History & Making of GDSF

Stourpaine Bushes


Thanks to the Farwell Family, I was able to take these pictures of the old Dorset Steam fair site just this week.

This was the Steam Fair home in the 1970s.
Below are photographs in 1973, the fifth Great Working of Steam Engines.

Grand Steam Party - 19.05.68.


Although the first Great Dorset Steam Fair took place in the summer of 1969, I actually travelled via bicycle on Sunday May 19th 1968 to the first ever Grand Steam Party which was, the forerunner of the GDSF.


The Steam Party was held at Great Yeatmans Yard, Shaftesbury, Dorset, by kind permission of Mr E C Hine Esq.  This was organised by The Dorset Steam and Historic Vehicle Club and The Western Counties Fair Organ Club, as an afternoon tea party opened by The Mayoress of Shaftesbury,  Mrs C Pritchett.  The entry fee was 6d in old money with the proceeds going to charity.


The Steam Party started with a short Church service and ended with the National Anthem.  There were 12 steam engines on show, plus various organs and other vintage vehicles.  Funds were also raised at this party to go towards a future steam rally i.e. the first The Great Dorset Steam Fair.  Who would ever have thought it would become what we have today.

I do visit the site several times over the year, recording the activities from busy farm life, through the build up of the Steam Fair to the break down after the event and the full cycle back to the active farm.
The Great Dorset Steam Fair is one of several events I travel to on the road with the owners and engines, spending many days and nights out on the road escorting and photographing the engines.  The engines and crews travel from all over the Country to the event,  and then do the same when they leave the site for other events or returning to their homes.
It is reputedly the largest collection of steam and vintage equipment to be seen anywhere in the world.  The fair was founded by the Dorset Steam & Historic Vehicle Club and has been held in Dorset, England, every summer since 1969.  The show is now run by Michael Oliver's son, Martin Oliver through Great Dorset Steam Fair Ltd.
Established in 1969, for the first 15 years of its existence the steam fair (then known as the 'Great Working of Steam Engines') was held at Stourpaine Bushes, then in 1985 it temporarily moved to nearby Everley Hill, as Bushes Farm were delayed in harvesting the crops from the fields used by the steam fair due to the weather conditions.  In 1988, after 3 years at Everley Hill, where access by large crowds was difficult, it moved to its current permanent home at Tarrant Hinton, north of Blandford Forum, where access is vastly improved.  The fair now attracts up to 200,000 visitors.
The numerous exhibits are traction engines, tractors and farm machinery, but there are also sections for classic cars and commercial vehicles, working shire horses, rustic crafts, 'bygones' displays, and more. The show also has a market, auto jumble live music and funfair (some of which is powered by the steam engines). The funfair has traditional rides such as gallopers and steam boats, as well as modern ones like the "World Fair Wheel" which was sited in Manchester for the millennium.  It is the biggest gathering of fairground organs in the UK.
The show regularly attracts around 200,000 visitors, and there can be 30,000 people on site, making the fair the fifth largest population centre in Dorset, after Bournemouth, Poole, Weymouth and Christchurch (the population of the historic town of Dorchester being only half that number). 
A speciality of the show is the display of traction engines and steam rollers performing the work for which they were designed.  Such displays include heavy haulage, threshing, sawing logs, ploughing and road-making.  The main arena of the show is purposely sited on the slope of a hill to allow both steam- and internal combustion-powered machinery to demonstrate their capacity for heavy load hauling.  One of the main displays is the "Showman's Line Up", in the vintage fairground section, which is thought to be the largest collection of showman's engines in the world.
Since 2003, the show has contracted its own radio station, Steam Fair FM, broadcasting 24 hours daily from the Saturday prior to the show, to the Monday following – 10 days in all.  The station, which is also streamed on the internet, covers show news and views, weather and other relevant information with plenty of listener dedications and a format of "Vintage Hits".  During the event, the station is advertised on roads in the surrounding area and provides traffic news for drivers using the A354 Blandford to Salisbury road that passes the show site.  Due to sponsorship issues, it was announced in February 2015 that it will not be running in 2015, but as a result of listening to public opinion this decision was reversed.
For the 40th anniversary, in 2008, the organisers recreated the very first fair, by tracing all of the exhibits that were displayed at the 1969 show.
The end of the fair used to be marked with the Director's Thanksgiving Service on the Sunday, at 12 noon, which takes place on the stage of Dean's Bioscope, organised for many years by Chris Edmonds, the Lay Chaplain until his death in 2007.
The Rev'd Dr Michael Foster, a friend of Chris, and the local Rector of Tarrant Hinton, continued to organise the Thanksgiving Service, with Sally, Chris' widow.  Fr Michael was appointed Chaplain to the Show at the Thanksgiving Service September 2011, having been Assistant Chaplain for some four years.  It was Fr Michael who conducted the founder of the Fair, Michael Oliver's Funeral in 2009.  The Directors' Thanksgiving Service is now organised to begin the Show, on the opening Wednesday, as was the practice in some past years.
Prior to the 2013 event I had more road journeys to the event than the norm.  This was due to travelling with some of the Steam Rollers.  I also escorted two of the rollers back to their base after the event and was able to record these journey with photographs etc.  This took several days travelling through the quiet Wiltshire Countryside and stopping overnight.
On 31 August 2013, GDSF set a new World Record for the largest parade of steam rollers, when 103 rollers were driven into the main arena for a photo call.  This took almost half a day to get them all set up in the main arena and was a wonderful site to see.  The previous record had been set by GDSF in 2003 with 32 steam rollers. The requirements for the record attempt, which took place on a newly created 80m-long (260 ft) section of road at the showground, included the fact the vehicles had to be moving. The citation from Guinness World Records is as follows 'The largest parade of steam rollers consists of 103 vintage steam rollers and was achieved by the Great Dorset Steam Fair (UK) in Tarrant Hinton, Dorset, UK, on 31 August 2013'.
A regular section of the fair is the road making demonstration, where workers in period costume use vintage equipment to demonstrate how roads were built before the invention of tarmacadam, using crushed stone. An extra section of road was built during the 2013 show, for the purpose of breaking the record: "greatest number of steam rollers going over a newly laid piece of road". The 103 steam rollers, and a large number of diesel rollers, were all driven over the new section of road before continuing to the main arena. "Lord Jellicoe", a Fowler formerly owned by the founder of the fair, Michael Oliver, was the 33rd roller in the procession and hence the first to break the record. Also taking part in the parade was "Betsy", the Aveling & Porter roller restored by steeplejack, Fred Dibnah.
The 2001 event also saw the public debut of the home-built Hudspith Steam Bicycle. 
Founding Members
It should be noted that Michael Oliver was not the sole founder of the Great Dorset steam fair, he was part of a group of people.  
The list is as follows:
President; Mr G. J. Romanes, M.A, M.R.C.S, D.O.M.S.
Vice President; Mr E.C. Hines.
Chairman; Mr J. E. B. Pocock
Vice Chairman; Mr M. F. Oliver
Treasurer; Mr N. J. Fincham
Public relations officer; Mr A. Imber.
Joint secretaries; Mr & Mrs J. Cluet.
Sub committee for the event;
T. M. Abbot, J. Antell, A. S. Braddick, J. Cluet, A. W. Field, G. A. Fincham, N. J. Fincham. F. Franklin, S. J. Garrett, H. Gray, E. C. Hine, A. Imber, G. J. Romanes.
Secretary M. F. Oliver.
It should be noted that this list has been taken from the Souvenir Program and guide from the first very first show dated September 1969.

