1. We little recognise the great part Parish Feasts and Village Fairs played in the lives of our ancestors. The Parish Feast represented a phase of the ecclesiastical life of the Parish, but Fairs were, as a general rule, institutions secular rather than ecclesiastical in character. Indeed, we bear witness to the secular charaaer of fairs in our daily speech. Invariably it is “the village fair,” never the parish fair, and the village is a secular unit. On the other hand, it is nearly always “the parish feast,” and the parish is ecclesiastical in origin. So the phrases, “village fair,” “parish feast,” enshrine more history than we know.

2. Fairs in medieval times and later had two sides: a business side, buying, selling and genuine trade, and a pleasure side, represented by the booth, the mountebank and the acrobat. We know something of the proceedings at mediæval fairs. Langland, in his “Vision of Piers Plowman,” gives us an interesting glimpse of the doings at the Winchester Fair on St. Giles’ Hill, and at the Weyhill Fair, Hampshire, but the two great English Fairs were St. Bartholomew’s Fair, Smithfield (of which we have a history extending over seven centuries from its reputed foundation in 1133 until its extinction in 1855) (Fig. 1), and Stourbridge Fair, held in a field near the monastery of Barnwell, about a mile from Cambridge, which, owing to its proximity to the mediæval ports of Lynn and Blakeney, was once a most important fair, with a reputation which extended over the whole of Europe. In mediæval times it was opened on the 8th September, and lasted three weeks, but by 1795 it had diminished in importance and was only of a fortnight’s duration. Yet a plan of the fair as it was about 1767 (Fig. 2) shows that even at that comparatively late date much of the fair was devoted to serious business.

3. Improved transit and the development of markets have killed the business side of fairs: the pleasure side persists {6} in many cases—generally in creaky swings and noisy roundabouts. In these Islands the day of fairs as business centres is gone—never to return. But I have a little book which brings vividly before me the departed glory of the fair. (Fig. 3.) It is entitled “An Authentic Account published by the King’s Authority of all the Fairs in England and Wales,” is a second edition (dated 1759), and gives a list of over 1500 places in which fairs were at that time held. In only a minority of them is any real trading done to-day.

{Fig. 1}
4. Most fairs now exist for pleasure, pure and simple. Thus The Times in its description of Mitcham Fair in 1929 details some of the attractions of this Fair—“London’s Fattest School-girl,” “The Largest Rat in the World,” “The Tanganyika Twins,” “The Armoured Pig,” and a host of other sights: but there is not a word about any trading, probably for the excellent reason that there was none!

5. The mention of markets reminds us of the necessity of differentiating between markets and fairs. Those with a legal frame of mind and partial to nice distinctions should {Fig. 2} consult Pease and Chitty on “Laws Relating to Markets and Fairs.” But for the majority of our readers a rough differentiation (such as is to be found in the following quotation) {8} will suffice. “The difference between a market and a fair is suggested by the words themselves—a fair conveys the idea of holiday (Latin: feriæ, “holidays”). Every fair is a market, but every market is not a fair. The chief difference lies, however, in the fact that fairs were as a rule bigger and were not held so frequently as markets which dealt largely with perishable foodstuffs.”

So much for the difference: now for the resemblance between markets and fairs. There would appear to be much the same connection between markets and fairs as between {Fig. 3} weather and climate. Weather has been defined as the climate of a place for a single day: climate as the weather over a long period. Similarly, a market may be defined as a one-day fair: a fair as a two-or-more days’ market. But with this proviso—a market exists almost exclusively for trade (Fig. 4), whereas an ancient fair included, as we shall shortly see (§§ 12, etc.), not only trade, but religious rites, and especially games.

6. Fairs in England and on the Continent are universally {9} regarded as of Christian origin, and their origin is ascribed sometimes to Charlemagne, sometimes to Alfred the Great. Even such an authority as Sir James D. Marwick is of opinion that fairs “originated in Church festivals, which, being held in honour of the patron saints of the localities, caused great concourse of people, and were taken advantage of by traders for the easy and speedy disposal of their goods,” while Mr. C. Walford, in his “Fairs, Past and Present” (so far as can be ascertained the only book dealing with fairs in general), does not seem to give anywhere a hint that some English fairs might possibly be of pre-Christian date.

{Fig. 4}
7. There is no need to labour the question. All Authorities seem to conspire to agree that fairs are Christian in origin. The Government “Report on Markets and Fairs” distinctly implies that fairs are Christian, and tells us that “probably the oldest fair in England is the Lee (Yorkshire) Horse Fair, which has been held for nearly 800 years without intermission,” while we find the learned Dr. G. W. Kitchen writing in his Introduction to the “Charter of Edward III. for the St. Giles’ Fair”: “The oldest known Fair was that of Dagobert, the Neustrian King (631–638), held at St. Denys, near Paris.”

8. Now the object of this book is to show that most fairs are of pagan origin, and that some of them are nearer 4000 than 800 years old. Fairs and markets are of undoubted antiquity. There is a picture of a market on an Egyptian tomb of the Sixth Dynasty, about 2500 years b.c.

Coming to our own times, we soon perceive that fairs are not peculiar to these Islands, nor to Christian countries. Practically every country with a modicum of civilisation has them. Markets and fairs are to-day held in China, Annam and Assam. There are fairs at Tanta in Upper Egypt; at Mecca in Arabia; at Hurdwar in Western India; at Irbit and Kiakhta in Siberia. Each considerable town of the Sahara has a periodic sook or fair, and at the one at Ghat there is a record that there used to be 500 merchants, 1050 camels and 1000 slaves. Mr. H. M. Stanley, in “Through the Dark Continent,” describes fairs in places where it is doubtful if any white man had previously trod. One more example must suffice. Prescot, in his “Conquest of Mexico,” states that markets or fairs, closely resembling European mediæval fairs, were regularly held by the Aztecs.

Now Aztec Mexico, “Darkest Africa,” Annam, Assam, China, India, Arabia, Egypt are not Christian, and if fairs, some of undoubted antiquity, were or are held in non-Christian countries, why should they not have been held in pre-Christian Britain?

9. The Jews quite early in their history had no doubt whatever of the pagan origin of fairs, for we find that the Talmudic authorities were opposed to attendance at fairs, which they regarded as outgrowths of pagan festivals.

