London – Fairs – Bartholomew Fair


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This article is from the book London – Volume 3 published in 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery – it covers the history of London Fairs in the 18th Century particularly the Bartholomew Fair one of the greatest London Fairs of the time.

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 London – Fairs – Bartholomew Fair

Bartholomew Fair, that annual scene of disorder, is still continued, though reduced in duration from a fortnight, to which it had extended, to three days, the time originally fixed, and it is declining so rapidly, that in a few years it will probably be discontinued altogether without any positive suppression, as has been the case with the fairs in the environs of London, Indeed, some doubts are entertained of the legality of suppressing the fair, as it is held under a charter granted by Henry II. to the priory of Bartholomew, and confirmed by succeeding monarchs. This fair, Stowe says, was appointed to be kept yearly “at Bartholomew-tide, for three days; to wit, the eve, the day, and the next morrow.” It was no doubt originally intended chiefly as a fair of business, as the same historian says, the clothiers of England and drapers of London repaired to it,” and had their booths and standing within the church-yard of this priory closed in with walls and gates, locked every night, and watched for safety of men’s goods and wares.”

The fair soon appears to have been extended in its duration; for the same writer says, in his time three days were devoted to business, and the rest “to see drolls, farces, rope-dancing, feats of activity, wonderful and monstrous creatures, wild beasts made tame, giants, etc.” One of the many instances we find in London of a particular branch of trade clinging to the same place, is connected with this fair; for, leading into Smithfield, there is a narrow lane, principally occupied by clothiers, or woollen drapers, as they are now more generally called, and which retains the name of Cloth Fair.

It is probable, however, that although cloth was the staple, it was never intended to be the only article dealt in; and we find that at one time various parts of Smithfield were appropriated to the sale of particular articles. Near Smithfield Bars, there was a place where shoes were generally sold, and it was therefore called Shoemaker-row; bows and arrows were also sold here as we find from Tom d’Durfey, who, in his “Pills to purge melancholy,” describing the fair in 1655, says,

“At Pye-corner end, mark well, my good friend, Tis a very fine dirty place;

Where there’s more arrows and bows, the Lord above knows, Than was handled at Chevy Chase.”

Excerpt from London Volume 3 1824 by Sholto and Reuben Percy – Brothers of the Benedictine Monastery


Further reading and external links

Bartholomew Fair on Wikipedia

Bartholomew Fair on Inside London

Sholto and Reuben Percy