If you have any queries or wish to purchase a photograph, please contact me:


+44 7831237759



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  • Eleanor firmstone (Thursday, January 23 20 09:20 am GMT)

    Hi, do you have any information on the steam roller ru7342. We now own the roller and wondered what year this was taken.
    Thanks Eleanor

  • Sarah Mitchell (Wednesday, September 11 19 10:31 pm BST)

    Hi there is a wonderful picture you took of a dear friend of mine on his journey to the gdsf this year. It is in the western daily press dated 22/08/19 Carl Brown roading the Marshall to gdsf. I cannot locate this picture on any website to purchase and was hoping i could purchase through yourself many thanks Sarah

  • John Baines (Friday, April 05 19 03:45 pm BST)

    Have you any photogaphs of James & Crockerills yard in Durrington? Their MD Peter Barber owned the Burrell Scenic Road loco 'Prince of Wales@ and other engines including Burrell roller 'Daffodil'

  • Zoe Read (Saturday, March 02 19 07:08 pm GMT)

    I see you already have dates for this one but I wondered if you would consider adding Purbeck Rally to your event list?
    9th -11th August
    worgret road, wareham, dorset, BH20 6AB
    Raising funds for Forest Holme Hospice Charity & other local causes.

  • Andrew Gray (Wednesday, February 20 19 07:55 pm GMT)

    Is that Mr Dimmer and the train made at Durrington Sec Modern, I started there 1963 and left 1968. Mr Dimmer (Regg) was such a great teacher. Wonderful set of images to treasure. p.s we met today at the Boscombe Down Tornado fly past.

  • Jamie (Saturday, September 01 18 01:39 am BST)


    I am Jamie. One of the coalomen from last weeks steam fair. I know you mentioned taking lots of photos of us and it would be lovely to see them. Please get back to me when you can with prices ect i will most certainly purchase a few! In the meantime i will admire wgat you have on your page here already, hope you enjoyed the show! Speak soon


  • Don Russell (Friday, August 17 18 08:51 am BST)

    Hullo, found your site when looking for GDSF info. I was wondering if you had any information regarding engines travelling to the GDSF. I read engines will be raising money for cancer on there journey but I cannot find any info regarding route and timings.Thanks

  • Brian Moore (Saturday, August 04 18 12:40 pm BST)

    Thanks David: Brian

  • Peter Freeman (Thursday, May 10 18 09:56 pm BST)

    Fantastic site, easy to read and great pics! Keep up the good work.

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