Charles Spooner was first married in 1894, but his wife died shortly after giving birth to their son, Jack. By 1897 he was married again, this time to George Orton’s daughter, Rose Ann. In 1900, with the business prospering, Spooner moved his works to Meadow Road, just of the Burton Bridge (known locally as the Trent Bridge).
Spooner produced much of the carved work for the living wagons and showfronts produced by his father-in-law, as well as his doing his own work for showmen and ride builders. He became a major supplier of mounts for roundabouts built by the likes of Savage of King’s Lynn and was regarded by many as the finest showman’s carver of them all.
He produced a huge variety of animal figures for fairground roundabouts, ranging from the usual galloping horses to ostriches, bears lions, donkeys, pigs, goats and turkeys. He was also good at seizing the moment and catering to public taste. During the Boer War, for example, famous generals of the day were turned into carved centaurs, much to the delight of the paying public.
Spooner’s workshop also fitted out rides with carved work. Circular Switchbacks (a very popular machine that took riders up and down hills in a variety of devices) for example made by Savage, often found their way to Burton-on-Trent for embellishment.
Meanwhile, the competition between travelling Bioscope owners (Bioscopes were an early type of cinema) produced a healthy demand for ever more elaborate showfronts.
Those produced by Orton’s were generally considered the most elaborate, particularly when combined with gigantic fairground organs. These huge instruments were integral to Bioscope shows and firms like Gavioli and Marenghi would ship them to Orton’s where they were built into box trucks for travelling.
In 1911 George Orton bought some land in Victoria Crescent, Burton-on-Trent and the following year new Erecting Sheds were built there, capable of housing a complete adult-sized fairground ride. It is said the structural woodwork continued to be made at the Lion Works and moved to Victoria Crescent by hand cart.
The major ride of the day at this point was still the Circular Switchback, but they were about to give way to Scenic Railways. Scenic Railways were based on Switchbacks, although they were bigger and powered by electricity instead of steam.
Savage built the first Scenic Railway in 1909, which stirred up a lot of interest as showmen either ordered them or had their old Switchbacks converted. But despite all this Savages, who had been in financial difficulty for some time, went into liquidation shortly afterwards, leaving the field wide open for others, Orton’s in particular.
Adding the Scenic Railway to their portfolio of fairground work offered a unique opportunity for Orton’s to properly enter the field of roundabout manufacture.
At this time the business was in the hands of George Orton’s two sons Tom and Charles, his daughter Annie and Charles Spooner – Orton senior having retired in 1910.
The first Orton & Spooner Scenic Railway was built in 1912, for Holland brothers of Swadlincote, Derbyshire. It was 57 feet in diameter, had a circular undulating track, was controlled from its paybox and ran eight electrically driven motor cars, each in charge of a Chauffeur!
Each Scenic weighed some 30-40 tons and cost between £3-4,000 each. The Scenic cars were carved at Meadow Road, and moved to Victoria Crescent on a coal dray. Each car is said to have weighed 30 cwt.