Friday, 22 June 2012

Swings and Roundabouts - Sepia Saturday

Three famous fairs came to my mind as soon as I saw this week's 'merry-go-round' (or is it a Noah's Ark?).

Some of you may recognise this place.

Scarborough - 1981
Just in case you've forgotten here's a little reminder about Scarborough Fair.

Scarborough Fair - Simon & Garfunkel

Scarborough Fair originated from a charter granted by King Henry III in 1253. The charter gave Scarborough the privilege of a yearly fair to be held from the Feast of the Assumption until the Feast of St Michael. The 45-day fair started on August 15th and was a huge trading event. In the early 17th century competition from other towns' markets and fairs made Scarborough's fair financially untenable. Scarborough Fair ended in 1788.

Widdecombe Fair is much younger taking place on the second Tuesday in September since c1850 in the Dartmoor village of Widdecombe-in-the-Moor in Devon. It's the subject of a folk song, also called Tam Pierce, known all over the world.

Tam Pierce - Burl Ives

Originally described as a cattle fair Widdecombe Fair soon was known for other livestock especially the local-bred sheep and Dartmoor Ponies. A sports day for schoolchildren and stalls for rural arts and crafts were introduced in the 1920s and 30s. Today visitors will see, in addition to the livestock, displays of farm produce, vintage farm machinery, bale tossing, a dog show and terrier racing. The terrier racing replaced pony classes cancelled in 1989 after an outbreak of equine flu. 

Naturally Uncle Tom Cobley makes a traditional appearance riding a grey mare.

For my last fair I'm coming back to Yarm where I lived for over 20 years.The charter for a fair was granted to Yarm by King John in the early 13th century. Originally the fair saw the sale of cattle, horses, sheep and cheese and at one time the fair was the biggest fair for cheese in North East England. In the early 1900s over 500 tons of cheese would be traded from unprotected stacks on the pavement. There would be no chance of that happening these days.

Fair in c.1949

Modern ride at Yarm fair

In 1901 the High Street was packed with shows, roundabouts, cattle and sightseers The modern fair consists of white knuckle rides, fortune tellers, lots of bright lights and loud music. Many businesses now close down while the fair is in town and the horse trading has been moved away from the main street.

Yarm High Street
(Photo by Ian Britton - - Creative Commons licence)

Yarm Town Hall
(Photo by Ian Britton - - Creative Commons licence)

At one time hundreds of horses would be bought and sold after being put through their paces. In his book, The Yarm of Yesterday, Malcolm Race tells the story of a young boy left in charge of a horse while his grandfather was in one of Yarm’s many pubs.  The boy was only too pleased the lead the animal up and down the High Street for a prospective buyer. The man had handed over £50 and was leading the horse away when he discovered that the horse was blind. The boy had long since disappeared!

Yarm Fair - rides surround the Town Hall
(Photo by thornej - - Creative Commons Licence)

For more fun of the fair I suggest you visit Sepia-saturday-131 where I'm sure you will find some more to make you dizzy.


Wendy said...

Very interesting history of various fairs. I didn't realize it required a charter. Our state fair sounds similar -- showing off animals and products. Of course, the requisite rides are there to assure people they won't get too much education.

DW96 said...

Hi Bob. What atracted me to this was the mention of Scarborough Fair. The S&G recording is one of my all time favourites, and yet I knew nothing about the actual fair.

Great post, as always.

Oregon Gifts of Comfort and Joy said...

Hi Bob, this is so interesting. I used to sing along with Simon and Garfunkle, but didn't even realize they were talking about a real place. I enjoyed the Burl Ives song too.

Thank you for pulling this all together for us.

Kathy M.

Little Nell said...

Dizzy with delight! Yarm sounds like the Goose Fair,in my post, being originally for trading of anything from horses to cheese (and geese of course) and now is a pleasure fair. The story of the blind horse is a nice tall tale too. said...

Scarborough Fair ... nice take on the theme.

Jo said...

I hadn't realised fairs had to have charters either. Thought people just got together at a convenient 'crossing' and started trading.

The blind horse story is a good one, I bet that happened a few times.

Assume you are safely back in Blighty by now.

Christine H. said...

We didn't make it to Scarborough on our recent visit, but your photos make me feel as if I had visited.

Karen S. said...

Gee Bob thanks for taking me to such a fun filled post of fairs and great music, wonderful memories and just a grand old time! very cool post!

Carole Anne Carr said...

All those magical names the bring back memories of my childhood, Yarm, Scarborough, and the visits to the fairs... sigh...

Postcardy said...

The Minnesota State Fair is one of the high points of the year here. British fairs have a much longer history, but I wonder whether there is anything comparable in size and duration to some of the large state fairs in the U.S.

Jana Last said...

Very interesting post! Great pictures of England. Would love to go there some day. Thanks for sharing!

Bob Scotney said...

Postcardy - your queryre State Fairs and other people's posts have made me wonder too. Perhaps our County Shows which typically last three days are the nearest we get. If you wish you cn take a look at the events in this year's Great Yorkshire Show at

Bees Knees Daily said...

From the history lesson to the photos and the music, this was a superb post. My favorite part was learning more about Scarborough Fair.

Titania said...

Yes fairs were for trading livestock. In Grafton NSW it is the main event of the agricultural show, today show only no trading anymore. A big fair for entertainment and one has to pay to enter the fairground. In Switzerland are many different fairs. One is especially to sell onions, another distinctive crockery. I always liked the soft tune of Scarborough fair, nearly placed back into the middle ages!

Sharon said...

Well Done Bob. Another great post. Very informative, well written and interesting with the combination of photos and music.

barbara and nancy said...

It seems that fairs haven't changed all that much over the centuries. Still for trading or showing animals, showing products, having lots of fun and great places to gather.
Wonderful post.

Joy said...

I'm imagining that stack of cheese at Yarm and how it was transported. Certainly a contrast to today's wrapping of everything.

Mike Brubaker said...

A neat tour of the theme subject, Bob. A few weeks ago while driving at night through the country roads of Durham, (we were trying to find a Jubilee beacon), we passed a dark crossroads with a pony staked out at each corner. We figured it was for the Appleby Horse Fair, another summer fair. There was even a gypsy horse drawn wagon/caravan nearby. The old ways still linger on.

Bob Scotney said...

Appleby Horse Fair iis in Cumbria. Mike but you still could be right for people travelling over from Durham. The fair this year was from 7 -13 June so you have the right timeframe.


I must be out of this world as I knew not Tam Pierce, but I'm glad to have learned a bit about british fairs today.