Cambridge Midsummer Fair

Cambridge Fair, like most of the historic fairs in the country, dates back to a charter given in the middle ages. It was granted in 1211 by King John with the revenues from the fair going to the Priory of Barnwell, which was confirmed by Henry III in 1229 and certified to be held on or near the feast of St Etheldreda. The Cambridge Act of 1850 stated that the fair should begin on June 22nd and continue until and including the 25th of June. The fair is opened at 2.30 by the Mayor who used to throw newly minted coins to the children of the town.

One interesting aspect of the fair is the question of privileges. In the sixteenth century the council and Mayor of Cambridge acquired the rights for the midsummer fair. However one of the privileges the University Proctors still had was the right to search the fair for beggars, vagabonds and lewd women, with the council members hotly disputing the right of the University to search for lewd women at the fair. Its original purpose would have been one of trade and in the eighteenth century it was commonly known as the Pot fair due to the large quantities of china which were on sale there.

It was also a horse and cattle fair and attracted many Gypsy travellers. However, like Bridgwater, the horse fair element of the fair has died out or become less important and since the council stopped putting on a site for the Gypsy travellers it is not as frequented. However, despite this, Cambridge Pot fair will attract a larger proportion of gypsy-travellers due to the fact that china is still for sale in large quantities. It is one of the biggest fairs in England behind Newcastle, Hull and Nottingham, and certainly on a par with Bridgwater in the West country. One of the main families associated with attendance at the Cambridge Fair is the Thurston Family. Cambridge is a good example of a fair which started out as a mart of trade under the auspices of the local religious community and which has continued in this century as a pleasure fair.

Dick Baxter has started research into Cambridge fairs and the Midsummer Common, using the NFA as one of his reference points. His articles can be accessed from here.

The following images are from our collections in the NFA, please see here for a further selection of David Braithwaite Cambridge images.

Image: Cambridge
Jack Leeson's rich view from 1961.

Image: Cambridge
Olly Gilbey's Funhouse, 1961.

Image: Cambridge
Bowman's Variety Show, 1961.

Image: Cambridge
Poster for the event in 1961.

Image: Cambridge
Charles Thurston's Jets, 1964.

Image: Cambridge
John Downs' juvenile train, 1964.

Image: Cambridge
Stanley Thurston's classic Ark, 1983.

Image: Cambridge
Bert Stocks' Dodgems, 1984.

Image: Cambridge
Leslie Price's Sky Skimmer, 1978.