Garlic Fair granted to St Radegund's
According to Taylor, Garlic Fair was granted to the Nuns of
St Radegund in the mid 12th Century. Assuming they are writing
about the same event, Willis and Clark seem to disagree, saying
that it was granted to St Radegund's in 1438.
It was always low-key and few details remain in written records.
Nevertheless, its longevity must have meant that it had great
economical and social significance. It was held at the time
of the Assumption (or the pagan Lammas), in mid-August. Its
site was within the walls of the nunnery, off Jesus Lane,
and was entered by a gate in a mud wall. In
1496 the nunnery was disolved, and its buildings and grounds
were taken by the newly-founded Jesus College. Garlic Fair
continued regardless, at least until 1654, when a reference
to the Garlic Fair gate was made in the records of Jesus College.
Fair was later moved down the road a little.
Reach Fair granted to Town
1201, a Royal Charter from King John to the Mayor and Burgesses
of Cambridge, gave them control of the Fair in the hamlet
of Reach, 10 miles from Cambridge. Since the reign of Henry
II, the Burgesses of Cambridge had a legal monopoly over water
trade in the region of Cambridge, and this new charter extended
It allowed the Town to control trade, and to deal summarily
with trade offences and civil disturbances in a piepowder
court. No charter would have been sought or granted had there
not already been a considerable trade at Reach, so the fines
and stall holders' fees made the charter a valuable possession.
Fair was held on 3 days at Rogationtide, which replaced the
pagan festival of May Day, and is thus the first of the Cambridge
fairs in the calendar.
had many of the geographical and political advantages of a
frontier trading post. There was good transport along waterways
to Reach, which was a Roman port. It was connected by a man-made
channel, Reach Lode, to the river Cam. Being on the edge of
the fens it also had reasonable roads, and was a comfortable
distance from Cambridge with its road communications. The
end of the defence work Devil's Dyke divided Reach, each side
belonging to a different parish Thus, it never had a parish
church and never came under the control of one parish.
and iron was imported from the from Baltic countries, and
corn and clunch exported. Clunch was the hard chalk used in
Cambridge buildings, which was quarried in Reach and nearby
the centre of Reach, a fair green was created by levelling
part of Devil's Dyke, and hythes and basins were created for
the water-bourne traffic.
Midsummer Fair granted to Barnwell
Midsummer Fair was granted to Barnwell Priory in 1211 by King
John. The fair was held from 22-25th June, on Midsummer Common,
roughly in the area of the modern Elizabeth Way.
Its orgins probably go back much further than this, as its
pagan Midsummer date might suggest. In addition to serious
trade, there were entertainments such as wrestling, singing
Stourbridge Fair granted to Leper Hospital
The charter to hold Stourbridge Fair was given to the leper
hospital by King John. It was held on Stourbridge Common,
named after the Stour, a tributary to the Cam just to the
East of the common. The spelling of "Stourbridge"
in the name of the fair has also variously been "Sturbridge",
"Stir-Bitch" and "Stirbitch" (a spelling
now preserved in the domain name Stirbitch.com).
An important factor in its growth was its location next to
the river where barges from King's Lynn and the Wash could
unload. Also a major East-West road to Newmarket was served
by a ferry ar that point in the river Cam. Thus, the fair
was accessible to the whole country. It was also close to
the lively town of Cambridge, but no individual or authority
could impose limitations or taxes.
Stourbridge Fair control by Town
In the late 13th Century (not 1280 precisely) the leper colony
on the edge of Cambridge closed, and Stourbidge Fair was handed
over to the Burgessses of Cambridge, who individually held
rights to booths or stalls.
The Fair was held at a convenient time between harvest and
ploughing, when there were crops to be sold, lesiure time,
and money. Travel was also good at this time of year. As it
was outside of term time, many tradesmen who would otherwise
be engaged with University business could participate.
rights proved to be very profitable and tensions developed
between the University, which wanted to exert more control
on behaviour, and the Burgesses who were in favour of expansion.
Piepowder courts were held by the Town authorities to deal
with minor nuisances.
Midsummer Fair control by Town
The Burgesses of Cambridge had for some time been having more
and more influence on Midsummer Fair, and by 1506 gained full
Its character changed, and over the following couple of centuries
it became a very fashionable place to be seen. There were
raffles for pictures, china and millinery. Roundabouts were
propelled by hand, and later by horse. It was famous for its
china, and became known as Pot Fair.
was extended from 4 days to a fortnight, and was much more
profitable to the town than Stourbridge Fair.
Reach Fair decline
In 1511, the first financial statement was recorded for Reach
Fair. Profits were only 6s 2d. Taylor suggests that by this
time it had become a mere excuse for an outing of the Corporation.
In the 18th century there was feasting and parades on a grand
scale. Imports of coal, wine, timber and bricks were still
recorded, but amusements were more important, and the Fair
was always opened by Mayor and Corporation with pomp and feasting.
the early years of the 20th Century, the main stock was Welsh
ponies. The Fair is still going today. Now it is timed to
coincide with Spring Bank Holiday, and consists largely of
a fun fair, with some horse trading.
