The roots of Evershot Country Fair go deep. Its origin dates to 1286 when a charter was granted by Edward I.
Lee Wicks discovers how many of the customs and practices can be seen in its modern descendant.
A fair was an important trading and social occasion in the rural calendar and it combined serious business with the excitement of rivalry and revelry.
In the morning, a bell rang out to proclaim the start of trading. The hire of labour and negotiation of rates ran alongside the bartering of livestock and haggling over wares from within and far beyond the county borders.
From the 1600s, it was common for long-distance packhorse trains to crisscross England, transporting merchandise to town shops and country fairs.
Seasonal walnuts, dried ling (a cod-like fish), reed mats, barrels of pitch and tar, ‘cleane soape’, harvest gloves and books both old and new were some of the items offered for sale. George Alexander Cooke’s copious travelling index of 1822 thought it important to provide his readers with details of the many fairs.
He recommended Evershot’s Annual fair for its ‘Bullocks and Toys’. These toys were not so much children’s playthings but a Victorian description of interesting knick-knacks such as shell-enamelled snuff boxes and stone bottles.
The significance of a fair in the rural psyche of individuals is apparent when it is linked to other important events.
A handbill drawn up by Charles Warren of Marnhull, Dorset, set out his requirement for a new wife as: “My wife been dead 12 months ago, last Stroton (sic) Fair” and he required “a good steady woman between 30 and 40 years old,” to look after his three young children and his pigs.
The fair was more than goods and labour-trading (and wife-hunting). After a morning of serious transactions, the afternoon was given over to drinking, dancing, strolling players and athletic contests.
Evershot’s population in the 1800s averaged 500 people, more than half of which were under 30 years of age. In recognition of the central role the fair held within a community and the excitement it generated in a largely young population, employers wisely gave permission for a day off rather than deal with mass absenteeism.
Echoes of the past will be found in this year’s Evershot Country Fair to be held on the 21 June. There will definitely be an air of revelry with plenty to eat and drink and the strolling players prefer a static gazebo to entertain with their music.
Instead of pack horses, vans and cars crisscross the borders and byways, to bring a variety of culinary delights displayed in the food marquee. More than 80 stalls will offer their wares, some of which do have knick-knack ‘toys’ as well as quality crafts.
As for hiring of hands, you can engage the skills of a coppice worker, hurdle maker and stone mason. These are some of the demonstrations of rural crafts that are an intrinsic part of the fair.
The Fair on Sunday 21 June opens at 11am and ends at 5pm. Adult entrance is £2 and it’s free for children. More information on www.evershot.org/ecf