London – Fairs – Elkanah Settle

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 – Elkanah Settle

Poor Elkanah Settle, who was the city Laureate, and had what Ben Jonson called the chandlery-shop pension, was, in his old age, reduced to the wretched shifts of writing drolls for Bartholomew Fair, and even to appear in a green leather case as a hissing serpent, vomiting fire, a circumstance alluded to with somewhat unfeeling severity, by  Dr. Young. Bartholomew Fair drolls were succeeded by a nearer approach to the regular drama, as the actors were men and not puppets. The pieces performed by the animated machines were of a less serious cast than those enacted by the puppets; and, in the British metropolis, we are not surprised to find that Whittingtons history should be one of the earliest and most popular of these dramas. The following Bartholomew Fair play-bill is of the reign of Queen Anne, and is copied from the Harleian MS. already alluded to:

“At Ben Johnson’s Booth, (by Mrs. Trynn’s company of actors,) in the rounds in Smithfield, during the fair, will be presented an excellent entertainment, being the famous History of Whittington, Lord Mayor of London; wherein, besides the variety of songs and dances, will be shown an extraordinary view of several stately and surprising scenes; as a rowling sea, bearing a large ship under sayl, with Neptune, mermaids, dolphins, etc; also, a prospect of a Moorish country, so swarming with rats and mice, that they over-run the king and queen’s table at dinner; likewise, a large diverting scene of tapestry, filled with all living figures; and, lastly, concluding with a lord mayor’s triumph, in which are presented nine several pageants, being six elephants and castles, a magnificent temple, and two triumphal chariots, one drawn by two lyons, and the other by two dolphins; in all which are seated above twenty persons, in various dresses; with flags, scutcheons, streamers, etc. The preparation and decoration of which infinitely exceed, both in expense and grandeur, all that has ever been seen on a stage in the fair.

“The chief parts are performed by actors from both theatres. Vivat Regina.”

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