Stourbridge Fair control by University
For some time the Town, University and Crown had been contesting
rights over Stourbridge Fair. In 1589, a new charter gave
control over its running to the University, but the Town retained
Stourbridge Fair was very successful. It originally ran for
2 days, but now lasted from 24 August to 29 September. The
charter of 1589 stated that it "far surpassed the greatest
of and most celebrated fairs of all England; whence great
benefits had resulted to the merchants of the whole kingdom,
who resorted thereto, and there quickly sold their wares and
merchandises to purchasers coming from all parts of the Realm".
Town was supposed to use all its profits for taxes to the
Crown, and to cover costs for "ways, streets, ditches
and other burthens". Descriptions from later years suggest
however that a lot must have been consumed by corporate feasting,
and there was probably also a degree of corruption in its
Garlic Fair move
The Master's garden of Jesus College was extended over the
area where Garlic Fair was held. The Fair was moved along
Jesus Lane to the corner of what then became known as Garlic
Fair Lane, which is now Park Street.
According to Willis and Clark, the records of Jesus College
state that a wall was built round the Master's garden in 1681.
Was this the time that Garlic Fair was forced to move?
Stourbridge Fair popularity
Stourbridge Fair was clearly a major national event, and worthy
of comment, sometimes in very colourful terms, by a number
of writers, including Samuel Pepys, John Bunyan, Edward Ward,
and Daniel Defoe.
John Bunyan used Stourbridge Fair as the model for Vanity
Fair in Pilgrim's Progress, which in turn prompted Thackeray's
first surviving eye-witness account is due to Edward Ward,
in the 1700 pamphlet A Step to Stir-Bitch-Fair. According
to Ward it was referred to as "Bawdy-Barnwel" as
it had numerous brothels. He described the crowd, "an
Abstract of all sorts of Mankind", the smells of fish,
tar and soap, and the vast array of goods for sale in large
semi-permanent booths: perfume, hats, toys, cabinets, books,
hardware, leather, tobacco. Cloth and wool was sold in huge
bags in the Duddery. And men from London came to the Fair
not to do business, but to "drink, smoke and whore".
Defoe described the Fair in his Tour through the whole island
of Great Britain, published in 1724. He noted that goods did
not necessarily change hands at the Fair, many wholesalers
coming to the Fair to take orders for goods that would be
delivered at a future date - a more modern way of doing business
that, together with improved communications, would eventually
render such large fairs obsolete. Toward the last few days
of the Fair the social events would dominate the trading.
The gentry would arrive for the "puppet-shows, drolls,
rope-dancers, and such like". On the last day there was
a horse fair, and the gentry would leave the common folk to
race with horses and on foot.
Stourbridge Fair decline and eventual fall
By the mid 18th Century the Fair had passed its peak. Tax
returns suggested smaller income for Town, though the social
Caraccioli wrote An Historical Account of Sturbridge etc in
1772, noting changing patterns in the fair, which now only
lasted a fornight. The booksellers were gone, now presumably
working through shops, and new marketing and banking systems
made large fairs outmoded for commodities. In the 18th century
a navigable river was less important than previously, canals
and turnpike roads providing alternatives and opening up the
increasingly important new industrial areas in the North and
Gunning reminisced about the Fair he use to visit in late
18th Century as a town official. He commented on the sale
of cheese, which was mainly of local origin and being sold
to London. The Duddery wool-market was still in existence,
but beginning to decline. Hops and pottery still occupied
a lot of space at the Fair. There was a row stretching from
the river ferry crossing to Newmarket Road that included "silk-mercers,
linen drapers, furriers, stationers, an immense variety of
toys, and also of musical instruments". There were also
"the usual mixture of dwarfs, giants, conjurors and learned
pigs". Entertainment and food and drink were clearly
important, and after 1740, following persistent opposition
from the University, a theatre was permitted with "many
respectable, and frequently excellent performers".
the end of the 18th Century, Cambridge coporation was corruptly
dominated by the Mortlock family. Booths became private property,
depriving the Town from income. The civic procession at the
Fair was abandoned in 1790s, and the theatre demolished as
unsafe in 1803.
1811 the Stourbridge Fair fields were enclosed, and any land
not controlled by the University proved to very valuable.
Some of the ground previously occupied by the Fair was built
on, and some quarried for bricks. The railway was built on
the site of the Duddery. The Fair could still kept people
entertained after the harvest, but it ceased to be of major
economic importance. Town shops now looked forward to extra
custom from the Fair, rather than fearing its competition.
enclosure, Victorian Cambridge expanded quickly, and the previously
rural fair location became a rough area on the edge of the
expanding town. The gentry were not comfortable in such an
area, and the locals had little money. By contrast, Midsummer
Fair, with its more central location, was much better favoured.
The Fair now lasted only a few days, and consisted mainly
of entertainment. By 1933, when the Fair was officially abolished,
it had, unusually for one of the great fairs of the country,
completly faded away.
Midsummer Fair decline
By the mid 19th Century, like all fairs, Midsummer Fair was
in decline, and was cut back to last only 4 days.
Amusements played a much more dominant role, though horse
trading was still important at end of the 19th century. Ater
1870, steam powered rides appeared, and the entertainments
included freak shows, boxing, wrestling, and moving pictures.
Midsummer Fair benefitted from its more central Cambridge
location, and survives to this day.