As part of 2010's National Science and Engineering Week the University Library in collaboration with the National Fairground Archive are celebrating the engineering feats of roller coasters and theme park rides. The following abstract is Part 1 of a mini-series on the history of going upside-down, compiled by Ian Trowell of the National Fairground Archive.
In much the same way that sceptics forecast an imminent death due to suffocation during the development of the open-topped motor vehicle approaching minor speeds in excess of 20mph, going 'upside down' has always been fraught with fears of what might actually happen when a person is projected and/or suspended upside down by a mechanical device.
As a counteraction to this, there has always been the nagging curiosity of whether it is possible to swing with such a force as to go 'completely over the top', and urban myths remain pervasive about the 'friend of a friend of a friend' who swung on the park swings with such furiousness (and the help of some strong pushers) that he (or she) actually went over the axle bar and survived to tell the tale.
At the turn of the 19th Century the fairground was taking on a new shape to express its reason for being in the provision of something new and exciting. Agricultural engineers had turned their hand to building vast mechanical devices and these whirring and clanking machines became the centre-piece of the fair. The world of the ever-opportunistic showmen, and the always ambitious ride engineers, began a heady process of thrill development increasing the speed and intensity of the experience, and soon provided the public with the first real chances to explore and enjoy the overcoming of this great fear – swinging through 360 degrees.
Early sketches suggest swings were a vital part of the pre-mechanical fairground, and even though such sketches suggest an over-abundance of festivity and freshly-nurtured thrill-seeking, there are no explicit reports of attempting (or indeed achieving) a swing through a complete circle.
Check back tomorrow for Part 2 and remember that the NFA is open Monday to Friday from 9:30 until 16:30 for anyone interested in seeing more of our NSEW activities.