Going to the Fair: or Market
Fairs were often called markets, but were really annual affairs; lasting for days or weeks at a time. Some towns like Arundel or Chichester in Sussex had four or five fairs a year, held in the Spring or Autumn, as well as their regular markets. Of necessity, the fairs were normally located outside of the town or village, from which they took their name. Barnet Fair, Harlow Bush Fair, Petersfield Heath Fair, Weyhill Fair. The country folk had great expectations for the annual fair; it was probably the highlight of their year. There was fun and entertainment to be had, as well as the opportunity to buy personal items. Days before people would be gathering, the waggoners would be arriving with their vehicles full to over-loading, with household items, hops for home brewing, things to wear and to eat. The drovers could be heard at a distance, arriving with clouds of dust following their procession. Noise would be all around in what was normally a very quiet and peaceful place.
A local Smithfield drover, by W.H. Pyne in 1805. He wears breeches, over striped stockings, neat shoes and spats, with his drovers licence, and his bob-tailed sheepdog. "Greenhill", immortalised by Thomas Hardy in Far from the Madding Crowd was speaking of Woodberry Hill Fair near Bere Regis in Dorset, founded in 1216; where each day had it's appointed business and lasted for seven days in September.
Stourbridge Fair, outside Cambridge was one of the greatest annual fairs. Cambridge also held three other medieval fairs: Garlic Fair, Reach Fair, and Midsummer Fair. In 1199 King John granted the Leper Chapel dispensation to hold a three day fair to raise funds. The first such fair was held in 1211 around the Feast of the Holy Cross in September, on common land alongside the river Cam.
This allowed London traders to send goods by sea to King's Lynn and by barge down the river Cam for off-loading at the fair, and "Sturbridge" became the largest fair in Europe, selling everything imaginable. This was no doubt the fair referred to by John Bunyan in Pilgrim's Progress, as Vanity Fair in 1678. Large fairs attracted all classes of people as they mingled around the stalls. Samuel Pepys and John Bunyan paid visits, as did Isaac Newton in 1665, when he purchased a copy of Euclid's Elements which he used to teach himself mathematics.

Spring and Autumn cattle fairs were general, until markets and auction marts replaced them. Hides and skins were always for sale at fairs. The fairs were established by King's charter normally granted to the Church, and were often held on Saint's days and named accordingly; St. Giles at Oxford, St.Botolph's at Boston, St. Faith's at Norwich, St. Bartholmew's in London were large affairs. Some lasted into the twentieth century like Barnet, which ended in 1952 after 400 years, selling 620 horses when it finally closed. Other great fairs like Stourbridge declined earlier and closed in the mid 1800's.

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