Welcome to my blog, where I take pleasure in words and pictures, be they my own or those of others. I'm a creative individual, and the crafty side I explore on my 'other blog', Picking Up The Threads, which I hope you'll visit too. I'm sure you understand that I have sole copyright of my original work and any of my contributions, so please ask if you want to use them. A polite request is rarely refused. So, as they used to say on the BBC's 'Listen With Mother' radio programme, many years ago: "Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin."

Thursday, 21 June 2012

So Long At the Fair

“Oh! dear! what can the matter be?
Dear! dear! what can the matter be?
Oh! dear! what can the matter be?
Johnny’s so long at the fair.

This painting, although by a Nottingham artist, is of ‘Fair Day in Morledge’ and is housed in the Derby Museum and Art Gallery*. It’s pretty much how the old Nottingham Goose Fair would have looked in its early days. When I was a little girl ‘Goose Fair’ was an exciting event for which we all saved up our pocket money. It was held for three days, and sometimes, if you were lucky, you would go twice.

Go to ‘The City of Nottingham in Pictures’ a wonderful website owned by Ray Teece, to view a splendid gallery of modern day Goose Fair.

Goose Fair is still held, and is arguably the largest of its kind in England. These days it’s a pleasure fair, with roundabouts and nailbitingly scary rides, candyfloss and toffee-apples, ‘cocks-on-a-stick’ and hot dog stalls. The first mention of the fair by name is in 1541, but it existed in some form as far back as Edward I’s Charter of 1283-4. At that time there was already a large ‘Martinmas Fair’ being held at the Priory of Lenton in Nottinghamshire since 1164, where it was a great source of revenue for the monks, and had a reputation as far as France for horse and cattle trading. Before the railways came, Nottinghamshire shopkeepers relied on the Lenton Fair for supplies. In the Borough Records of Nottingham we can learn about the hirleing who visited the fair and neglected his master’s sheep; of the person who sent, “bad ale that was not good”, and of William de Clifton who stole, from a house in Nottingham, bows intended for sale at the fair.**

Goose Fair was originally held in the city’s Market Square but moved to its present Forest Fields site in 1928. A native of Nottingham, Sydney Race, kept a diary from the age of fifteen and the BBC Nottingham website quotes extensively from these as during Sydney’s teens and early twenties Goose Fair was a major event in his calendar.
It was very different to the one I remember as a child, or even the fair as it is today. By the turn of the last century early forms of cinema were beginning to be the big fair attractions, but the young Sydney was shocked by the displays of affection exhibited by young couples on the rides:

“In one thing the Fair, I think was remarkable this year - there was a tremendous amount of kissing on the roundabouts. And it was going on vigorously at an early hour of the evening too.”***

Goodness knows what Sydney would make of behaviour at a modern fair! He describes ice-cream sellers, coconut stalls, shooting galleries, trials of strength and the new-fangled phonograph machines. In those days you could pay to see midgets, menageries, fat ladies, performing birds and hares and swimming exhibitions. There was also 'Wallace the Untamable Lion’ and the ‘Transparent’ Count Orloff! Food and drink consisted of wine stalls, fried fish and potato, ‘smoking hot peas’ and sandwiches with tea and coffee.

Goose Fair is believed to have been named originally for the thousands of geese driven annually from neighbouring Lincolnshire to be sold there. The only other fair with the name is the smaller Tavistock Goosey Fair. The poet Charles Causley writes movingly about being taken there by his father on a 'damp, dry-leaved October' day, just before his father died in the First World War.

“The roundabout played ‘Valencia’ on the Square.
I heard the frightened geese in a wicker pen.
Out of his mouth an Indian man blew fire.
There was a smell of beer; cold taste of rain.

The cheapjacks bawled best crockery made of bone,
Solid silver spoons and cures for a cold.
My father bought a guinea for half-a-crown.
The guinea was a farthing painted gold.”

Last year I came upon a lovely Victorian-style carousel in Bournemouth; you can read about that in my next post, 'Round and Roundabout'.

Our Sepia Saturday prompt this week is from the Hoppings Fair held in Newcastle in the 1940s. I haven’t any old images in my family albums from that far back, but here’s a selection, going back to 1965. Click to enlarge and enjoy the slideshow.

My grandfather 1967
Me, terrified, 1965
My children, 1981
And again, 1990
My daughter, 1986
And 1988
 Why not join us at Sepia Saturday where other fairgoers will be posting their responses to this photo prompt.
*By Charles T Stanfield Moore of Nottingham (1) {Public Domain}, via Wikimedia Commons
**Thoroton Society 1936
*** BBC Nottingham Website


  1. Very interesting post - have never been to a Goose Fair.
    Liz @ Shortbread & Ginger

  2. I hated bumper cars so I would have been terrified too. Very interesting story of Goose Fair.

  3. Oh you sure have delighted this fair fan! I felt like a whirl wind day at the fair just by reading and viewing your photos! I'm not a real ride person, not the scary or ones that just shake you up and toss your around...but when our Minnesota State Fair comes, I try to make one or two visits....the arts buildings, crafts, animals, music and everything out of the Midway,(they call it over here) where all the carnies and rides are! I got back home in time to rustle up my own post too....see you back here soon! :)

  4. I've heard of the Goose Fair, but I've never been. So, thanks for such an informative post, Little Nell. I love the Charles Causley verses.

  5. All The Fun Of The Fair! Great Photos! + I Would Have Paid Good Money To See 'Wallace the Untamable Lion’ !

  6. What a great post, Nell! I haven't heard of it before, but sure would like to attend someday. Loved the background history and the pictures of your kids too. Those suckers are something else. What a name, lol.

    Kathy M.

    1. I take it you are referring to the ‘cock-on-a-stick’ Kathy? Did you click on the link to hear the man talking about making them for years. He lives in my old home town of Arnold and I never knew!

  7. Stamford Fair was ourlocal fair; I knew about the Nottingham Goose Fair but never got there even when I was working for BR in Nottingham.
    It's rather ironic that the Hoppings Fair at Newcastle has been postponed this weekend due to the horrendous weather and fears for people's safety.

  8. The pictures look quite different from what I would have expected at something called a "goose fair."

  9. I lost my post. So if you get two I am sorry. I enjoyed this post some great info and I loved the photos of your children. The daughter on the horse is beautiful.

  10. I was never brave enough for the bumper cars, these photos are delightful.

  11. I've never heard of the goose fair either. But after your descriptions, I sure would like to go. Love the photo of you in the bumper car and your children on their rides.

  12. Wonderful collection of family photos at the fair. Your children were adorable in the cars. Thanks for the history lesson on the Goose Fair. I've never heard of this fair and find it fascinating to think it's been going on since the 1500s!

  13. I am another that hadn't heard of the goose fair. A very interesting post. Great photos. I also enjoyed the links. Through your post I have also learnt about the smaller goosey fair in Tavistock, also in October. Eventually I will visit UK and as I have descendants that came from Tavistock, I think I will make my visit to UK in October so I can attend. Thanks again for the post.

  14. A super post! Fairs like these are probably much the same around the world in the way they evoke so many emotions and themes. Obviously your family has kept up on the fun fair tradition!

  15. Nice painting and background information. I google-streetviewed Derby and the old market square in Nottingham. The only parts of England I've visited are London and Kent, so this way I can see and learn more of the UK.

  16. The painting made me think thank goodness for the Clean Air Act, although it looks as though those chimneys produced a great sunset. Great photos of you and your family through the years.