Note:  Do not rely on this information. It is very old.


Fairs (Lat. feriae) are temporary assemblages of traders, differing from markets in being held only once a year, or at longer intervals, and being on a much larger scale. They probably grew up from the assemblages of traders attending religious festivals or political assemblies, the two being in early civilisation often identical. Traders are known to have assembled periodically from all parts of the civilised world at Tyre and Sidon; we hear also of their presence at the Greek games at Olympia, Delphi, and Corinth; while at Rome every ninth day (nundince), or, as we should count it, every eighth day, was the market day and day of assembly, and in a sense a religious festival. In Roman Britain there are some traces of fairs, and in the Anglo-Saxon period they also existed, probably accompanying political assemblages as at Rome. After the Norman Conquest the right of holding them was only conferred by royal grant, and in return for payment. It was often granted out to religious houses, who were authorised to maintain the fair on their own land, preserving order and levying tolls. Special courts of pie powder (pieds poudres, dusty-footed, i.e. pedlars' or travellers' courts) were held for the trial of disputes arising at these fairs. Foreign traders were admitted to most of them, and freed at them from the various oppressive restrictions (e.g. as to responsibility for one another's debts) which ordinarily hampered them. Among celebrated fairs in England, Stourbridge or Sturbridge Fair, just outside Cambridge, was the most famous. The privilege of holding it was given by King John to the master of the Lepers' Hospital at Cambridge, but the town and the University, in consequence of its extreme importance to them, had also certain rights of control over it. This fair was one of the most important in Europe. It lasted for three weeks from Sept. 18. Its importance as a horse and cattle fair lasted later than that of its other functions; but it has gradually died down in the present century. Daniel Defoe has left a striking description of it in his Tour. Winchester Fair was of even more importance in the Middle Ages, as being near Southampton, the emporium of south-eastern trade. It was under the control of the bishop, and lasted for sixteen days from St. Giles' eve. Boston, St. Ives, Stamford, Oxford, Abingdon, and Nottingham had also important fairs. The dramatic booths, such as "Richardson's Show," and the various shows including giants and dwarfs, were naturally a prominent feature of these fairs. St. Bartholomew's Fair, popularly called Bartlemy Fair, in Smithfield, London, dates from 1133. In this century it gradually declined, and complaints of the immorality it engendered caused the City Corporation in 1839 to refuse to let any more stands for shows. In 1843 these were prohibited altogether, and the tolls generally were raised. In 1850 the fair was intermitted, and in 1855 the last was held. Indeed, the decay of fairs, owing to the better means of communication and development of commerce is one of the notable features of English economic history in this century. Shorn of their commercial importance they were resorted to chiefly for the purpose of revelry, and were the meeting-place of bad characters, while they came to interfere with the trade of resident dealers. The complaints of their immorality caused measures for their restriction early in the present reign. Thus 2 and 3 Vict., c. 37 (1839) authorised the holding of inquiries in London (within the metropolitan police district) as to the title to hold any fair, and if the title were not satisfactory the police were authorised to remove the booths, subject to the trial of the right in the Court of Queen's Bench on appeal to it by the alleged owner of the fair. In 1871 an Act was passed reciting that whereas certain fairs are unnecessary, are the cause of grevious immoralities, and are injurious to the inhabitants of the towns where they ars held, the Secretary of State, on the representation of the magistrates in Quarter Sessions, and with the consent of the owner, might order any fair to be abolished. But horse and cattle fairs, cheese fairs, and hiring fairs for engaging farm servants, are still carried on in various parts of Great Britain.

Among foreign fairs, the great fair of Troyes, in Champagne, which was of much importance as early as Charles the Great's reign, gave its name to "Troy weight" - as the foreign coins naturally in circulation at it were reduced to a common denomination according to that standard. During the Crusades a great fair was held annually in September on Mount Calvary; it was attended largely by Venetian traders, and was one of the chief means by which Eastern goods reached Europe. The fairs of Rouen, Lyons, St. Denis, and St. Germain, near Paris, were celebrated among French fairs, as were those of Leipzig and Frankfort in Germany. The book fair at Leipzig has only recently been superseded by modern methods of conducting the bookselling trade. The great fair of Nijni Novgorod in Russia, covering altogether some seven or eight square miles, and increasing the population of the town fivefold while it is held, is the last and largest survival of the mediaeval fairs. Goods of the value of £10,500,000 are said to have been offered for sale there in 1849. Most modern visitors, however, have been somewhat disappointed with the fair, which Russians extol as one of the wonders of the world; but the variety of nationalities collected at it makes it remarkable. Fairs obviously belong to an early stage of commerce, and will probably soon everywhere be extinct. As a means of exhibiting goods they are replaced by the International Exhibition, to which the term is commonly applied in America; as a means of selling them, by the advertisement, the agent, and the commercial traveller, not to speak of the world-wide "connexion" which belongs to great modern producing firms. In America the term is often applied to local agricultural and other exhibitions (e.g. a "state fair") and to charitable bazaars, of which the "Sanitary Fair," held at New York in 1863 in aid of the wounded during the War of Secession, is an instance on a large scale.