10. We are thus encouraged to come to closer grips with our subject, and to do so, we turn to Ireland, which is fortunate in possessing some traces of heathen literature. The “Book of the Dun Cow,” the “Book of Leinster,” of “Bally-mote” and of “Lecan” are generally admitted to contain ideas and incidents pagan in origin.

In the “Book of the Dun Cow” there is a short account called Senchas na Relec, “History of the Cemeteries.” It enumerates eight cemeteries—Brug na Boinne, Cruachu, Luachair Ailbe, Oenach n-Ailbe, Oenach Colmain, Oenach Culi, Tailtiu (Tailte), Temair Erand, and states that these were the chief cemeteries in Ireland before the introduction of Christianity.

11. Some of these cemeteries were just the places where Irish fairs were held; indeed, oenach is old Irish for “fair,” and in such names as Oenach n-Ailbe, Oenach Colmain, given to cemeteries, we begin to see a connection between the fair and the cemetery. We will now proceed to consider some of these ancient fairs.

12. Tailte.—The Fair of Tailte (now Telltown on the Blackwater, between Navan and Kells), the most important of the Oenachs or Fairs, was attended by people not only from the whole of Ireland, but also from parts of Scotland. Cuan O’Lochain, in his poem of Tailte in the “Book of Leinster,” tells us definitely that the Fair was held “around the grave” of Tailtiu, Lug’s foster-mother, who died on 1st August. Tailte, said to have been named after Tailtiu, was especially celebrated for its athletic games, which are reputed to have originated in those played by Lug at his foster-mother’s funeral. We further learn that in commemoration of these funeral games, a great fair was “for ever” afterwards held annually on the spot, and this fair lasted a month, from fifteen days before the 1st August until the fifteenth day afterwards. It may be observed that Lug was the great Irish sun-god, and from Lug, the 1st August was named Lugnasad, generally translated “ the nasad or games of Lug,” but it must be noted that Professor Rhys does not agree with this interpretation. D’Arbois de Jubainville says that “in Irish tradition Lug is the originator of the old pagan assemblies held on fixed days, of which some of our own fairs are the last vestiges”—a valuable opinion from a great authority that some fairs can be traced back to heathen times.

According to the “Four Masters,” the last official fair at Telltown was held a.d. 1169, but O’Donovan, who examined the site for the Ordnance Survey in 1836, says that old inhabitants told him that games were carried on there “down to thirty years ago,” that is till about 1806, when scenes of violence connected with the games led to their suppression by the authorities. So we seem to have evidence of the existence of this great fair from prehistoric right down to modern times.

13. Brug-na Boinne, according to the “History of Cemeteries,” the burial places of Dagda, Lug and other celebrities of the Tuatha de Danann, is one of the most remarkable pagan cemeteries in Europe. It has many barrows {12} or burial mounds of various sizes, of which New Grange, Knowth and Dowth are the largest sepulchral mounds in Ireland. The spiral designs at New Grange (Figs. 56) are supposed to be of the late Bronze Age. So the cemetery may date from the Bronze Age. That it is pre-Christian would seem to be well attested, for Cormac, a Christian king of Ireland, declined to be buried at Brug because it was a pagan cemetery. If a fair was ever held at Brug, it was held in pagan, and not Christian times.

14. Oenach Colmain, on the Curragh of Kildare, was especially noted for horse-racing: indeed, it was sometimes spoken of as “Curragh of the Races,” and the spot is still the most celebrated racecourse in all Ireland.

{Fig. 5}
15. Cruachu (Croghan) had a cemetery called in old manuscripts Relig na Rig, “Burial Place of the Kings,” and Medb or Maive, the famous Queen of Connaught, was reputed to have been interred there, as was also Dathi, a pagan king of Ireland who reigned between a.d. 405 and 408 (Fig. 7).

16. Uisneach.—Keating tells us that at Uisneach the ancient Irish “used to offer sacrifice to the chief god they adored, who was called Beil, and it was their wont to light two fires in honour of Beil in every district in Ireland, and to drive a weakling of each species of cattle … between the two fires as a preservative to shield them from all diseases during the year; and it is from that fire, made in honour of Beil, that the name Bealltaine is given to the noble Fetival.” Uisneach had and has a celebrated stone, the “Rock of Divisions,” the {13} pagan character of which is indicated by the fact that St. Patrick cursed it.

Professor R. A. S. Macalister’s excavations have demonstrated that Uisneach dates probably from the La Tène period, {Figs. 6, 7} that it was a site of fire-festivals, and “the scene of feastings at all periods of its history.” The extreme antiquity of the fair at Uisneach would thus seem to be well attested.

17. Oenach Macha.—Macha Fair, held at Emain in Armagh, was, according to the Rennes Dindschenchas, inaugurated to lament the death of Queen Macha of the Golden Hair.

18. Tlachtga Fair is reputed to have been named after Tlachtga, the daughter of Mog Ruith, a celebrated Druid, and was held in Meath on 1st November, when, according to Keating, a fire was kindled in which the Druids burnt sacrifices, and while the meeting lasted, all other fires in Ireland had to be extinguished. November 1st was a date of heathen fire-worship, and Dr. Joyce thinks this fair “mainly pagan.”

19. Carman Fair was held every third year from 1st to 6th August, at Carman or Garman, probably in South Kildare. The “Book of Ballymote” gives one reason, the “Book of Leinster” a somewhat different one, for the institution of this fair, but both agree in the idea that it originated in the cult of a semi-mythical being, Carman by name. Of course, these accounts are very mythical. In all probability the name of such a being as Carman was evolved from the site and not vice versa. Still what we have to note is that mythical beings were connected with fairs.

We know much of the proceedings at the Carman Fair. Each day except the last was devoted to the games of a particular tribe or class. There were chariot and horse-races, and the predecessor of our modern circus is seen in the accounts of feats of horsemanship; indeed, the Brehon Laws define equestrians as “those who stand on the backs of horses at fairs.”

We learn, too, that there were three markets—the first for food and clothes, the second for live stock and horses, and the third for “foreign merchants with gold and silver articles and fine raiment to sell.” These markets, however, seem an after-thought, and no part of the original fair.

O’Curry thought this fair heathen in its origin, and he quotes Fulartach, an Irish poet who flourished about a.d. 1000, as stating that “the Gentiles of the Gaels” (i.e. the Irish pagans) celebrated the Fair of Carman “without breach of law, without crime, without violence, without dishonour.”

