Sign Painting a Festive Farewell to the Fair

The Letterheads were out in force for the last ever Signwriting Festival at Carters Steam Fair.

Hand-painted paella dish with Looney Toons style illustration and lettering.
Dan Luckin's paella dish in a Looney Toons style to mark the end of an era for Carters Steam Fair on the road.

Last weekend the Letterheads returned to Carters Steam Fair, and marked its final tour with a meet to remember. (The fair is currently up for sale.) Around 100 painters turned up for the panel jam and auction, with most camping on site. This put everything in close proximity to the fair itself, which was in operation for all to enjoy on a sun-soaked weekend in West Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.

It was fairground owner Joby Carter's fifth Letterheads meet, rebranded for the wider public as a 'Signwriting Festival'. I'd previously been to (and made a film about) the Abnormal and Collective meets, but these were held in the fair's winter hideaway, the yard near Maidenhead. I missed the first one on the fair itself while moving abroad in 2019, and after the pandemic-enforced break had to get to this one, almost certainly the last of its kind.

Thank you to Joby and all the Carters Steam Fair team for another outstanding event. Here are some highlights from this festive farewell to the fair.

Come to the Fair

The Alphabetics Anonymous team arrived first and got to work on pieces for the vehicle used the transport the Octopus ride.

Painted vehicle panel saying 'come to the fair'
The finished piece, a mobile advertisement for Carters Steam Fair as it makes its last tour.
Fairground ride with elaborate painted decoration and lettering.
The Octopus ride that the vehicle carries when the fair is on the move.

Panel Jamming

The heartbeat of any meet is the panel jam, which consists of grabbing a spot on an easel and working on a project, usually connected to the event in some way. Lots had brought along finished, or almost finished, panels, so that they could make the deadline of the auction at the end of the first day. This was helped by the sun and heat which made for good drying speeds.

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All for a Good Cause

Joby's events have previously raised thousands of pounds for the Alexander Devine Children’s Hospice, and this one was no different. Lots of the panels were auctioned off, with one painting fetching £1,400.

Bitter Sweet History

On his way to the event, David Kynaston visited John Leeson's surviving family to collect a variety of his tools, materials and other sign painting paraphernalia. (John Leeson was a sign painter and committed Letterhead who died in October last year while the meet in Norwich was taking place.) Lots of this was passed onto younger painters who will now continue John's legacy armed with his tools.

Also among the items filling the back of David's van were a number of pieces from the Midland Medieval Mayhem meet that John hosted in Leicester in 1997. One of these was a vinyl circle, tablemat size, that had been grained and signed by those that attended the event. There were also a host of panels that John kept from the meet.

Kits and Vans

With the event in full swing, I took a walk around with the camera to capture some of the sign kits and sign painter vans on show.

All the Fun of the Fair

It'll be sad to no longer see the fair set up on greens and commons across Southeast England. However, it is going out with a bang, and the Letterheads certainly joined in with this last hurrah.

More Letterheads and Fairs

Letterheads Meets on Better Letters Magazine
Reviews, photo galleries, and films of Letterheads meets.
Letterheads meets around the world reviewed at online.
Stunning Photos Of Vintage Fairground Signs By Fred Fowle
Previously unpublished photos and documentary on Fred Fowle.
The fairground art of Fred Fowle.
Lettering at Carters Steam Fair
A visit to the fair, and meeting head signwriter Joby Carter.
A visit to Carters Steam Fair at Clissold Park in 2014.
When Better Letters Met Stan Wilkinson
Biopic signwriter and fairground artist Stan Wilkinson.
Biopic of Stan Wilkinson, the man who lettered the fair.