ID: PH01_PFR / Elaine Barker

TitlePeldon Fair
AbstractIn the Kelly's Trade Directory of 1844 it mentions there was a fair held in the village of Peldon on Michaelmas Day. In White's Trade Directory of 1863 it qualifies this by saying a small fair was held in the village.

In an era when there were few days off and life was hard, the village fair was a particular highlight of the labouring class's year.

Physical surroundings were uncomfortable, overcrowded, unhealthy and, in winter, depressing ... Personal life was hard ... Holidays were the few traditional ones with perhaps a fair day added ... The village fair was an important amenity. Though few Essex villages had their own, perhaps some 75, it was apparently the custom for labourers to be excused work on the day of the fair nearest to the farm on which they worked ... For the poor it was one of the very happiest days of the year, to be looked forward and back to and also the more valued as usually their only holiday between Whitsun and Christmas ... The attractions, besides the mere cessation of toil, included the meeting of old friends, the largest range of articles for sale ever available to the poor and the jollity of the entertainments Prosperity and Poverty: Rural Essex 1700-1815 A.J.F. Brown

Children looked forward to the toy and gingerbread stalls; entertainment could include football, races, and cricket matches. According to the Colchester Gazette of 20.5.1837 "jingling-matches, jumping in sacks, grinning through collars, bobbing for oranges" were regular side-shows of village fairs at this period.

The diary of Fingringhoe farmer, Joseph Page, records a visit to Abberton fair on June 24th 1801 taking his wife and children to see a hobby race; he returned the next day to play cricket for the Winstree Hundred Club against the Gentlemen of Mersea Island. [Essex Record Office D/DU 251/89]

In this context the hobby race may well have been a race of a certain breed of small to middle sized horses, and not the morris dancing hobby horse or the child's stick toy

Locally, fairs have been reported in the past at, Abberton, Fingringhoe, Goldhanger, Layer de la Haye, Messing, Peldon, Salcott, Tiptree, Tollesbury, Tolleshunt D'Arcy and West Mersea. Most of these were last referred to in trade directories around 1863 apart from a few that made it into the twentieth century notably Tiptree and Tolleshunt D'Arcy.

In Peldon, the tithe map of 1838 shows two fields, Great Fair Field (Plot 352) and Little Fair Field (Plot 345) both adjacent to each other and Sampsons Farm. This would indicate, not only that a fair was held there, but also that Sampsons was more important than it is now. Indeed, Samantuna appears in the Domesday Book in 1086 as a separate entry and in Morant's History and Antiquities of Essex published in 1768 he refers to Peldon and Sampton. Being by the sea wall there would have been a navigable channel to Sampsons via Sampsons Creek and there are still the remains of a working barge, UNITY, built 1885 in the creek. It is believed there was also a small quay there which would make Sampsons a wharf for the village of Peldon.

Were these fields the site of an ancient fair? And was the Victorian Fair in Peldon still held down Sampsons Lane or on Peldon Green?

Peldon's fair was held on Michaelmas day which is 29th September. Traditionally it was one of the days when labourers were hired for the coming year. It was a rare holiday for the labouring class and much anticipated. As well as animals, items that could not be readily be bought locally and toys and sweetmeats were sold. Of course, being a specific date the fair would be on a different day each year bearing in mind it was usually forbidden to hold fairs on a Sunday.

There is a report of a farm labourer at Sampsons slaughtering his Michaelmas Geese in 1868 when an extremely rare Egyptian Vulture, attracted by the carcasses came down into the farmyard. Proof that the Michaelmas custom of eating goose still existed in Peldon at this time. Did local farmers' families celebrate with roast goose after a day at the fair?

Colchester's fairs were very different to these village fairs and had been granted charters over centuries. In Colchester there were five annual fairs. The first was a midsummer fair on St Johns Green between 23rd and 26th June. It was granted by Eudo, the founder of St John's Abbey.

The second was on December 8th called the 'Scalt Codlin Fair'. This was held on Magdalen Green from 1189 granted by Richard I (people reputedly bought small codling apples and threw them at each other!)

St Dennis's Fair, known as The Colchester Fair, was held on High Street on St Dennis's day from October 9th for six days, granted by Edward II

The New Fair was held on July 12th for three days in a field on the Harwich Road its charter granted in 1693 by William and Mary

The charter of the Tailor's Fair held in the parish of St James was granted in 1699 by King William.

By the mid nineteenth century small fairs such as Peldon's would largely be for pleasure and pedlary. Possibly games such as quoits and skittles and climbing a greasy pole would be on offer and stalls selling rock and gingerbread. There are no other references to this fair in documents, school logbooks or later Trade Directories which is not surprising given the Suppression of Fairs Act of 1871 when the poor began to lose this most congenial of their few entertainments.

The Fairs Act of 1871 [34 & 35 Vict c12] enabled applications to be made to the Secretary of State for the Home Department for the abolition of fairs which were judged to be problematic. Reasons for the application would argue they were unnecessary, the cause of immorality and disorder and injurious to those who lived nearby.

This was not, however, the first time that the authorities had tried to suppress these fairs. In the Quarter Sessions Order Book of 20th April 1762, several fairs are listed (the most local fair mentioned was Stanway) and describes what may well have been a typical fair of the time.

... some of which fairs are continued for several days and great numbers of people stay there not only all days, but to very late hours in the night, and many unlawful games and plays besides drinking and other debaucheries are encouraged and carried on under pretence of meeting at such fairs to the great increase of vice and immorality and to the debauching and ruin of servants, apprentices and other unwary people and many riots, tumults and other disorders are occasioned thereby.

For the preventing all such mischiefs and irregularities for the future, it is thought fit and ordered by this Court that the said fairs be henceforth absolutely suppressed ... [Quarter Sessions Order Book April 20th, 1762 ERO Q/SO 10]

Over a hundred years later, in 1872, both the St Mary Magdalen fair and the St Johns Green Fair in Colchester were abolished. Most of the local village fairs mentioned above were last referred to in trade directories from 1863 which would indicate the 1871 act had put an end to them.

These days, Peldon does have a typical village fete one Saturday in June or July with stalls and sideshows, music and food and drink. A dog show in the arena, craft fayre, flying display, Punch and Judy, street organ and brass band are all the usual features of this twenty first century nod to Peldon's village fairs of old. Plans are afoot for reinstating the Peldon Village Fete in 2022 after a break due to Covid.

Elaine Barker
Peldon History Project

All the Fun of The Fair in Essex, Mrs J K Payne, Essex Countryside January 1962

AuthorElaine Barker
PublishedNovember 2021
SourceMersea Museum