20. More details of pagan Irish fairs could be given, but sufficient evidence has been brought forward to show that some Irish fairs had their origin in funeral games and in the worship of the dead. Dr. Joyce well summarises this view in saying: “Most of the great meetings, by whatever name known, had their origin in funeral games. Tara, Tailletenn, Tlachtga, Ushnagh, Cruachan, Emain Macha, and other less prominent meeting-places are well known as pagan cemeteries, in all of which many illustrious semi-historical personages were {15} interred; and many sepulchral monuments remain in them to this day.”

21. An Irish fair was probably at first quite a local affair, but with improved means of communication, the fair ceased to be local, and traders from a distance brought their wares for sale. Thus the fair had a business side added to it. So the fair started with religion, then become religion and games: next business was introduced, the religious origin was more or less forgotten, and the fair became trade and games—a phase well represented in English mediæval fairs. Now the business side in England has all but disappeared, but the games remain. “And so the whirligig of time brings in his revenges.”

22. We find cases outside Ireland analagous to the Irish ones just mentioned. The assemblies once held twice a year at Teuta, in the Egyptian delta, were devoted to trade as well as to religion. Theophrastus, a contemporary of Aristotle, narrates that a priest of the Temple of the Sun permitted trade in the Temple itself, and collected the dues on behalf of the Divinity—an early example of the endeavour to serve God and Mammon. Pausanias gives a like picture of this combination in his description of a fair held near the shrine of Isis. The Lucus Feroniæ was a popular Etruscan shrine, and we learn that merchants, attracted by the crowds of pilgrims, brought their goods for sale. Exactly the same combination of religion and trade is to be found in Eastern lands. Mahomet thundered against the practice, and the episode of Christ driving the money changers out of the Temple will arise in the mind of every reader.

23. In ancient Greece we find that markets were often held near the graves of semi-mythical beings. Pausanias gives many instances, of which one must suffice. He says that the grave of Coroebus, in the market place of Megara, was surmounted by stone images, the most ancient he had seen in Greece. So in the times of Pausanias (the second century of our era) the combination of grave and market was a most ancient one, and we thus discover in Greece what we have found elsewhere—trading associated with the worship of the dead.

24. We also find funeral games connected with the worship of the dead in Greece, just as in Ireland. Thus Achilles celebrated the obsequies of Patroclus by elaborate {16} games, and Æneas proclaimed funeral games in honour of the dead Anchises from a mound, apparently an ancient barrow. Indeed, Sir James George Frazer is of opinion that all the great games of Greece originated as funeral games celebrated in honour of the dead. Precisely the same combination is met with in ancient Italy. Funeral games are found represented on some Etruscan sepulchral urns. At a Roman funeral there was a feast of friends of the deceased, and, if he were a famous man, there were combats of gladiators and games in his honour. Thus at the funeral of P. Licinius Crassus, who had been Pontifex Maximus, one hundred and twenty gladiators fought, and funeral games were celebrated for three days. These funeral games must have attracted great crowds, with the invariable sequel—the trader and his wares, just as in Ireland.

25. Still closer parallels to early Irish fairs are to be found in the Olympic Games celebrated on the first full moon after the summer solstice, a date that would sometimes fall near the date of the great Tailte Fair, held between 15th July and 15th August. The Olympic Games were under the immediate superintendence of the Olympian Zeus, just as the funeral games of Tailte had Lug, the sun-god, as the presiding divinity. Both Velleius Paterculus and Justin refer to the Olympian festival as “mercatus,” that is, as concerned with trade. So the Olympic Games, like the Irish fairs, had three sides or aspects—religious rites, games and trade.

26. To sum up. Evidence of non-Christian markets and fairs is widely distributed both in time and space, and there would seem to be good evidence from Ireland and from Eastern lands that fairs are of pagan origin, and are much older than feasts in honour of Christian saints.

27. Having found pagan fairs in Ireland, and knowing how much the manners and customs of all parts of ancient “Celtica” were alike in early times, we begin to wonder if some British Fairs are not likewise pagan in origin.

Outside our fairy-tales and our folklore we have little or no heathen literature in any way comparable with the “Book of the Dun Cow.” But we have many strange manners and customs still lingering which seem to smack of paganism. We will turn to some of these, and first to instances showing a very probable connection between games and the worship of the dead.

{17}{Figs. 8, 9}

{18} Recollecting that barrows (Figs. 1113) and tumuli are ancient burial places, the following instances seem pregnant with meaning. Whitsuntide festivities were once held in Herefordshire on a barrow called Capel Tump, and games at Eastertide were formerly played on Kirkby Moor, at a circle now called “The Kirk,” but believed to have been originally a disc barrow. Again, on Midsummer Eve there were once wrestling matches at a tumulus on St. Stephen’s Down, Launceston.

{Fig. 10}
As recently as 1858 a procession of Wiltshire villagers wended its way on a Palm Sunday to the prehistoric camp on the top of St. Martin’s (or Martinsell) Hill, and as will be seen on reference to the plans (Figs. 812) there is a tumulus quite near the camp.

28. Possibly the following strange customs point in the same direction, but direct evidence of a tumulus or barrow is wanting. The villagers of Avebury used to ascend Silbury Hill (Fig. 9) on a Palm Sunday “to eat fig cakes and drink sugar and water,” and as late as 1909 Wiltshire villagers on a Palm Sunday climbed Cley Hill to play a game with balls and sticks within a prehistoric earth-work on the summit. Now {19}{Figs. 11–13} {20} Midsummer Eve is undoubtedly pagan, while Whitsuntide, Easter (with its dependent Palm Sunday), although now Christian celebrations, are similarly pagan in origin. It is difficult to see what there is Christian in climbing a hill to play a game of ball or to drink sugar and water, even if these strange games and rites were performed on a Sunday. And if these strange rites are not Christian, they must be pre-Christian and pagan. Now some of these rites and games are connected with burial places, so we seem to have indications of a connection between games and the worship of the dead.

