FAIRSCategory: Customs + Festivals
Fairs can still be found all over England, although many have disappeared even during the last thirty years.
The Trinity fair, at Southwold, Suffolk, from being an occasion of buying and selling in the High Street is now an extensive pleasure and amusement fair held on the South Green, and some of the more demure of the inhabitants have several times unsuccessfully endeavoured to get it abolished. On one occasion the municipal authorities and police were drawn up across the street to bar ingress to the fair people, but the latter were equal to the occasion, and their huge steam road engine bore slowly down upon the line of officials, who thought it better to clear out of the way.
Sherborne in Dorset holds a Pack Monday (Easter Monday) Fair. This fair was first held in 1490, and is now the sole survivor of the three great fairs that were once held in Sherborne. There is a curious custom in connection with this fair. At midnight on the evening beforehand bands of boys and girls with linked arms rush through the streets blowing horns, whistling, rattling tin kettles and tootling tin trumpets with all the orchestration of Charivari (Fr. a cacophonous mock serenade, rough music, cats’ concert; a serenade of pans, trays, etc., to an unpopular person) to make a terrific bray of discordant sound, and thus usher in the fair.
Until the middle of the last century London had its great Charter Fair at Smithfield, but that has now vanished, as have also the famous Gingerbread Fairs in Birmingham. If we bear in mind that the original purpose of these was the sale of certain commodities for which the district was famous, and that in the Middle Ages there were more markets than the fairs we know today, we can understand the origin of these names and others, such as Chertsey’s Onion Fair, which is fast vanishing but which was once one of the greatest markets near London. Perhaps an enlightened Urban Council will one day revive this great Surrey festival. There is also the famous Nottingham Goose Fair.