T.Whitelegg & Sons

Published: Wednesday, 02 September 2020

In the years preceding the first World War, fairs in the South-West had been dominated by a small number of fair families including Hill Brothers, Hancocks and Anderton and Rowlands. In a well-known incident on Plymouth Hoe in the winter of 1912, 5,000 suffragettes, outraged at the arrest of Emmeline Pankhurst on her arrival at Plymouth, had marched in protest and had set alight the timber yard adjacent to Hancock’s Great World’s Fair. The Hancock family fought through the night to save their livelihood but come dawn, many of the rides stood in ruins. Although sympathetic to the Hancock’s plight, Thomas Whitelegg was determined to use this opportunity for advancement. 

Thomas and Rose Whitelegg were married before the first world war and as with many others, the outbreak of war in 1914 had an immediate and lasting impact on the community of travelling showmen and their families. Men enlisted with the armed forces whilst the government requisitioned steam driven engines, vehicles and even animals for war work.  The majority of fairs up and down the country were closed for the duration of the war. But there was a living to be made and Thomas and Rose purchased their first ride in 1916 a splendid hand-turned juvenile roundabout, the rounding boards bore the legend: "T. Whitelegg Pony Roundabout, Pride of the West" Thomas joined the Royal Wiltshire Yeomanry in 1917 while Rose Whitelegg independently operated a shooting gallery and café at Anderton and Rowland’s Winter Gardens in Plymouth successfully keeping the family afloat through the lean war years.

The Whitelegg family coffers were further bolstered by the short boon in post-war spending, when thousands of demobbed soldiers returned to England through Plymouth with months of back-pay to spend. This, coupled with the savings that Rose had worked to put away, meant that in a short time they were able to purchase a set of Tidman Gallopers, boasting a menagerie of animal and bird mounts, all steam-driven by a fine Burrell showman’s engine. With Plymouth as their base, ‘T. Whitelegg and Sons’ (the business soon included Rose and Thomas’ three sons, Tommy, Frederick and Arthur) went from strength to strength, travelling the length and breadth of the South-West with their ever-expanding repertoire. In later years the family would own and operate two fairground sites in Plymouth; The Olympia in Union Street and the New Passage. 

it was the second world war that set the company up as the owner of an amusement centre called Olympia in Plymouth's Union Street. This was on the main road to the docks and the money taken set the company up for a post war boom. In 1949 Thomas Whitelegg & Sons Ltd was registered as a limited liability company. The family became so successful that they even bought themselves a Rolls-Royce, despite Thomas Snr. never having learnt to drive. Rose and Thomas died in 1959 and 1962 respectively and by the 1960's the company was operated by the three sons and operated in two separate sections.



A few pictures of 1970's transport - crossing the river Tamar


Image: The Waltzer leaving the Torpoint ferry. (C) Richard Adams Collection

Apart from a rather good photo, this shot is taken from the Torpoint side towards Plymouth and shows the small convertible Waltzer/Ark that traveled with the number 2 section with Fred "Bibsy" Whitelegg. This normally opened as an Ark unless it was with Whiteleggs or A&R's Ark's in which case it opened as a Waltzer. This machine is now owned by Terry New of Adlams Amusements.

Image: T.Whitelegg Dodgems pulled by Leyland Octopus (C) Richard Adams Collection

Image: T.Whitelegg Box Tucks pulled by Scammell (C) Richard Adams Collection

Image: T.Whitelegg Ark truck pulled by Thornycroft (C) Richard Adams Collection

Image: T.Whitelegg Dodgems pulled by Scammell Crusader Six Wheeler (C) Richard Adams Collectio

Image: T.Whitelegg Dodgems pulled onto the ferry by Guy Six Wheeler (C) Richard Adams Collectio

Image: T.Whitelegg Dodgems pulled off by Guy Six Wheeler (C) Richard Adams Collection

It would be difficult to precisely detail, but from the growth and development in the immediate post war years by the late 1960s and early 1970's the operations of the three brothers gradually became fragmented as the sons gradually retired or sold their equipment with no family heirs to take the business forward.

In the mid 70s Tommy Rowland of J Rowland and son (St.Blazey) bought Tommy Whitelegg's dodgem and the "run" that is a set of places where the machine could open. 

Around the same time, David Rowland purchased Fredrick, "Bibsey" Whitelegg's convertable Waltzer/Ark and Dodgems and places.

Arthur Whitelegg carried on for many years and eventually Arthur James finally bought the big wheel and the ark was left to Henry James in a will, when Arthur passed.  The Ark was converted to a waltzer and sold to Anderton and Rowlands (Devey family) upon Henrys retirement.

The company of Thomas Whitelegg & Sons Ltd was closed in 1996.

The final sale was the run of places that was sold to Anderton and Rowlands in 1998


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