29. So far we have found some connection between games and the worship of the dead, but the element of trade seems to be lacking. Perhaps the following examples may supply the deficiency. A fair is still held annually at an earthwork known as Yarnborough Castle in Wiltshire (Fig. 10). “From time immemorial” a sheep fair has been held on September 18th, within the oval camp on Woodbury Hill, Dorset, a fair which the late Mr. Thomas Hardy describes in his opening chapter of “Far from the Madding CrowdThe Mayor of Casterbridge.” Chapman’s Pit, a prehistoric earthwork in Woodcuts, Dorset, had a Saxon name, Cheapmannadel, suggestive of its erst-time use as a market place.

30. But all prehistoric earthworks are not necessarily sepulchral, so we now quote two examples which seem conclusive upon the connection of fairs with the worship of the dead. St. Giles’ Fair is held on St. Giles’ Hill, Winchester (§ 2), and on this hill is a Long Barrow (Fig. 11). A fair called Tan Hill Fair is still held annually on 6th August on St. Ann’s Hill, Wiltshire (Fig. 12), and this hill has no less than five Round Barrows (Fig. 13) on it. The remarkable manner in which prehistoric trackways (“the green roads of England”) meet on this hill is evidence that it was an important centre in very ancient times, and the Round Barrows point to the Bronze Age. In Tan Hill Fair we seem to have a fair with a history from the Bronze Age to the present day. The Long Barrow on St. Giles’ Hill may possibly point to the Stone Age as the time of the origin of this fair, but we would not press the point, as it is by no means certain that all Long Barrows are as ancient as the Stone Age.

31. Having found fairs held in encampments near ancient burial places, generally called barrows or tumuli, we will now {21} direct our attention to that burial place, often in a circular encampment, known to us as the churchyard (Fig. 14). There is no doubt whatever that fairs were once held in churchyards, and the Statutes of Winchester, a.d. 1285, and of the 13th year of Edward I., forbidding the holding of markets and fairs in churchyards, may be taken as evidence that the custom was common. That it was deeply rooted and of long standing is shown by the fact that the Church had to compromise on the subject, for we find Archbishop Simon Langham in 1368 issuing a mandate not against all fairs and markets in churchyards, but merely against those held on a Sunday. But this compromise was ineffective, for we find undoubted evidence {Fig. 14} as late as 1416 of a market on a Sunday in a churchyard in the city of York. Even when Sunday fairs in churchyards were discontinued, fairs on weekdays in churchyards went on, the efforts of the Church notwithstanding, and until modern times fairs were held in the churchyards of All Saints’, Northampton, and of Laughton-en-le-Morthen, Yorkshire.

32. Trading was not carried on in churchyards only; the huckster invaded the church porch and even the Church itself. In 1400, Stafford, Bishop of Exeter, ordered a “commission against those who resorted to the Church and Churchyard of Dotton, Devonshire, for the purpose of holding markets and fairs therein.” Even as late as 1510 we find the Churchwardens of Riccall, Yorkshire, complaining of pedlars selling their wares in the church porch, and it is unnecessary {22} to remind the reader that goods were once sold in Ely Cathedral, and that there were trading stalls in the nave of old St. Paul’s.

33. Some Christian churches are on heathen sites, some circular churchyards are the modern representatives of circular heathen enclosures: so fairs held in churchyards would seem to be relics of paganism. That these fairs are not Christian is shown by the efforts of the Church to suppress them. Because we hear little or nothing about fairs in churchyards in early Christian times, and much about them from the twelfth century onwards, some writers seem to be of opinion that we have here evidence that the people became more and more lax in their religious observances, less and less respectful of the Church and of the churchyard: hence, according to these writers, the buying and selling within the precincts of the Church, and even in the sacred edifice itself. The scanty evidence of fairs in churchyards before the twelfth century may be only a part of the scanty evidence concerning many things ecclesiastical before that date. There may, however, be another possible explanation. It may be that fairs were held on these spots in heathen times, that at first the Church did not feel strong enough to suppress popular customs dating from time immemorial, and wisely ignored what it could not prevent. As the Church became more powerful, it endeavoured to grapple with the question, but with indifferent success. Hence the frequency of the mention of fairs in churchyards from the thirteenth century onwards, and hence also the infrequency of the mention of fairs in churchyards before that date. If this supposition be correct, we have additional evidence of the pre-Christian origin of some fairs.

34. As we have already seen, fairs and games were held in or near cemeteries in Ireland. We have already adduced evidence of fairs in English churchyards, which are our village cemeteries, and this evidence makes us begin to wonder if fairs in English churchyards did not arise from the same cause as the fairs in Irish cemeteries, namely, the worship of the dead. Now games and perhaps dancing were in Ireland intimately associated with the worship of the dead, and if we can find evidence of games and dancing in English churchyards we shall have established in each a close connection between (1) the worship of the dead, (2) games, and (3) fairs.

35. There is a plethora of evidence of dances in church-{23}yards. Giraldus Cambrensis mentions dancing in a churchyard in Wales. In Scotland, the Provincial Synod enacted in 1225 that dances and games be not performed in churches or churchyards. Bishop Richard Poore of Salisbury in the thirteenth century prohibited in churchyards “dances or vile and indecorous games which tempt to unseemliness.” The Synod of Exeter enjoined parish priests to prohibit combats, dances or other improper sports in churchyards, especially on the eves of feasts of the saints. In 1472 games were prohibited in the churchyard of Salton, Yorkshire, apparently with little effect, for in 1519 we find the Church threatening offenders with excommunication, and as late as 1571 we read of Grindal, Archbishop of York, prohibiting Christmas and May games, Morris dances and similar profanities in churches and churchyards, during “the time of divine service, or of any sermon.” This provision would seem to indicate that the Church had, willy-nilly, even as late as 1571, to wink at such irregularities at other times.

36. Games in churchyards in Britain lasted far longer than is commonly supposed. As late as 1804 dancing and games at feasts and revels “were universal in the churchyards of Radnorshire and very common in other parts of Wales,” and games in the churchyard of Stoke St. Milborough, Shropshire, were not discontinued till 1820. In all probability the feasts and revels held just outside the churchyard (Fig. 15) were once held in the churchyard itself.

