17 October 2010

Good morning to you all.

A history lesson for you this week, (much of the following has been stolen from Wikipedia but since I am tolerably familiar with the subject matter, I can vouch for its accuracy on this occasion).

I went to yoga at the gym in Banbury on Wednesday morning and, after the session finished and I was feeling suitably stretched, I wandered in to town to run a couple of quick errands only to find the town centre overrun with dark, swarthy individuals of a nefarious and shifty appearance – and that’s just the women. On Wednesday Banbury’s  Michaelmas Fair opened.

Our boys will remember the Banbury Michaelmas or “Mop” Fair with some affection, I would imagine. It’s an annual gathering of stalls, rides and other amusements and we used to take them along to Banbury each year for a bit of relatively harmless fun.

One year I remember we had promised the boys that we would take them to the fair and so, on a Saturday evening, we set off for town. I was somewhat intrigued when we arrived at the car park in town to find that it was almost deserted; only one or two other cars, I seem to remember, and it struck me as odd that there weren’t more people at the fair on a Saturday night. The reason for the relatively small turnout became clear as we walked from the car park into the market square to find it similarly deserted. We discovered that the fair ran from Wednesday to Friday and all the attractions had upped sticks and moved on to their next destination. Faced with a car full of three very disappointed young boys we drove, instead, to Warwick where, fortunately, we found the fair in full swing. A disaster averted.


The Coconut Shy in the 1960s

The Helter Skelter at Banbury Fair in the 1960s
The Helter Skelter at Banbury Fair in the 1960s
The Devil Pig stall from the 1960s
The Devil Pig stall from the 1960s


Photos from the Oxfordshire County Council Heritage Site of Banbury Fair in the 1960s and although I don’t remember the Devil Pig, certainly the coconut shy and the helter skelter were still around in the 70s and 80s when we were taking our boys to the fair.


 

Banbury’s Michaelmas Fair originated as what was called a Hiring fair and it dates back some 600 to 700 years. Farm workers, labourers, domestic servants and some craftsmen would work for their employer for a year at a time, from October to October. At the end of their employment they would attend the Hiring Fair dressed in their Sunday best clothes. The prospective workers would gather in the street or market place, often sporting some sort of badge or tool to denote their speciality; shepherds held a crook or a tuft of wool, cowmen brought wisps of straw, dairymaids carried a milking stool or pail and housemaids held brooms or mops, hence the derivation of the term “Mop Fair”.

Potential employers would move amongst them discussing experience and terms and, if they were thought fit, hire them for the coming year. Once agreement was reached the employer would give the employee a small sum of money (the “Hiring Shilling”) and the employee would remove the item signifying their trade and wear bright ribbons to indicate they had been hired. They would then spend the money amongst the stalls set up at the fair which would be selling food and drink and offering games to play. The yearly hiring included board and lodging for single employees for the whole year with wages being paid at the end of the year’s service. These fairs attracted all the other trappings of a fair, and they turned into major feasts in their own right, and attracted poor reputations for the drunkenness and immorality involved.

And, as a final tidbit of useless information, the nursery rhyme/song with which we are all familiar, derives from the hiring fairs. Johnny, on securing employment for the year, had promised to give his sweetheart the ribbons and a few trinkets.

Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
Dear, dear! What can the matter be?
Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
Johnny’s so long at the fair.

He promised to buy me a trinket to please me
And then for a smile, oh, he vowed he would tease me
He promised to buy me a bunch of blue ribbons
To tie up my bonnie brown hair.

Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
Dear, dear! What can the matter be?
Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
Johnny’s so long at the fair.

He promised to bring me a basket of posies
A garland of lilies, a gift of red roses
A little straw hat to set off the blue ribbons
That tie up my bonnie brown hair.

Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
Oh, dear! What can the matter be?
Johnny’s so long at the fair.

I wonder whatever happened to Johnny?

Much love to you all,

Greg