[Illustration: An Ancient Maker of Nets in a Kentish Fair]
Many other fairs have been suppressed in recent years, but some survive and thrive with even greater vigour than ever. Some are hiring fairs, where you may see young men with whipcord in their caps standing in front of inns ready to be hired by the farmers who come to seek labourers. Women and girls too come to be hired, but their number decreases every year. Such is the Abingdon fair, which no rustic in the adjoining villages ever thinks of missing. We believe that the Nottingham Goose Fair, which is attended by very large crowds, is also a hiring fair. “Pleasure fairs” in several towns and cities show no sign of diminished popularity. The famous St. Giles’s Fair at Oxford is attended by thousands, and excursion trains from London, Cardiff, Reading, and other large towns bring crowds to join in the humours of the gathering, the shows covering all the broad space between St. Giles’s Church and George Street. Reading Michaelmas Pleasure Fair is always a great attraction. The fair-ground is filled from end to end with roundabouts driven by steam, which also plays a hideous organ that grinds out popular tunes, swings, stalls, shows, menageries, and all “the fun of the fair.” You can see biographs, hear phonographs, and a penny-in-the-slot will introduce you to wonderful sights, and have your fortune told, or shy at coco-nuts or Aunt Sally, or witness displays of boxing, or have a photograph taken of yourself, or watch weird melodramas, and all for a penny or two. No wonder the fair is popular.
[Illustration: Outside The “Lamb Inn”. Burford, Oxon]
There is no reverence paid in these modern gatherings to old-fashioned ways and ancient picturesque customs, but in some places these are still observed with punctilious exactness. The quaint custom of “proclaiming the fair” at Honiton, in Devonshire, is observed every year, the town having obtained the grant of a fair from the lord of the manor so long ago as 1257. The fair still retains some of the picturesque characteristics of bygone days. The town crier, dressed in old-world uniform, and carrying a pole decorated with gay flowers and surmounted by a large gilt model of a gloved hand, publicly announces the opening of the fair as follows: “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez! The fair’s begun, the glove is up. No man can be arrested till the glove is taken down.” Hot coins are then thrown amongst the children. The pole and glove remain displayed until the end of the fair.
Nor have all the practical uses of fairs vanished. On the Berkshire downs is the little village of West Ilsley; there from time immemorial great sheep fairs are held, and flocks are brought thither from districts far and wide. Every year herds of Welsh ponies congregate at Blackwater, in Hampshire, driven thither by inveterate custom. Every year in an open field near Cambridge the once great Stourbridge fair is held, first granted by King John to the Hospital for