37. There was not only dancing in churchyards, there was dancing in the church itself. Three instances must suffice. The Churchwardens’ Accounts of St. Edmund Church, Sarum, contain an entry dated 1490: “ To Willm. Belrynger for clensinge of the Church at ye Dawnse of Powles … viij d.” The “Dawnse of Powles” is believed to refer to dancing round the Maypole, and the fact that the Church had to be cleaned after the dance may be taken as evidence that the dance was held in the church itself. In the following cases the evidence is more direct. Philip Stubbs, in 1583, denounced the “Devil’s dances” in churches, and John Aubrey (1627–1697) affirms that in his day, Yorkshire peasants danced in the churches at Christmas singing “Yole, Yole, Yole.”

38. To sum up. When the Christians took possession of a heathen fane, or when they erected a church within a pagan {24} circle, they danced in honour of God, just as the pagan had previously danced in honour of his gods and of the dead. Sometimes they retained the heathen feast-day, and diverted the less objectionable ceremonies to the Patron Saint of the Church. Sometimes they allowed the fairs to be continued in the newly-hallowed ground, and they cast a “blind-eye” on the heathen dancing, not only in the churchyard, but sometimes even in the church itself.
{Fig. 15}

39. Fairs were often held on boundaries, neutral land where rival tribes could meet for purposes of trade. In ancient Italy, one of the most important fairs was held on a boundary which separated Etruscan from Sabine lands, and in Greece markets were held on boundaries, under the protection of the θεοι αγοραιοι or market gods. The custom of marking boundaries by posts or pillars, generally of stone, is well nigh universal. Hence probably the reason for the holding of a market at a post or stone, the forerunner of our market cross. At Lorne, in Argyllshire, fairs were once held at Clachan, and Clach means “stone.” At North Thoresby in Lincolnshire a fair is held near a “blue stone.” Now, if I am correctly informed, the stone is not blue, but there is a Celtic word plu, {25} meaning “parish,” and the “blue stone” may be a plu stone or parish boundary stone. This surmise is supported by the fact that the meadow in which the fair is held is known as Boundercroft.

40. The Oxford Dictionary traces the word Market back to the Latin mercari, “to trade,” but we would venture to go farther back than that, and connect both market and mercari with mark, merk, “boundary,” because markets were held on boundaries. The word mark (which still lives in “ land-mark”) is an obsolete word for “post,” “ pillar,” because posts or pillars were set at boundaries. There would seem to be a little history here—a reminiscence of the trade done at the pagan “mark,” or pillar, which became in time the Christian Cross.

41. Hermes, a god of boundaries, became a god of the market, and we find that his image was set up in many a Greek market-place. Other market gods called θεοι αγοραιοι were Artemis and Athene, and even the great Olympian Zeus was occasionally styled Zeus αγοραιος, “Zeus of the Market.” According to D’Alviella, Thingsus, the Teutonic god of assemblies, was the equivalent of Zeus Agoraios, and we have already seen Lug, the Irish sun-god, presiding over the Tailte fair (§ 12).

Coming to some modern instances, we may note that Aisan, a god of the Ewe-speaking people of West Africa, is the protector of markets, and Lasch considers that the market tree is either the personification of the market god or serves as his abode. So, the idea of a divinity of the market is well diffused both in time and space, and it may be noted that more than one writer has observed the similarity of some Scotch market crosses (Fig. 16) to the images of Hermes in Greek market places.

42. If we can find any evidence of market gods in ancient Britain we shall have supplied yet one more argument in favour of the pagan origin of fairs. Two fairs in Aberdeenshire were named after the Celtic goddess Brid, who may be presumed to have once been the presiding divinity at those fairs. St. Fumack’s Fair, also in Aberdeenshire, had its presiding deity represented by an image washed at fair-time by a woman who had the hereditary right to the privilege. In post-Reformation times this image was burnt as “a monument of superstition.” {26} It does not require much imagination to perceive here a folk-memory of a market god represented by an image in charge of a pagan priestess. Within fairly recent times an image of a dragon called the Giant used to be carried in a procession connected with a fair held on Midsummer Day (a pagan date) at Burford in Oxfordshire, and this dragon may be a caricature of the pagan god who once presided over the Burford Fair. But, perhaps, the strongest piece of evidence is furnished by the late Sir E. Anwyl, who writes: “In Pembrokeshire, {Fig. 16} fairies were even in the nineteenth century supposed to attend the markets at Milford Haven and at Laugharne,” and fairies are one of the several forms in which the erst-time pagan gods are living still.

43. The holding of fairs on hill-tops may be brought forward as another argument in favour of the antiquity of fairs. We have already noted the fairs on St. Giles’ Hill (§ 2), Weyhill Fair (§ 2), and St. Ann’s Hill (§ 30). To these English Fairs we would add Brough Hill Fair in Cumberland, Woodbury {27} Hill Fair in Dorset, St. Catherine’s Hill Fair on the Canterbury Pilgrims’ Way, and a fair now held in Basingstoke Cattle Market, but once held on the Downs outside the town. In Scotland we find a fair on the Hill of Garvock, Kincardineshire, and another on Shepherds’ Hill, Stirlingshire. St. Serf’s Fair in Aberdeenshire is held on the brow of a hill; a fair in the Island of Mull is held on Drim Tighe, and druim {Fig. 17} means a “ridge.” A fair at Lockwinnock, Renfrewshire, is called the Fair of Hill because it was originally held on a hill, and there is a tradition that Shandon Fair at Drymen, Stirlingshire, was originally “brought down from the Muir at the north of the town.”

We have already noted the close connection between a hill-top fair and ancient trackways (§ 30), so upland fairs, like upland trackways, may be regarded as of great antiquity.

44. Let us now make an apparent digression and examine a few Cornish “crosses”—so called. We have written apparent digression advisedly, for before we have finished this part of our subject, the reader will have perceived that the digression is, in reality, very germane to our subject. The Cross in the market place of Grampound (Fig. 17) is no more like a Christian cross than chalk is like cheese. The discerning reader will recognise that it is a fertility symbol, phallic in origin, and in purport comparable with the Hermæ of Greek markets.

{Figs. 18, 19}
The cross at Respryn in St. Winnow (Fig. 18) is thus described in 1858 by Mr. T. Q. Couch: “This Cross serves as a boundary mark, and it is the custom to visit it yearly, dig round it and throw some earth on its top.” We have here, apparently, the nearly worn-out remnant of a pagan rite connected with fertility, a supposition supported by the rude cross, a sun symbol, carved on its head. The situation of this cross, on a boundary, may possibly point to its having once been a market cross.

