The Big Wheel – from Llandudno to Sheffield

Sheffield’s ‘Big Wheel’ on The Moor. Image/DJP/2022

When it was located on Fargate, we called it the ‘Sheffield Eye’. But this year’s big wheel was relocated to The Moor because the ill-fated Container Park had stolen its place.

It is 21 metres high with 18 fibre-glass gondolas capable of holding up to 108 people, with six passengers to a gondola, and fits snugly between buildings.

For the second year running, the Ferris wheel has been loaned from Llandudno Pier, where it has been dubbed the ‘Llandudno Eye’.

It was commissioned by the pier owner, Adam Williams, at a cost of £1m, built by Italian manufacturer Lamborghini, and was initially unveiled in August 2021.

The wheel looks impressive by day, but after dark, things get even better with over 10,000 lights on the wheel.

During the winter months, the wheel goes on tour. It can be seen, and ridden, at Sheffield Christmas Market until January, before returning to Llandudno Pier in early Spring.

“We’re trying to pump North Wales and Llandudno so that people in Yorkshire who would normally go to Skegness will come here instead,” says Mr Williams.

“Even if we can get 10 per cent of people at the Sheffield market to come, that is a lot of people.”

While some shoppers are pleased about the move from Fargate, many have said they now have a “brick wall view” while on the attraction. Image/DJP/2022
Back home. The ‘Big Wheel’ seen at its Llandudno home. Image/North Wales Live

A ghost story

Every Christmas Eve, as the clock strikes midnight, a young boy materialises at the edge of the dark Lyceum Theatre stage. Ben, a lad of teenage years, glances into the auditorium to see if there is anybody he recognises. He runs barefoot into the centre of the stage, faces the audience, and takes a bow, the same as last year, and the year before that, and the same as he has done every year since 1893.

Ben is a good looking lad, with bright blue eyes, a mop of mousey hair, and the clothes of a horseman. He squints into the darkness and sees the shadows.

“Is that you Ben?” a woman’s voice calls from the circle.

He cups his eyes with his grubby right hand and looks upwards. His eyes adjust and he makes out his lady, standing in the same place as she did last Christmas Eve.

As always, the auditorium is soothed by pale light radiating from the old gas lamps.

And now, Ben can see her clearly.

The lady with beautiful hair, dazzling as ever, wearing the same long grey dress, and a single red rose pinned to her breast. She smiles and turns away, climbs a few steps, and then walks along a row of empty seats towards the other side.

“Aye, it’s me Estelle,” he replies. “Same as always.”

The lady stops at the end of the row and smiles.

“Merry Christmas Ben.”

“And to you Estelle, but tell me, what news?”

“Patience, my dear boy. We shall speak, but first I’d like to hear you sing.”

“I’m a horseman my lady, not meant to grace this fine stage.”

Ben looks around the auditorium and sees the others for the first time.

About a dozen people sit scattered across the stalls in various attire from different ages.

He grins and shows them his missing front tooth, lost when his favourite horse kicked him in the face.

“What news, ladies and gentlemen?”

“Sing Ben,” shouts an old lady. She raises her umbrella in greeting. “I like to hear you sing.”

“That’s reyt lad,” cries a flat-capped fellow a few rows behind. “A Christmas treat for us.”

“Who is this boy?” shouts a buxom woman at the back.

Ben stares at her, unaccustomed to her presence.

“I’m Ben Harker missus, a humble horse-boy, but I’ve never seen you here before.”

“I’m Mrs Edith Langford, and it’s been an awful week.”

“What news missus?”

The curvy woman fumbles in a handbag and finds a scrap of yellowing paper. She holds it up for all to see.

“I need to use this before it’s too late.”

There is a gasp from a whiskered fellow nearby.

“What do you have there missus?”

“My ticket. Aladdin. Tonight.”

“And you come alone missus?”

“My Albert is busy. He’s drinking with his pals at Marple’s. Same time every year… same as we both do… but this year…”

“But what, dear lady?” asks Estelle who floats gracefully from one side of the circle to the other.

“There were bombs,” says Edith Langford, “Lots of ‘em. They rained down on us. The cheek of it, just before Christmas as well! We all went down the cellar to drink, and then, as if by magic, it went quiet and the bombs went away… and now I want to see the pantomime”

There is a long silence.

“Would you like to hear me sing, missus?”

“Aye lad.”

And the same as it does every Christmas Eve, a lonesome spotlight picks out Ben on the stage.

“I’m a young boy, and have just come over,
Over from the country where they do things big,
And amongst the girls I’ve got a lover,
And since I’ve got a lover, why I don’t care a fig.

“The girl I love is up in the gallery,
The girl I love is looking now at me,
There she is, can’t you see, waving her handkerchief,
As merry as a robin that sings on a tree.”

Ben gives heart and soul and the small gathering sings along.

“The girl I love is up in the gallery,
The girl I love is looking now at me,
There she is, can’t you see, waving her handkerchief,
As merry as a robin that sings on a tree.”

The song ends to enthusiastic claps and cheers that echo around the theatre.

“Lovely, Ben.”

“A fine voice, Ben.”

“Well done lad.”

The same voices. The same cries of encouragement every year.

Ben closes his eyes, captivated by his audience, and ticks off each customary plaudit.

“I love that song, Ben.”

“Sing it again, Ben.”

“A fine young lad.”

“Bravo, my boy. Bravo.”

Alas, the voices fade until only whispers of the dead can be heard. Quieter and quieter they get, until a stony silence remains.

Ben opens his eyes, and the auditorium is black except for the wonderful glow around Estelle.

She unpins the red rose and throws it to him. He holds out his hands to catch it, but once again the rose that never reaches him drops into the abyss.

And then, Estelle has also gone.

Ben is all alone, and with a teary eye he walks into the shadows from where he came, but not before he turns to the empty balcony and in his soft voice repeats the same words as last Christmas morning.

“Farewell Estelle. Merry Christmas. I’ll see you next year… what news?”

And, once again, he too disappears… until next Christmas Eve.

© 2020 David Poole. All Rights Reserved.