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The Midsummer Market and Fair dates back to a charter granted by King John in 1211 and is one of the oldest fairs in England. Irish Travellers and Romany Gypsy communities have travelled to and traded at the fair for hundreds of years. Jean O’Brien and Eileen O’Brien are two young sisters whose family members have traded at the fair.
In these clips, Jean interviews her younger sister about the Midsummer Fair. What does she do, hear and see at the fair?
Oblique Arts has over the past year been working with the project “Oral Histories: Roma & Traveller Communities in Cambridgeshire”. Focusing on Traveller fairs, which have existed for centuries, we are collecting stories about families, trading at the fairs, travelling between fairs and the nature of changing experiences. The project is funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.
Alison Taylor (Cambridge The Hidden History p. 114) says:
Midsummer Fair was granted to Barnwell Priory in 1211, to be held from 22-25 June, but like [the fair at] Reach its antecedents are undoubtedly much earlier than this, as its date during the pagan midsummer festivals suggests. The Priory itself was sited by a sacred well….. The burgesses of the town started to take over this fair in the middle ages, and had complete control after 1506…… By the late eighteenth century it was particularly known for selling pottery, after which it acquired the name of Pot Fair.
Henry Gunning, in his reminiscences of Cambridge, included a description of the fair as it was at the end of the eighteenth century. By the mid 19th cent. the fair was in decline but the introduction of steam-powered rides after 1870 brought greater excitement.