Vanishing England eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 374 pages of information about Vanishing England.
Lepers, and formerly proclaimed with great state by the Vice-Chancellor of the University and the Mayor of Cambridge.  This was one of the largest fairs in Europe.  Merchants of all nations attended it.  The booths were planted in a cornfield, and the circuit of the fair, which was like a well-governed city, was about three miles.  All offences committed therein were tried, as at other fairs, before a special court of pie-poudre, the derivation of which word has been much disputed, and I shall not attempt to conjecture or to decide.  The shops were built in rows, having each a name, such as Garlick Row, Booksellers’ Row, or Cooks’ Row; there were the cheese fair, hop fair, wood fair; every trade was represented, and there were taverns, eating-houses, and in later years playhouses of various descriptions.  As late as the eighteenth century it is said that one hundred thousand pounds’ worth of woollen goods were sold in a week in one row alone.  But the glories of Stourbridge fair have all departed, and it is only a ghost now of its former greatness.

The Stow Green pleasure fair, in Lincolnshire, which has been held annually for upwards of eight hundred years, having been established in the reign of Henry III, has practically ceased to exist.  Held on an isolated common two miles from Billingborough, it was formerly one of the largest fairs in England for merchandise, and originally lasted for three weeks.  Now it is limited to two days, and when it opened last year there were but few attractions.

Fairs have enriched our language with at least one word.  There is a fair at Ely founded in connexion with the abbey built by St. Etheldreda, and at this fair a famous “fairing” was “St. Audrey’s laces.”  St. Audrey, or Etheldreda, in the days of her youthful vanity was very fond of wearing necklaces and jewels.  “St. Audrey’s laces” became corrupted into “Tawdry laces”; hence the adjective has come to be applied to all cheap and showy pieces of female ornament.

Trade now finds its way by means of other channels than fairs.  Railways and telegrams have changed the old methods of conducting the commerce of the country.  But, as we have said, many fairs have contrived to survive, and unless they degenerate into a scandal and a nuisance it is well that they should be continued.  Education and the increasing sobriety of the nation may deprive them of their more objectionable features, and it would be a pity to prevent the rustic from having some amusements which do not often fall to his lot, and to forbid him from enjoying once a year “all the fun of the fair.”



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Vanishing England from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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