Informants from up and down the country provided details of annual gatherings that were clearly a highlight for their local community.


The names for these gatherings differed, with feast and fair being the most common in both northern and southern counties. Other names for the gatherings included mops (Wiltshire and Worcestershire), wakes (Cheshire, Staffordshire, Derbyshire, Rutland, Warwickshire and Gloucestershire) and The Club or Clubs (Shropshire, Warwickshire, Norfolk and Surrey). 

The time of year the events took place also differed, but most were held in the summer or early autumn, presumably to make the most of lighter nights and (hopefully) better weather. Some celebrated events in the Christian Church calendar such as Whitsun or Ascension Day. Others combined festivities with the hiring of farm labourers. Organisers of the fairs and feasts, as well as other outings and walks, included the church, the local cricket club, charitable organisations such as Odd Fellows, and various friendly societies including the Foresters.

A person sitting

Mr. T. G. Outhwaite, ropemaker of Hawes ( Wensleydale), stringing hazel sticks, bent into a bow shape, with home-twisted segal twine. The bow will form the front or back of a hay creel.

‘Making a Hay Creel’ (LAVC/PHO/P0791) by Werner Kissling

A person and a child with a model

The finishing touches are made to ‘The Bartle’ that was burned on a bonfire as part of the celebrations at West Witton Bartle Fair in North Yorkshire. The fair was held to mark the Feast of St Bartholomew and ‘Bartle’ may have derived from the saint’s name.

‘Bartle (West Witton Bartle Fair)’ (LAVC/PHO/P1614) by Werner Kissling

Descriptions of these events share many common features, including shooting galleries, coconut shies, roundabouts, swings, races or sports, food, and sweet stalls. Dancing and drinking were also remembered, especially for those fairs or feasts held in the yard of the local public house. One lucky informant in Shropshire remembered the local Foresters’ Feast involving free beer! Among the more familiar fairground attractions are a few obscure games and activities, including Cumberland wrestling (Cumbria and Northumberland), knocking the slipper off the chair (Lincolnshire), climbing the greasy pole (Lincolnshire and Essex) and catching a greasy pig (Essex).

In the following recording, George Ellis, a farm foreman, and Mrs Paling in Swinstead, Lincolnshire, remember dancing in pubs and barns during the Swinstead Feast:

Listen here

‘Sound Recordings, Lincolnshire’ ( LAVC/SRE/A727r ) by Stanley Ellis, Philip M Tilling and Michael V Barry
A transcription for this audio can be found (here)