Fair Ground

The Fair sat [u]pon [a] portion of the ground now known as Smithfield (that is, smooth field), bordering upon the marsh, great elm trees grew, and it was known as The Elms. The king’s market perhaps was held among the trees; but on the marsh the Priory1 was founded, around which was held the fair (Morley 9). According to Sugden:
[i]ts frequenters were called [Bartholomew] Birds Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents.[…] There was abundant eating and drinking Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents.[…] Drums, gingerbread, and ugly dolls were to be bought for children. Puppet-plays were performed, and monsters of all kinds exhibited. Ballad singers plied their trade, and pick-pockets and rogues of all kinds made the Fair a happy hunting ground. Wrestling matches and the chasing of live rabbits by boys formed part of the fun. (Sugden 48)
The Fair began in 1133 after Henry I granted a charter to his former jester Rahere, the founder of Priory of St. Bartholomew (Morley 1). Henry I confirmed with his charter and seal that Rahere’s church be made with the same freedoms that [the king’s] crown is libertied with, or any other church in England that is most y-freed; and released it all customs, and declared it for to be free from all earthly service, power, and subjection, and gave sharp sentence against contrary malignants (Morley 14). Included within this was the Fair, to which the King granted:
firm peace to all persons coming to and returning from The Fair which is wont to be celebrated in that place at the Feast of St. Bartholomew; and [he] forbid any of the Royal servants to implead any of their persons, or without the consent of the canons, on those three days, to wit, the eve of the feast, the feast itself, and the day following, to levy dues upon those going thither. (Morley 15)
In 1539, Henry VIII enacted the Suppression of Religious Houses Act and the Hospital of St. Bartholomew passed through the king’s hands, and were for ever sundered from each other (Morley 112). When the king tried to establish a new hospital on the site of the Hospital of St. Bartholomew in 1544, courtiers and others eagerly put forward their requests to purchase houses and lands taken from the several religious bodies (Morley 113, 115). Richard Rich purchased the Priory in West Smithfield, with all that was upon the ground within its enclosure, and all rights thereto pertaining (Morley 116). Morley further notes that
the king farther granted to Sir Richard Rich, knight his heirs and assigns all that Our Fair and Markets commonly named and called Bartholomew Fair, holden and to be holden every year within the aforesaid close, called Great St. Bartholomew Close and in West Smithfield aforesaid, to continue yearly for three days. (Morley 117-118)
The details of said grant, however,
saves all the rights of the city to the Fair outside St. Bartholomew’s enclosure. It gave Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents.[…] to the family of Lord Rich the tolls of the Cloth Fair, and of all the part which was contained within the Parish of St. Bartholomew the Great. (Morley 118)
In 1661, after the Restoration of Charles II, Bartholomew Fair was extended from three days to fourteen days (Morley 240). However, in 1691 and 1694, a reduction to the old term of Three Days was ordered, as a check to vice, and in order that the pleasures of the Fair might not choke up the avenues of traffic (Morley 336). It is further noted that:
In 1697 the Lord Mayor, on Bartholomew’s Day, published an ordinance recorded in the Postman, for the suppression of vicious practices in Bartholomew Fair, as obscene, lascivious, and scandalous plays, comedies, and farces, unlawful games and interludes, drunkenness Gap in transcription. Reason: Editorial omission for reasons of length or relevance. Use only in quotations in born-digital documents.[…] strictly charging all constables and other officers to use their utmost diligence in prosecuting the fame. But there was no suppression of the puppet theatres. (Morley 336)
Debates over the length of the Fair hit their stride in the early 1700s. The Fair, at the time, only lasted three days, but calls were made for the Fair to be once again extended. One predominant argument to maintain the Fair’s three day length, however, was the fact that [a]ll charters and writs, from the Reign of Edward the First to this present time, specify a three days’ duration—the one exception being the charter granted by Charles I—but it was argued that this charter implied reference to former grants (Morley 381). Those opposed to a longer fair noted that a prolonged Fair was known to be a mere Carnival, a season of the utmost Disorder and Debauchery, by reason of the Booths for Drinking, Music, Dancing, Stage-plays, Drolls, Lotteries, Gaming, Raffling, and what not (Morley 381). In 1708, the Court of Common Council came upon the resolution that the Fair should be held for only three days as it is in accordance with the original grant (Morley 384). However, the debate over the length of the Fair continued to be a tumultuous affair.
The Fair was ultimately suppressed 1855, being deemed a nuisance (Harben 50).
Most notably, the Fair is mentioned in Jonson’s Bartholomew Fair. In the introduction of Jonson’s play, the stagekeeper ridicules the idea of the play: the author, he says, has not hit the humours, he does not know them; he has not conversed with the [Bartholomew] birds, as they say (Sugden 48). In Middleton’s Roaring Girl, a usurer is described as one that would flay his father’s skin off and sell it to cover drums for children at [Bartholomew] Fair (Sugden 48). Samuel Pepys, in his diary, also writes of Bartholomew Fair:
On the 29th of August 1668, Mr Pepys, having found poor entertainment at the playhouse, was dull. So I out, and met my wife2 in a coach, and stopped her going thither to meet me; and took her and Mercer and Deb. to Bartholomew Fair, and there did see a ridiculous obscene little stage-play, called Marry Audrey,, a foolish thing, but seen by everybody. (Morley 245)


Cite this page

MLA citation

Fair Ground. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0, edited by Janelle Jenstad, U of Victoria, 05 May 2022, mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/FAIR6.htm. INP.

Chicago citation

Fair Ground. The Map of Early Modern London, Edition 7.0. Ed. Janelle Jenstad. Victoria: University of Victoria. Accessed May 05, 2022. mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/FAIR6.htm. INP.

APA citation

2022. Fair Ground. In J. Jenstad (Ed), The Map of Early Modern London (Edition 7.0). Victoria: University of Victoria. Retrieved from https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/editions/7.0/FAIR6.htm. INP.

RIS file (for RefMan, RefWorks, EndNote etc.)

Provider: University of Victoria
Database: The Map of Early Modern London
Content: text/plain; charset="utf-8"

ED  - Jenstad, Janelle
T1  - Fair Ground
T2  - The Map of Early Modern London
ET  - 7.0
PY  - 2022
DA  - 2022/05/05
CY  - Victoria
PB  - University of Victoria
LA  - English
UR  - https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/FAIR6.htm
UR  - https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/xml/standalone/FAIR6.xml
ER  - 

TEI citation

<bibl type="mla"> <title level="a">Fair Ground</title>. <title level="m">The Map of Early Modern London</title>, Edition <edition>7.0</edition>, edited by <editor><name ref="#JENS1"><forename>Janelle</forename> <surname>Jenstad</surname></name></editor>, <publisher>U of Victoria</publisher>, <date when="2022-05-05">05 May 2022</date>, <ref target="https://mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/FAIR6.htm">mapoflondon.uvic.ca/edition/7.0/FAIR6.htm</ref>. INP.</bibl>



Variant spellings