45. But more conclusive evidence of a market cross in {29} Cornwall is supplied by the cross, now in Morrab Gardens, Penzance (Fig. 19). The vicissitudes of this much-moved cross need not concern us: suffice it to know that up to 1829 it stood in the Green Market (Fig. 20) at the intersection of four cross roads on the highest point of Penzance.

It is difficult to discern what there is Christian about that face of the “cross” shown in Fig. 19. The other side of the cross (which was entirely hidden when Langdon published his “Old Cornish Crosses” in 1896) is to be now seen, but with difficulty owing to dense bushes. Thanks, however, {Fig. 20} to the ingenuity of Mr. John Rosewarne, I am able to present a photograph of the back of the head of the cross (Fig. 21), and another of the front (Fig. 22). Comparing the two, it seems that the back and front of the cross were originally the same design, and that the back has been fashioned into a rude Christian cross, largely by scooping away the triangular sinkings. If the reader will look to the right of the top arm of the Chrisrtian cross (Fig. 21) he will see that a part of the curved side of the triangular sinking (Fig. 22) has been left. So the Christian cross seems the later thing, and the design on the front is presumably pre-Christian and pagan. If it were not pagan, why the attempt to make the pattern on the back into a Christian cross? It is no argument to assert that the Christian cross is ruder, cruder, and therefore, earlier. Civilisation ebbs and flows, and culture from the fifth to the {30}{Figs. 21, 22} {31} ninth century in Britain was at a lower ebb than during the Roman occupation. If more evidence be wanted on this point, the debased Latin inscription on the same side as the Christian cross will supply it—an inscription so crude that we can only guess its meaning.

46. We will now endeavour to ascertain the approximate age of the pagan carving on the front of the cross. The four “sinkings” in the head of the cross (Figs. 1922) are carefully worked depressions of which we see {Fig. 23} rude representatives in the cross on Connor Down (Fig. 23), and in the one at St. Ewe (Fig. 24). But the sinkings in this St. Ewe cross have nearly exact counterparts in the sinkings of some coins of Ægina (Fig. 25) in the Eastern Mediterranean, and these coins are dated by competent authorities as between 600 and 550 b.c.

The “sinkings” in the Ægina coins (Fig. 25), the sinkings in the St. Ewe cross (Fig. 24), the sinkings in the Connor Down cross (Fig. 23), and the sinkings in the Penzance cross (Figs. 1922) are in an ascending scale of artistic development. There is little doubt that they are all Eastern in feeling and in inspiration, and there would seem some grounds for surmising that the Penzance market was originally instituted by Easterners, and that the cross now in Morrab Gardens, or its predecessor, presided over a market held certainly before the Christian Era, perhaps as early as 500 b.c. at four cross tracks on the top of the hill where Penzance Town Hall now stands.

We may further surmise that this cross represented a pagan deity. But what deity? We have already surmised in “Civilisation in Britain, 2000 b.c.,” that Easterners came to Cornwall for tin long before the Christian Era, and in our booklet on “Eastern Metal Seekers in Britain,” we hope to establish a very strong presumption that these Easterners brought their metal-smelting god, named Chu (Chew), with {32} them. Perchance this god lives still in Market Jew Street, the site of the old trackway leading from the sea up to the top of the hill on which the market presided over by Chu was once held. Every scholar has known for a long time that there is no evidence of the Jews working in the mines of Cornwall, but how the word Jew arose has long been a mystery. Have we here the solution of the puzzle?

47. We will now proceed to collect yet more evidence pointing to the extreme antiquity and to the pagan origin of fairs in Britain. According to Gordon and Robertson (who wrote about 1724), near the Church of Kinnethmont, Aberdeenshire, “is an old Chappel called Christ’s Kirk … and a dyke {Figs. 24, 25} encompassing it where they are yet in the use of burying their dead. … There is … a Yearly Fair called Christ’s Fair and commonly the Sleepy Market, because it begins at night about sunset and ends one hour after sunrising next morning. … A very singular kind of mercat, as any ever was.”

From other sources we learn that this “very singular kind of mercat” was held in May, that “about 1758 the proprietor changed it from night to day, but so strong was the prepossession of the people in favour of the old custom, that rather than comply with the alteration, they chose to neglect it altogether.”

48. This is not the only evidence of a “Sleepy Market,” for Mr. W. Andrews states that the October fair at Croydon was formerly opened at midnight, and that long before daylight the business of the fair was in active operation.

49. To find other instances of midnight markets we have {33} to go far afield. Professor George Foucart, in his article on the Egyptian Calendar in “Hastings’ Encyclopœdia of Religion and Ethics,” notes that Egyptian Festivals began at night, a fact which he considers points to their astronomical origin, and as we shall shortly see, probably to the worship of the moon.

In some parts of Malacca fairs are held at night, and over these night fairs, women preside. Of course, fairs held at night in tropical countries may be due to the desire to avoid the heat of the sun, but it is strange that women should preside over them. There is, according to some writers, evidence that women were the first to practise religious rites, and that they worshipped the moon before men worshipped the sun. Perhaps in the strange hours of these fairs, we have survivals of moon worship.

50. The date of the year dependent upon the moon is Good Friday; indeed, all other moveable feasts and fasts are regulated by it. Good Friday has not been always and everywhere regarded with that solemnity with which we now observe it.

Mr. Walter Johnson writes in 1912 that it was the custom on Good Friday up to forty years ago for youths and maidens to climb Chilswell Hill, near Oxford, and to indulge in such rude sports “that it was not considered proper for respectable folk to take part in the proceedings.” With loud music and riotous dancing, a similar procession once wended its way on Good Friday up St. Martha’s Hill, near Guildford. Miss M. A. Courtney writes in 1890: “Goody Friday (Good Friday) was formerly kept more as a feast than a fast in Cornwall. Every vehicle was engaged days beforehand to take parties to some favourite place of resort in the neighbourhood, and labourers in inland parishes walked to the nearest seaport to gather ‘wrinkles’ (winkles),” while W.A.B.C., in “ Notes and Queries,” states that on Good Friday, 1878, he saw a brisk fair going on in the little village of Perranporth, Cornwall. This “brisk fair” at Perranporth was an ephemeral thing with no history, but we have a record of a Good Friday fair at Heckfield, Hampshire, as late as 1833. Going back over a century we find Browne Willis writing in 1718: “To the great scandal of religion there were near as many fairs held on Good Friday as on any other day.”

