22 August 2008

Bartholomew's Fair

The anticipation is building for August 24, St Bartholomew's Day. Bartholomew's Fair was celebrated for centuries in London, an important enough event to be opened by the Lord Mayor at Smithfield Market. How did your London ancestor, over 200 years ago, celebrate this important social event?

A 1802 newspaper, The Morning Chronicle , reported that at the instant the Lord Mayor declared the Fair open "... the most hideous noise commenced. The screaming of fiddles, the beltching and bursting of French-horns and trumpets out of tune, the squeeking and squalling of wretched clarinets, flutes and hauteboys ... formed a concert superior to what Discord herself could have invented."

"The booths are numerous, and fitted up in the usual style of splendour. On one hand we have a Theatre Royal, where dramatic pieces are enacted with the amazing celerity; and it is a fact that Pizarro and Blue Beard were performed in one of these Retreats of Thespis in the very short space of 18 minutes!"

"Proceeding a little further towards Saint John Street, the attention is called off on the other hand by a splendid Royal Circus, where a performer, who is styled Equestrian to their Majesties, exhibits his wonderful feats. There are also various receptacles for wild beasts, conjurors and charlatans of every denomination; philosophical entertainments, rational amusements, with everything which can possibly tend to exalt and improve the human understanding!"

"It would not be fair to omit that favourite amusement of the youthful visitors of both sexes of this elegant place of resort, we mean swings, roundabouts and etc. Neither would we be justified in not recording the delicacies which present themselves to the hungry; yards of fried sausages were devoured with particular avidity, and, ... nothing was to be seen but oceans of gin, and mountains of gingerbread, intersected with the appearance of hilarity and universal satisfaction.”
The article continues "To be serious," deploring the excesses it sees in the Fair.

It took more than 50 years but this annual fair was eventually ended in 1855.

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