which she had been responsible for since she acquired the vehicle in 1958.

The caravan was bought by Mrs Everington from a very religious and somewhat eccentric old lady, Miss Udal, who actually lived in the van at Playden near Rye. Miss Udal was apparently not a Romany and did not travel in the caravan but lived in and used it for over 40 years.

When Miss Udal agreed to pass on the caravan to Mrs Everington, it was with the proviso that the contents remained untouched. Her wishes were upheld, and when the museum acquired the caravan, everything was just as it had been when Miss Udal lived in it.

The contents were accurately catalogued and photographed in their original positions before being carefully packed for the journey back to the museum. They remain in store for the time-being whilst conservation work is carried out, but will be returned once safe to do so.

The museum is currently undertaking major conservation work to the caravan.

See Features page for more about the restoration!

Pictures/info courtesy of
Julian Bell - Weald & Downland Open Air Museum.



West Sussex

Showman waggon

A nice neat panelled waggon, recently restored and finished in crimson lake with cream unders. Nice S steps. Axels are stamped 193, and Tim's presently looking further into its history. Currently used as a static adventure holiday waggon which is in demand by romantic couples - a great way to excape modern day Alcatraz.

Easy to book! - check out Tim's website www.theoldforgedorset.co.uk

Pictures courtesy of  Tim Kerridge.


A Jessee Pollit early English Showman Road-Rail waggon.

The present owner has just acquired this English waggon and is enbarking on a major restoration project - whilst also researching its history. Keith has discovered that this aged relic was apparently purchased many years ago in England and shipped over to Carolina in the US by a gentleman as a wedding present for his bride - sadly the marriage did not last long and subsequently the vardo was put in to storage.

 Pictures courtesy of Keith Philips.

See more - to take a tour of  this past relic see the Features page.

North Carolina

A Dunton Reading and what appears to be a Thomas Tong ledge awaiting restoration in the early 80s in Hampshire.

Picture courtesy of  Don.



Part of the Mary Arden's House Waggons Collection (Shakespeare's mother).

Window and door style still in original condition, finishes in green and gold leaf, chamfers in mauve and blue, red interior, hostess stove, beautiful door panel with carvings of horse and acanthus foliage in gold leaf.

Pictures courtesy of Gill VS.

Special thanks to Mary Arden's House/
Shakespeare's Trust.


Ledge Waggon

Part of the Mary Arden's House Waggons Collection (Shakespeare's mother).

Complete in original condition, finished in crimson light green and gold leaf, scrumble and gold scrolled interior with green and red chamfers, hostess stove. Fabulous crown board carving of galloping horse and acanthus foliage in green and gold leaf. Prancing horse and acanthus leaf carvings on the doors.

Pictures courtesy of  Gill VS.

Special thanks to Mary Arden's House/
Shakespeare's Trust.


"Wind in the Willows" Reading Wagon

This vardo was built specially for the feature film "WIND IN THE WILLOWS" starring ex-python TERRY JONES.

It cost the makers £8,000 to have the waggon constructed, and though it is a mock up and not original, its actually in working order  - looks quite the thing to - unusual double porch but wouldn't like to be fine lining that area.

Photo courtesy of  Steve.


Reading Waggon by Bill Wright.

Circa about 100 Year old. It is the only rib sided  "Reading Waggon" made by Bill Wright. 

Finished in crimson lake and gold leaf with cream unders and swan neck steps, this stunning waggon weighs about 2500 lbs. The crown board is adorned by heavily carving acanthus leaf.

Was once part of the William Lee Collection - hence the name "Ryan Lee" just below the door knocker.  The design on the front door of these original caravans can be used to determine the date it was built.  Certain designs were in style in certain years.  The "sunflower" and "ponies" were quite common.

Pictures courtesy of  Black Forest Shires and Gypsy Horses.

144 Burton Waggon

Picture taken in 1980 in Ongar Essex. A quaint burton-type wagon. Painted in crimson lake and cream on wooden spoked wheels. Builders unknown.

Pictures courtesy of Don.


Reading Style Showman.

It was bought by Walhampton School, Lymington in the late 1950s in Ringwood and was used through the 60s by the school (along with others) to take the children on treks around the New Forest. The photograph shows the wagon at Castle Top, near Burley in 1967/8. 

Unfortunately the wagons were expensive to keep on the road, and the treks were abandoned at the end of the 60s. 

This wagon was then placed in the corner of a large paddock nearby and left there until recently, when it has been acquired by new property owners. They decided to look for a willing restorer to try and save the sorry little waggon and that's when Glenn, a local antique furniture restorer, came to the rescue. He's now about to start the lengthy process of  fully restoring the showman back to its former glory.

As a co-incidence, when his wife saw the van she recognised it immediately from her childhood when she and her sister had picnics on the treks, and she remembers the vardo well.

What a lovely story, and wish you well with the restoration!  - Editor.

Pictures - special thanks to Glenn and good lady.


Showman Burton-style waggon.

By Dunton with beautiful porch brackets and stunning inter rib carving. The photo where taken in 1979 in Essex.