So it is incumbent upon us to find facts to prove or disprove the statement just quoted, and turning to “The {34} Husbandman’s Practice” (1673), to W. Owen’s “Book of Fairs” (1759) and the “Book of Fairs” (1800), compiled by B. J. Bridges, we speedily collect undeniable evidence of no less than twenty-five Good Friday fairs.

51. Now assuming for a moment that a Good Friday fair could possibly have been originally a Christian institution, we should surely expect to find something connected with our Lord and with His crucifixion in the dedications of the churches situated in the parishes in which these 25 Good Friday fairs were once held. A careful examination fails to reveal in these parishes even one dedication entitled “Christ Church,” “Jesus Church,” “St. Saviour,” “St. Sepulchre.” There are in England 87 churches with the dedication “Holy Cross” or “Holy Rood,” but there is not one church in our list of 25 Good Friday fairs with either of these dedications. The case of Ipswich with a fair on Good Friday would seem to be especially informative. It has twelve old churches, not one with a dedication connected with our Lord or with Good Friday.

So far as church dedications are concerned, the evidence would seem to point strongly to the fact that the Good Friday fair has nothing to do with Christianity. Buying, selling and amusement on a Good Friday, the most solemn day in the Christian year! A Good Friday fair cannot be a Christian institution, and if not Christian, it must be pre-Christian and pagan. So Good Friday fairs may be adduced as arguments in favour of the pagan origin of fairs.

52. And so may Sunday fairs. If the reader will consult “Notes and Queries,” Vol. 157, p. 331, he will find that, omitting certain doubtful cases, there are definite records of over 50 Sunday fairs in England and Scotland alone, and, as the following considerations will show, these Sunday fairs would seem to point to the antiquity and to the pagan origin of fairs.

The cessation of work one day in seven has been traced back to Ancient Babylon, according to some the place of origin of the Jewish Sabbath. The rest-day both among the Babylonians and the Jews was the seventh, not the first day of the week, and, apparently, the first clear indication we have of the first day of the week as a non-working day is contained in a decree (dated a.d. 321) of the Emperor Constantine, who enjoined a public holiday on the first day of the week, which he called not the Lord’s Day, but the {35} “venerable day of the Sun.” So, Sun-day (as its name denotes) is of pagan origin, and Constantine’s holiday on a Sunday was not a rest-day in the same sense as the Hebrew Sabbath, but the day of cessation of work, when buying, selling and amusement were not tabu. Markets and fairs were permitted, and it was not till a.d. 789, when the Church had acquired some power, that Charlemagne forbade markets and fairs on Sundays. Both Ina of Essex and Alfred the Great tried to enforce the Hebraic as against the pagan observance of Sunday, with but partial success, for we find Sunday fairs and markets again prohibited by Edward and Guthrum in a.d. 906, and yet again by the Witan in 1008 and 1014.

53. But pagan Sunday trading was of too long standing and too deeply implanted to be easily eradicated. Sometimes the Church endeavoured to do something practical. For example, it is on record that at Bury St. Edmunds in the reign of John, the Church moved the Sunday fair to a week-day, and was fined for it! Later, in 1451, at Brechin, Scotland, the Church captured a pagan Sunday market, which it moved to Monday in 1466—after 15 years of probable opposition, toil and strife. Sometimes the Church thundered against the practice. Thus in the latter half of the fourteenth century we find both the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York preaching against Sunday trading—with but poor effect. Both Church and State, however, combined to do something effective in the time of Henry VI., and among the statutes of that monarch’s reign is one prohibiting Sunday markets, the four Sundays in harvest only excepted. From this we may infer that Sunday trading was common at the time of the Statute, 1448, also that the custom was so deeply rooted that the Church had to compromise, and to allow Sunday markets at the time of harvest.

Sunday fairs and markets are palpably non-Christian in origin. The efforts of the Christian Church to suppress them are indubitable proofs of this. And since Sunday markets and fairs are non-Christian in their origin, they must be pre-Christian and pagan.

54. We will now examine the supposed connection between fairs and saints’ days. The prevalent, indeed, the all but universal opinion is that fairs are associated with saints and saints’ days. Thus Dean Kitchen, in his learned introduction to the “Charter of Edward III. for the St. Giles’ Fair,” {36} affirms that “every fair was from the beginning bound up with some saint; was held on the high day of that saint, in the church or in the churchyard dedicated to him. On that day all the population flocked to the church, and it was but natural that, after service held, the people should linger in the churchyard to gossip and chaffer a bit, and make exchange of their goods before they went home again. … Thus began the fair.”

Again, Nathaniel J. Hone, in “The Manor and Manorial Records,” states that “some of the fairs were held on or about the day of the patron saint of the church … and that, in the remaining cases, the fairs were invariably associated, with some other special saint’s day.” Other quotations could be given, but at the risk of wearying the reader. The fact is that everybody who is anybody asserts that fairs are intimately associated with saints’ days, but so far as can be ascertained, no one has brought forward facts in support of the assertion.

55. Now it is proposed not to make assertions, but to examine facts, and we intend to get our facts from two unimpeachable sources:—

1. A Book of Fairs, such as was used by dealers, showmen, farmers and others in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. We propose to use William Owen’s “Book of Fairs” (Edn. 1759) because it was published under Royal Authority, and was universally regarded as reliable. But failing this authority, any other old list of fairs will do, and as a last resource, an early “Old Moore’s Almanac” will be better than nothing.

2. A book on Church Dedications. Miss Frances Arnold-Forster’s “Studies of Church Dedications,” 3 vols., 1899, the loving work of a life-time, is selected, because it is the best book on the subject, but, failing that, any other work will do.

