Come to the Fair!

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I’ve written this post as my piece of ‘extra information’ to accompany a flash fiction story inspired by this prompt, which is courtesy of Pixabay:


The story can be read here.

A Look at the History of  Fairs

A fair, or the older version of the word, faire or fayre, is a gathering of people for various entertainments and activities. Many fairs are temporary, some lasting for a mere afternoon, others for lasting for several weeks. Types of fairs include trade fairs, street fairs, agricultural shows, fêtes, festival and travelling carnivals or funfairs.

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A trade fair for the travel industry. Author: JATAWTF. Commons

It was once believed that the Romans introduced fairs into Britain, and the word fair is derived from the Lain word, feria. But the tradition is more deeply rooted, having its origin in pagan customs. Their seasonal gatherings, thought to be for festivity and trade, contained the elements of the fair.

Following the Norman Conquest, trade became the more important part of holding a fair, when they were restructured along French lines. Charters were granted by the king, giving fairs legal status, and they became increasingly important to the economic life of the country. Fairs were often tied to Christian occasions, such as Saints’ Days at the local church, and became important landmarks in the calendar, socially and culturally. As well as drawing in traders and farmers, they were venues for a variety of entertainments, including jugglers, tumblers and musicians. Dancing bears were sometimes a crowd-drawing feature.

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Medieval Jugglers and Minstrels. Author: Daniel Villafruele. Commons

Close to 5,000 fairs were granted royal charters during the Middle Ages. An example of one such fair is the Nottingham Goose Fair, granted a charter by King Edward I in 1284, (Edward was the king responsible for the building of the Welsh castles I did posts about a few weeks ago.)

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‘Village Fair’, a painting by Flemish artist, Gillis Mostaert in 1590. Photographer: anagoria. Painting now in Gemäldegalerie art museum in Berlin.

By the 18th century the trading side of fairs had waned, and some fairs, like the famous Bartholomew Fair in London, were devoted entirely to pleasure and amusement. It was around this time that the first fairground rides appeared – simple, hand-turned roundabouts and swingboats. Shows were still the main attraction and were until the 1860s when engineer, Frederick Savage devised a method of driving roundabouts by steam power. Since they didn’t depend upon muscle power, roundabouts were soon made larger, more heavily ornamented and more spacious:

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Picture of ‘Sea-and-Land’ a fairground amusement ride from the 1880s. Author unknown. Public Domain

Fairs of all types are still very popular today. In Nottingham, Goose Fair is an annual attraction and people return to it year after year. It is held on 1st October. Here are some pictures of it:

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View of Nottingham Goose Fair from the ferris wheel in 2007. Author: Klickingart. Commons.
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Evening ride at Goose Fair in 2012. Author: Will Robson. Commons

In India, the Kumbh Mela, held every 12 years at Allahabad, Haridivas, Nashik and Ujjain, is one of the largest fairs in the country. Sixty million people gathered in 2001, making it the largest gathering in the world.  In the U.S. fairs draw 150 million people each summer. Children’s camps range from breeding small animals to robotics, whilst the organization 4-H (a youth development programme) has become a traditional association.