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
Held for the first time last year, the 2015 Ropewalk Fair from Friday 8 May to Sunday 10 May exists to highlight Bridport’s unique rope-making past and to celebrate the town’s current netting industry.
Events are being held across Bridport, with a family fun day on the Millennium Green at Mountfield on Sunday.
It also helps to raise a bit of money for the £1.2 million redevelopment of Bridport Museum in South Street and the £2.6 million restoration of the Literary and Scientific Institute in East Street.
Two guided walks on Saturday 9 May, led by local historian and author Richard Sims, a leading voice on the rope, net and twine industries. During the tour, Richard will bring to life the history of key sites such as the hidden ropewalks and old industrial buildings.
Tours leave the Museum at 11am and 2pm. £2.50 per person.
Places for guided walks must be booked in advance due to limited space and past demand. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 01308 458703.
A heritage exhibition in the Town Hall.
Family fair on the Millennium Green on Sunday 10 May, with rope and net-making demonstrations, music, food, tug-o-war competition, games and community stalls offering classic village fete type activities but with a rope or net twist.
Shops are also being invited to “dress” their windows with net for a competition.
Emily Hicks, the curator of Bridport Museum, says: “Stalls for community groups are only £10 to cover administration costs, and you can keep the profits for your group.”
She’s also keen for people to volunteer as stewards over the weekend. Email her at email@example.com or call 01308 458703 to find out more, or get a booking form for a stall.
The fair’s principal sponsors are Huck Nets, with Amsafe, Sicor and Coastal Nets also chipping in.
For centuries Bridport and its surrounding villages have been shaped by rope, net and twine making.
Real physical evidence of the lives of past generations of Dorset people can be seen in homes, gardens, mills, factories, warehouses, and pubs. Pymore Inn, for example, opened in the 1850s to quench the thirst of Pymore Mill workers. It also had a shop to supply them with provisions. Likewise, Dottery owes the existence of its corrugated iron chapel – its lovely tin tabernacle – to the presence of Pymore Mill. The Gundry family donated the land on which the chapel still stands, partly to save workers from having to trek over to Bradpole to worship.
But it’s also very important to remember just what hard work it was (and still is).
In July 1951, for example, the magazine Picture Post published a revealing feature about Bridport net-making. This tells the story of a Mrs Hughes, a 75-year-old outworker living in Bridport, who cannot remember the time when she could not braid. (“Outworker” means that she worked from home).
“As a young married woman she lived near Crewkerne, 11 miles away. Her husband’s wages were only 11s a week, but she could average £2.
“The money was hard earned.
“She had five children under six, but every Friday she sent her husband off to work, settled the elder children with neighbours, loaded the pram with the baby and the completed nets and walked to Bridport to collect her earnings and do her shopping.
“Then she walked back in time to get the tea for the children and to cook her husband’s supper.