56. Armed with our “Owen” and our “Arnold-Forster” we can begin, and we will first take the Festival of All Saints on 1st November, a notable one in the Church Calendar. If the fairs on 1st November are due to the Church, we should surely expect to find the majority of places with fairs on that date possessing churches with the dedication “All Saints.” Taking our “Owen” we find a record of 36 fairs on 1st November and 12th November (1st November, {37} Old Style), and consulting our “Arnold-Forster” we discover that only eight (less than one-quarter) of the places have churches with a dedication “All Saints.” Assuming that the advocates of the Church origin of fairs are right, we must suppose that the Church was strong enough to found a fair (apparently, mainly secular, § 1) in 36 places, but it was not strong enough to dedicate in those places more than eight churches (less than 25 per cent.) in honour of All Saints. And when we remember that the dedication of a church is a thing exclusively ecclesiastical, cela donne sérieusement à penser. When, however, we recollect that 1st November, or Samhain, was a day of Celtic pagan sun-worship and of the worship of the dead, we see a probable reason for the majority, at any rate, of the fairs on 1st November, and we begin to wonder if the few dedications, “All Saints,” are not an after-thought of the Church, and due to the fact that there was already a fair on 1st November in the village before the Church established herself there.

57. Again, let us consider the fairs held on 24th June, the day of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. On consulting our two authorities, “Owen” and “Arnold-Forster,” it will be seen that less than a quarter of the places with fairs on 24th June have churches with a dedication in honour of St. John the Baptist. But the 24th of June, or Midsummer Day, was one of the great heathen sun-festivals, and it looks as though the majority of the fairs on 24th June are not held because that date is connected with St. John the Baptist, but because it is a date connected with pagan sun-worship.

58. The consideration of a few individual cases would seem to support this idea. According to “Owen,” Lincoln has a fair on Midsummer Day, and according to “Arnold-Forster” it has 18 old churches, not one with St. John as a patron. It also, according to “Owen,” has a fair on 1st November, yet, according to “Arnold-Forster,” not one of its 18 churches has a dedication “All Saints.” If John the Baptist or All Saints had anything to do with the Lincoln Midsummer Fair, or with the fair on 1st November, why do we not find dedications in honour of All Saints and of John the Baptist? The presumption would seem to be that the Lincoln Midsummer Fair and the fair on 1st November have to do with sun-worship. That “city set on a hill” is just the place where we should expect sun-worship, and it may be that {38} Lincoln Cathedral itself is built on the site of a pagan sun-temple.

In addition to Lincoln, we find the following places with fairs on Midsummer Day, and with more than one old church, not one with St. John the Baptist as a patron. The number of old churches is given in brackets: Cambridge (14), Leicester (9), Bedford (6), Wallingford (5), Dorchester, Hertford (4 each), Beverley, Launceston, Wareham (3 each), Brecknock, Chesterfield, Shaftesbury, Torrington, Warwick, Wells (2 each). In all we have just enumerated 16 places having midsummer fairs, and the Church had no less than 81 chances of a dedication in honour of St. John the Baptist, and it didn’t take one of them! There would seem to be no connecion whatever in these 18 places between St. John the Baptist and the Midsummer Fair.

59. Lastly, we will take the fair held on St. Matthew’s Day, 21st September, or 2nd October (21st September, Old Style). Of 71 fairs held on St. Matthew’s Day given in “Owen,” only one is held in a parish with St. Matthew as patron! It is patent that St. Matthew has nothing to do with the fairs on 21st September. Other fairs could be taken, with like results—but at the risk of wearying the reader. In all, we have examined three saints’ days, All Saints, St. John the Baptist, and St. Matthew, and in not one of these three cases have we found any warrant for a belief in a connection (like that of cause and effect) between the saints and the fairs held on their days.

60. It will doubtless be objected that we have definite information of the Church founding fairs. Some fairs may have been founded de novo by the Church, but the founding of a fair by the Church may mean nothing more than that the Church took a heathen fair under its ægis. Just as some Christian churches are built on heathen sites, so some apparently Christian fairs had a pagan origin.

61. Fairs now last one, two or perhaps three days. But we must recollect that ancient fairs lasted a long time—a week, a fortnight, sometimes a month as did Lug’s Fair at Tailte (§ 12). So, if we find a fair, apparently heathen in origin, now held on (say) 4th November, we may reasonably assume that it is a mere relic of a fair which once commenced on 1st November (Samhain), and lasted a week or longer.

62. We may now pause to put into a concise form some {39} of the results of our investigations. There is direct and indisputable evidence that some fairs in Ireland are heathen in origin, and were once held in honour of the dead and (or) in honour of a pagan god. (§§ 10–21.)

The evidence regarding the pagan origin of fairs in Britain is indirect, but, nevertheless, conclusive, as is shown by the following facts:—

(1) Fairs held near barrows and in churchyards have their origins in the worship of the dead, a distinctly heathen cult. (§§ 27–38.)

(2) Fairs held on boundaries are undoubtedly of great antiquity. (§§ 39–40.)

(3) Fairs held on hills seem contemporary with our ancient track-ways. (§ 43.)

(4) Fairs once held on Good Friday must be of great antiquity, for Good Friday is a date dependent on the moon, and moon-time is far more ancient than sun-time. (§§ 47–51.)

(5) Fairs once held on Sundays seem pre-Christian. (§§ 52–53.)

(6) Fairs are only rarely connected with saints and their days. (§§ 54–59.)

63. One particular question now remains: Whence was the idea that fairs are of Christian origin derived? Certainly not from evidence, for as soon as we begin to examine facts, the idea of the Christian origin of fairs crumbles to nothingness.

The opinion that all fairs must be Christian would seem to rest on the false assumption that before the advent of Christianity, our ancestors were degraded savages, quite incapable of the powers of organisation which the holding of a fair implies. But we now know that certainly as early as the Bronze Age, and perhaps as far back as the Late Stone Age, parts of these Islands had a civilisation of no mean order, and it is quite possible that there were fairs in Britain at a very early date. Indeed, we have found indications, but not proofs, of a fair in the Bronze Age and of another perhaps as early as the Stone Age (§ 30). So the idea of the Christian origin of fairs must be relegated to the limbo of exploded fallacies.

64. Having established the proposition that fairs are generally of pagan origin, and date from times long before the Saints, we shall endeavour in future investigations to {40} apply this knowledge in explanation of certain incidents or facts as they arise, for just as the hagiographer looks to the Parish Feast for the identification of a Christian Saint, so we may hope sometimes to get some information about heathenism and heathen gods from the consideration of village fairs. Perchance in our investigations we shall come to some conclusions which will throw light upon the dark period of our history between the coming of the builders of Avebury about 2000 b.c. and the coming of the Romans.

An intensive study of fairs is a new instrument in historical research, and seems likely to yield useful and surprising results.