Traditionally the ending to the travelling season, Loughborough
has a special place in the hearts of the travelling showpeople. Loughborough
commences on the second Thursday of November, dating back to a charter
granted by Henry III in 1228. The fair was traditionally held on the Market
Square, but now covers most of the town with showmen occupying major streets
According to The World's Fair reporter writing in 1949: "The People of Loughborough are very proud of their ancient Fair, dating back to the thirteenth century and held in the streets and squares of the town."
Over the past seven centuries the relationship between the local people and the November fair has survived despite various attempts to move the festivities to the outskirts of the town. Like any Charter Fair, Loughborough has a rich and varied history and in the words of Henry Morley reveals the unwritten story of the history of the people. The original Charter was granted in 1221 and pertained to an annual event on the 31st of July. This was reaffirmed seven years later and extended to cover three days around the Feast of St Peter. A third Charter was further granted a year later in 1228 by Henry III to Hugh Le Despenser Lord of the Manor of Loughborough and related to the Feast of All Souls. The changes to the Calendar introduced in 1752 resulted in the loss of eleven days and the date of the fair became the 13th of November. However, in 1881 local officials obtained an order to stipulate that the opening day of the Fair would always fall on the second Thursday in November and the date has since remained constant.
The medieval fair was allied to the weekly Thursday Market which has also been granted by Henry III and many of the goods on sale reflected the trading nature of the original event. By the 14th Century Loughborough had became associated with the buying and selling of cloth and wool and such was its fame as a Market town that it was mentioned as such on Saxton's map published in 1576. Over the centuries two more fairs were granted and the 1783 edition of Owen's New Book of Fairs lists five separate fair including November 13 for the selling of horses cows and sheep. Despite the decline of trading fairs in other parts of the country during the mid nineteenth century, the November Fair continued to be associated with the sale of cattle on the opening Thursday. With the introduction of mechanisation and the impact of steam powered roundabouts on the fairground landscape, by the end of the century the beast market was gradually moved to other locations in the city and the dispensing of amusements became the main theme of the fair. Like many of the late Victorian steam fairs, the local people patronised the array of stalls, booths, mechanical wonders and shows to be found on display.
The showfamilies associated with Loughborough Fair from this period are still familiar to the present day fairgoers and include famous names such as Collins, Proctor, Hall, Richards and Holland. The arrival of cinema in the form of the bioscope in 1897 had been preceded by the annual visit of Wall's Phantoscope from the 1880s and the popularity of the shows continued in the twentieth century with Harry Hall's boxing booth, Sedgewick's lion show and Proctor's cinematograph. The 1913 fair featured rides such as Pat Collin's racing motors, gallopers by Harry Hall and Bolesworth and Richard's cake walk.
Loughborough Fair like many of its counterparts was closed for the duration of the Great War and opened again after hostilities ceased. By the 1920s the showmen introduced the latest attractions to entice the local fairgoers with the arrival of the Globe of Death and the Wall of Death in 1929. However, the fair attracted its usual dissenters with some commentators describing "as a Fair with a mile of caravans" and "that it should be removed from our streets" with the now familiar argument over the disruption caused to motorists due to the loss of parking for the duration of the fair. The people of Loughborough remained loyal to the tradition of their street fair and this was reflected in the editorial that appeared in the Leicester Mail which stated: "That most ancient form of diversion, the fair, is still attractive because it appeals to the people's robust sense of fun ... Thousands of people are attracted to the town to participate, much to their own and other people's enjoyment ... if they remove it from the centre of the town it would dwindle and decay as so many other fairs have done, and an old age channel that has brought grist to the town would be permanently closed. So Loughborough as a whole, is not only disposed to grin and bear it, but to welcome it somewhat in the spirit of the song that bids us `Come to the fair.'"
By the period leading up the Second World War, the fair settled back into its traditional routine with an average of twelve major rides attending every year including regular attendants such as the Collins', Proctor's and Holland families. Although The World's Fair reporter in 1933 laments the decrease in side stuff, the report includes a multitude of spinners, wheel em'ins, sheets, and shooting saloons on offer presented by the Hall's, William's and Richard's family to name but a few. By 1933 the Ghost Train, Noah's Ark and the Dodgems were the dominant attractions at the fair with Shufflebottom's Wild West Show and Wood and Sketchley's boxing academy continuing the tradition of live entertainment.
The 1940s saw the arrival of the Farrar family with their Waltzer and Dodgems standing alongside such familiar attractions presented by long term tenants such as the Collins family. Henry Armstrong and Sons Noah's Ark, Dodgems and Airways stood alongside Arthur Holland's Monte Carlo Rally and Moon Rocket in Bedford Square with the spinners retaining their popularity among the stall holders.
By the 1950s the annual event has become one of the main fairs of the year for showpeople and locals alike with the World's Fair reporter commenting in 1955 that: "On the stroke of twelve the Mayor declared the fair open and for three hectic days Loughborough lost its customary dignified character as the centre of the famous Quorn Hunt and gave itself up to the spirit of carnival ... The powers that be are to be congratulated on providing a really outstanding fair this year. The rides were far more varied while the introduction of fresh machines definitely attracted a lot of interest."
The World's Fair reporter describes the 1955 event as five fairs held in various fairs and linked together by stalls, games and juvenile machines in the streets adjoining. The attractions included John Farrarr's modern Waltzer, Charles Thurston's Skid and Henry Armstrong's Caterpillar and alloy Dodgems. Ten years later the fair underwent another change with the whole of the Market Place given over to amusements and resulting in the fair attaining greater prominence in the town centre. Over the following years the fair continued to adapt and develop in line with the improvements taking place on fairgrounds around the country as the showpeople continued to invest in new equipment and constantly providing the latest in high speed technology and innovation.
The story of Loughborough historic association with its annual fair can be found in Loughborough Markets and Fairs by George W. Green and M. W. Green published in 1964. Over seven hundred or so years the fair has been the cause of dispute and merriment in equal measures, but the strong relationship that exists between the town people and the fair is emphasised by the authors when they paid the following tribute: "The `fun of the fair' is still very much in evidence and the November Pleasure Fair remains an `occasion' in the local calendar and a time for family reunions."
Loughborough also serves as a gathering point to the many
fairground enthusiasts, and the following selection of photographs taken
by Jack Leeson illustrate
the importance and spectacle of the event.
Charles Thurston's Diamond T tractor with Swirl, 1957.
Charles Thurston's Jets during build up, 1957.
Charles Thurston's Jets during build up, 1957.
Henry, Arthur and Raymond Armstrong's machines in the School Yard, 1958.
Rose Brothers' original Meteorite on the Market Place, 1958.
Raymond Armstrong's unique Strato-Cruiser in action, 1960.
Henry Warwick's traditional Shooter in the 'Golden Fleece' yard, 1960.
N.B. Davies' Matador tractor with Ark loads, 1961.
Albert Corrigan's 'Whirl-a-round' platform Twist, 1962.
Devonshire Square, 1963.
J. Williams' Looper, with nervous riders, 1963.
Morley's Satellite, a new ride for the season, 1965.