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Harry Lee

The oldest swinger in town

Sailing away and not a drop of water in sight

Everyone with the remotest interest in fairground these days would know the name Harry Lee. And whenever that name is uttered it is always in relation to Steam Yachts.

Harry Lee’s name will always be synonymous with Steam Yachts. When alive most enthusiasts accepted him as the expert on the ride, and the set he travelled until his retirement in 1978 has recently hit the news because of the Coupland sale.

The ride’s history is well documented, although it has often been confused, not least because the ride was new to two people, both called Waddington who were not supposed to have been related, and because Waddington’s owned two sets of Steam Yachts.

To say the two branches of the Waddington family were not related is not strictly true. Whether there was ever a connection between them both being Waddingtons has never been fully investigated, although there has been a suggestion, again undocumented, that one branch was related to the board game manufacturers. But there was a link between them, and that was through the Lee family. William and Annie Lee had twelve children. One of these was Samuel, Harry’s father. But two of his sisters, Susannah and Roseanna, married Waddingtons.

Born in Allerton in 1848, Walter Waddington was a power loom overlooker in a worsted factory in the Yorkshire Wool town of Bradford. His wife, Priscilla, was four years his senior, and they had a family of four boys and one daughter. In 1881 his mother, Elizabeth Waddington, was still alive and working as a worsted weaver.

Walter’s eldest son, Stephen, married Roseanna Lee. By 1901 Stephen is recorded as a stuff weaver, living at 255 New Hey Road in Bradford with his wife Rose A.Waddington. In none of the census reports does it mention that the family were involved in travelling rides or amusements. Stephen later owned several machines, including Gallopers and a Cake Walk. Stephen and Roseanna were Marshall Waddington’s grandparents. There are still members of this family travelling in Yorkshire.

Walter Waddington travelled a set of Platform Cockerels, and was known in the district as “Cock” Waddington, but his main trade in later years was farmer and stuff manufacturer. Walter Waddington’s McLaren traction engine and Platform Gallopers ended their days at Bolling Hall Farm. In 1901 when he bought a new set of Steam Yachts in partnership with his daughter-in-law’s husband, he was living at Bolling Hall Farm in Bradford.

Remarkably Walter re-married in September 1927 at Bradford Cathedral, then aged 78, to Mrs Mary Kneeshaw who was then 77. The couple retired Bolling Hall Farm.

Meanwhile in 1881 Abraham Waddington, an engine fitter employing seven men, was living in a caravan in Globe Fold, Manningham. Born in 1837, Abraham Waddington built his first Galloping Horses in Globe Fold.

He had trained as apprentice engineer in city. Born in Shipley in 1832 he was married to Hannah of Holbeck, Leeds, and they had one son, John William, born in 1860. John Willie married Roseanna’s sister, Susannah, and they had two sons, John Willie Jnr. and Abraham. Abraham died on 11th February 1898 aged 61, and was interred at Undercliffe Cemetery: “inventor of galloping horses for roundabouts”. Hannah travelled in her own right for some years. When the 1901 census was taken she was living with her sister, Mary and her husband, Joshua Hudson, in Dewsbury. Hannah Waddington died 24th April 1909 aged 73.

The Steam Yachts were new from Savages in 1901 and named after the two trans-Atlantic Yachts, Shamrock and Columbia. The two yachts first raced each other in the 10th Americas Cup in 1899 when “tea-king” Sir Thomas Lipton, with his first Shamrock , challenged Charley Barr, on Columbia. In 1901 Lipton repeated the challenge with Shamrock II, but was again beaten by Columbia. The manager and engine driver of the Yachts was John William’s brother in law, Sam Lee.

Sam was living in lodgings in Drypool, Hull, during the winter of 1907 when he married Susan Boyes, a local barmaid from the Crown Inn, just across from the fairground. The ceremony took place in St Andrew’s Church, Drypool in November 1907 and their first three children were born in the years leading up to the Great War. Violet was born in 1908, followed by Edwin and Harry was born in 1913 when the family were living in Bradford.

Just before the outbreak of the war John Willie Waddington sold out his half of the Yachts to Walter Waddington, and in 1914 bought another set in the names of his two sons, then aged sixteen and fourteen.

Tragedy hit the family in 1918 when young Abraham was a victim of the great ‘flu epidemic which hit Europe. John William Waddington Snr died at the Peacock Fairground in Birkenshaw, Bradford, on 22nd December 1927. He was only 68 years old. His son John Willie Wadington Jnr outlived him by only four years. He died at Edmonton on 15th August 1931, aged 32 and was buried at Bradford. The funeral took place from house of his uncle, Sam Lee. Susannah Waddington died 21st May 1929 at Bradford.

The Yachts were travelled during the inter-war years by Walter’s son, Herbert. When Herbert died in 1944 they were left to Percy and Priscilla, two of his children. The same year Harry Lee was released from the army and made his way back to Bradford. The Yachts which his father had managed all those years earlier were on Bowling Fairground. Working with Percy and Cilla they began to rebuild the ride ready to take back out on the road. In 1947 he married Priscilla Waddington, Walter’s grand-daughter, and took over the ride.

The rest, you might say, is history. Harry Lee was probably seen as mad travelling an out-dated ride like the Yachts in the 1940s and 1950s, but the renaissance came for him with the popularity of the steam rallies in the 1960s and 1970s. Harry was astute enough to buy any scrap sets which came on the market and for several years his was the only steam set travelling. From the spares and pieces Carters were able to return the ex-Ling set to steam and there is now a good chance that the ex-Whyatt machine will be restored.

According to a recent article in the Mail on Sunday, when Harry retired he sold the ride to Fred Coupland for £75,000, enough to buy a cottage in Bowling each for him and his sister, Violet. One wonders what Harry would have thought at the recent sale when £260,000 was handed over for the Yachts, Matador and transport.

Author: Steve Smith