Newcastle Town Moor Fair

Newcastle Town Moor does not have the historic pedigree that some others have but it has perhaps the most interesting of origins considering the misconceptions associated with fairs in the 19th century.

In terms of size Newcastle is perhaps the biggest fair in Britain, if not in Europe, with up between 35 to 40 machines there. The fair takes place on the Moor, a mile away from the city and covers an area of over 30 acres. The freehold on the land where the fair takes place is owned by the council but the freeman of the city also has rights and privileges resulting in the fact that the fair cannot take place without the agreement of both parties.

It was founded in 1882 as a Temperance Festival by the town fathers and was held as a festival in conjunction with race week. The idea of using a fair/festival to advise people to act morally and not drink is in contrast to the London council and the Fair Act of 1871, in which fairs were seen as places of ill-repute and injurious to the inhabitants of the town. However the festival was a great success and attracted over 160,000 people. The fair was not the only attraction - sports, games, brass bands, military shows, football and cricket matches were also held. On the Wednesday the poor children of the city were taken there for a free tea paid for by the organisers. The festivities were seen as a success in that there "were no card sharpers, no gambling booths and few people under the influence of drink".

The nature of the agreement between the council and the freeman led to problems in 1913 when there was a dispute between the committee and the freeman of the moor over the letting of the site without the permission of the freeman. The freeman had advised the council that there should be no letting of the ground for the festival due to the damage left to the ground the previous year when heavy weather made it difficult for the showmen to leave the ground without damaging the site; however, John Murphy had given £50 to the council to repair the damage left by the equipment on the ground. The council disagreed - they were proud of the Hoppings festival in the North and they liked the rent, which was in the region of £1,000. The freeman went to court but the decision was given in favour of the showmen. However, the following year the freeman was granted an injunction and there was no temperance fair on the moor for that year and for the subsequent war years.

In 1919 the fair returned to the moor to celebrate a Victory Festival and despite one of two problems over the years the festival has survived, and this year it will be the 114th Hoppings Fair at Newcastle Town Moor.

Due to the times when the Moor had been let to showmen from other sections of the Guild and not the North of England (in particular in 1905 when it was let to George Green of Glasgow) an agreement was drawn up in 1907 between the North Eastern Showmen to ensure that the fair remained in their section. The result was the Northern Showmens Syndicate; the syndicate, which included John Murphy, retained the lease on the Town Moor site and still has a say in the running and organisation of the fair for the showmen until this present day.

Newcastle is also one of the fairs where the showmen with the side stuff do not have a set position at the fair. At Newcastle they draw lots for the positions so the showmen have more of a chance the next year if their position for that year was no good. The fair has flourished as a festival for only a relatively short time but the children at Newcastle will say the same as those in Hull and Nottingham, that the best thing after Christmas and even better than birthdays, was a day at the Fair.

A gallery of Newcastle images can be found here.