Medieval Fairs were not what we think of as a fair today more like a Market with fun added. Buyers and sellers, assembled at a particular place with their merchandise and ours was held annually on the Feast of St Margaret. Medieval Fairs in England, from a strictly legal point of view, required a franchise from the Crown.
In England it was only after the Norman conquest that fairs. became of capital importance. Records exist of 2800 grants of franchise markets and fairs between the years 1199 and 1483. More than half of these were made during the reigns of King John and King Henry III, when the power of the church was in ascendancy.
The first recorded grant, however, appears to be that of William the Conqueror to the bishop of Winchester, for leave to hold. an annual “free fair” at St Giles’s hill. Our fair was granted in 1241 by Henry III and is an early fair, Our right to a market is even earlier and dates to 1215 from King John
The wares varied from those in the markets: You were more likely to find precious metals and stones, silk, spices, and perfumes from distant countries at fairs – very like our Bric a Brac stall today
All the fun of the fair
Although the main objective of the Medieval fairs were trade and commerce, every fair contained some element of merry-making. Possibly starting from merchants trying to sell their goods, people were determined to attract the most customers to their stalls. Therefore, from a very early date, there was always fun at the fair. Any entertainment to attract a crowd, singers, musicians, acrobats, stilt walkers and fools. Fairs included various contests such as archery tournaments. Medieval tournaments sometimes coincided with Medieval fairs. strength contests were common so I guess our Tug of War would have fitted right in. Fast food and other refreshments were available. There were lots of opportunities for fun at the Medieval fairs.
So our fete today carries on this tradition. Stalls were you can buy goods, games of chance, Food and drink prepared at the fete and entertainment by players or musicians. We no longer have the cock fights or bear baiting but our dog show still brings an animal interest into the proceedings.
You’ll find much more information about Markets and Fairs in medieval times in the GAZETTEER OF MARKETS AND FAIRS IN ENGLAND AND WALES TO 1516