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The two fairs authorised under the charters of 1314 and 1343 both survived into the nineteenth century. The principal fair (in later years held 2nd - 4th October) was known as the Walnut Fair, or October Fair. It was probably originally held in the market place, but by the end of the middle ages, it had moved out of the town centre, to the Fairfield, on the eastern edge of the town. It became increasingly popular with visitors as well as locals, and by the eighteenth century was a place where fashionable London society gathered.
In the early part of the nineteenth century the fair was opened at midnight with a ceremonial Golden Key. The first day was the more important day for the trading of livestock; while the second day was attended by the gentry, when luxury items were on sale.
Popular attractions over a number of years included Richardson's show (with dancers and other acts), and Wombwell's Menagerie, both professional touring troupes.
'The town was a fair of itself', remembered William Page. 'Music, singing, acrobats and all kinds of entertainments going on in the streets, and an immense traffic of all kinds of vehicles passing and repassing through the place.'
Croydon Fair on 2nd October, 1833 [394.6 FAIR]
The fair also, however, had a rougher reputation, and a growing tide of middle class disapproval eventually caused it to be closed down by the Local Board of Health in 1866. An entrepreneur, Stephen West, then rented a field at Pitlake, and held the pleasure fair there instead. He did the same in 1867, and attempted to do so in 1868, but the police had now acquired extra powers, and managed to halt the fair after one day. Three days later, this led to rioting by frustrated crowds from London.
Although the pleasure fair was at an end, the cattle fair had been removed from Fairfield in 1865, and survived as a successful event for livestock trading. It was held successively in fields at Pitlake, in the Addiscombe Road, in Coombe Road, and, from 1875 onwards, in the Brighton Road. It was last held as a full-scale event in 1894, but on a reduced scale it survived until around 1915.
The second traditional fair (in later years held on 5th July) was known as the Cherry Fair or Town Fair. It took place around Market Street, the Butter Market, and at the back of the Town Hall, and was mainly a pleasure fair. It was closed down in about 1854, after a young girl had been killed by a blow from a swing in the cramped confines of Market Street.
[From JO Pelton, Relics of Old Croydon (Croydon, 1891)]
Monday, 20 May, 2013