Main body and unders decorated in crimson lake and cream, detailed paint work - red blue, green, yellow, and gold chamfers. Gold leaf highlights throughout, carvings with spot colours. Wooden spoked wheels.

With steps like the body of Venus!
Pictures courtesy of Don.


Early ledge wagon by Sam Dunton of Reading

Spectacular example showing the sunflower motif on the crown board and a plain roof - ie no mollicroft. Highly decorated! The photo where taken in 1979 in Hampshire.

Pictures courtesy of Don.


Orton "Reading" Vardo - Paultons Park

This is one of - if not the finest - reading waggons in existence today.  It dates from around the 1900s.  The interior is unique. Features include fabulous ceiling artwork of Roman chariot scenes and cranberry angel lamps.  Other features are the many carvings of animal heads.

Full colour pictorial on the feature pages!

Pictures courtesy of Paultons Park and John Pockett.


The "DoDo" of the waggon world - An English Brush Waggon Photo Circa early 1980's

Rare as rocking horse muck!  F
or many years it was assumed that the brush waggon was extinct, then this vardo was discovered - the reincarnation.

These living vans were used by itinerant vendors and were unique in several ways. An obvious point is that the door is at the rear, unlike any other caravan type. This feature was useful because it gave easy access to the van without having to unharness the horse. As well as the normal rib and plank construction body shell, there is an outer layer of cupboards and shelves with carved rails and spindles surrounding the body. The roof rack was reached by a ladder, usually stowed under the waggon, and was loaded with light but bulky items such as baskets and small chairs.

Photo special thanks to Don.



Crimson lake and cream window and door style waggon - exquisitely decorated.

Pictures courtesy of Ken Mayhew.

Stow Fair

5 Bowtops !

Wouldn't it be nice if all Ford showrooms looked like this, the Halifax went bankrupt, and wooden wheel turned once more!  We could all get back to a slower life - good to dream!

Pictures courtesy of Ken Mayhew.


Rare Square Bow

" Romany's travelling the roads to heaven"

Stunning example of a rare square bow finished in dark green and cream coach enamel - artwork of grape vines and floral scrolls professionally excuted in gold leaf and crimson lake.

Pictures courtesy of Ken Mayhew.

Stow Fair

 Dunton Waggon?

What can you say - look at this magnificent beauty - body finished in crimson lake with cream unders - artwork acanthus scrolls, stunning Dunton-carved crown board with 2 horse heads motiffs, Dunton acanthus wheel and grape porch brackets, carved fiddlehead butts, door Wright's design with horse motiff, All professionally executed in gold leaf.

Pictures courtesy of Ken Mayhew.

Stow Fair

Miniture Reading

Crimson lake, cream and cute!

Pictures courtesy of Ken Mayhew.

Stow Fair

Classic Reading Style Waggon

Fairytale and romantic! - the "lantern top" image of a Gypsy waggon. A style that inspired many writers and poets, such as in Kenneth Graham's "Wind in the Willows". This a fine and quaint example.

Finished in crimson lake with cream unders.  Carriage lamps, acanthus leaf porch brackets, stretched horse carving to the crown board, front and side weather boards adorned with lions heads and rope design goldleaf artwork.  Butterfly chamfers in red green and gold, also to the waist board, and note the wood-stained windows. Sheer nostalgia!

Pictures courtesy of Ken Mayhew.

Stow Fair

Reading Style Waggon

Crimson lake with cream unders, this waggon is a craftmaster's dream. Extensively carved throughout. Fabulous floral designs, including floral-carved sills and weather boarding, with golden gargoyles staring at you. Butterfly chamfered ribs in red, green and gold, Dunton-carved butts all round, inter-ribbed acanthus carvings to most corners, wood stained windows with cream shutters, S-ladders and rear cratch.

Someone's proud waggon!  Some work has gone into this lovely vardo.

Pictures courtesy of Ken Mayhew.


Horse Drawn Showman's Wagon

A exquisite example of a horse drawn showman's wagon, builder unknown. During the 2nd World War, it was lived in by a farm worker in Cheshire, then spent many years in a garden in Chester, until acquired and carefully restored by  Simon Harris and Kevin Scrivens about 8 years ago.

It can be seen on display in the summer at Blists Hill Victorian Town (an open air museum), Telford, Shropshire, alongside the period fair.

Pictures courtesy of Simon Harris and Kevin Scrivens.


Howcroft Showman

Fabulous example of an early Howcroft showman waggon by this renowned maker of showmans and fairground build. Unusual but striking decoration.


Copyright Unkn.



Lovely window and door style bowtop at Stow Fair?

Pictures courtesy of Ken Mayhew.

Stow Fair

Bill Wright Style Bowtop

A stunning copycat example of a classic design innovated by Bill Wright, the renowned Yorkshire maker. This vardo was actually built by another maker in Halifax. Once owned by a Yorkshire traveller family, it went up to Scotland and spent some time in a museum. In private hands again, this waggon is now permanently lived in by its present owner.

Very ornate and fully decorated in the traditional methods. Here it can be seen at Stow Fair.

Pictures courtesy of Ken Mayhew.
Info courtesy of Andy Charles.

Stow Fair
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Gypsy caravans of the UK