Today is the Monday when the Abingdon Michaelmas Fair would normally begin. The window in the Charter Day Centre still has a poster from a previous year.
There were no fair rides set up on Sunday, and no fair service. The Monday Market was on the Market Place and no fair rides.
As Monday evening came I would normally expect to hear young excited voices going to the fair. But not this year.
Normally on this Monday, above the Market Place, against the sky, Meteorite would battle with Body Count to be the loudest and brightest ride – whirling with their bright lights between St Nicolas Church and the County Hall.
Normally on this Monday, the traffic down Ock Street would stop for the fair. The only cars at this point would be dodgems.
Normally on this Monday, the staff from Dorindos would be outside giving away samples and selling takeaways to the crowds.
From this viewing point, I would normally see shooting galleries, stalls selling candy floss and chips. Further along would be some children’s rides. Crowds of people would be moving: some one way, some the other.
The fair was cancelled this year because of Covid-19, and the danger of such crowds.
The spirit of the fair was still there in a small way. Some people walked from the Market Place, along High Street and Ock Street and helped to carry a tradition. These two people were enjoying Reeves Fish and Chips, sitting on the wall that would be normally crowded on this Monday.
This ride may look like it came from the Nursery Shop. I can still imagine the sound of the Wurlitzer and the Galloping Horses at Abingdon Michaelmas Fair – on this Monday.
There was a four hour Town Council meeting last night where, after much debate, it was decided ‘with sorrow’ that the 2020 Michaelmas and Runaway Fairs would be cancelled.
There were representatives of Bob Wilson Funfairs Ltd at the meeting. Council staff took advice from the Showmen’s Guild, the police and other authorities. It was decided that the anticipated size of the crowd and the risk that poses to public health meant they must follow the requirements of the Coronavirus Act 2020 and cancel the fairs.
Some people thought the fairs had already been cancelled, and say this decision is no surprise. Most large inland fairs have been already been cancelled – including the St Giles’ Fair in Oxford, and Nottingham Goose Fair.
Only smaller fairs like the Steventon on the Green fair (3 miles from Abingdon), carry on. That was just last week.
The Abingdon Michaelmas and Runaway Fairs had their origins in another pandemic – the Black Death of 1348/9 which led to a labour shortage. The authorities of 1350 (King, Barons, Abbotts and Sheriffs) were faced with the problem of a labour shortages and wage inflation and decided to regulate wages through annual hiring fairs. That carried on until the nineteenth century.
After the industrial revolution such wage-setting / hiring fairs evolved into the fun fairs that we know.
I do not know the last time the Abingdon Michaelmas Fair did not go ahead. During World War II a single stall was set up on Abingdon Market Place to ensure the fair could continue after the war should any legal challenge arise. There have always been voices wanting the annual fair moved out of town.
The Mayor of Abingdon, Cllr Charlie Birks, said: ‘… All parties worked hard to see if the Fairs could proceed but we have come to the reluctant conclusion that we had to cancel this year. We hope the Fairs return to their rightful place in 2021.’
The crowds were out on both Monday and Tuesday for the Michaelmas Fair.
There had been a lot of rain earlier in the day on both days, but it was mostly dry at the peak time of late afternoon and early evening.
The fair rides were not that different from previous years. But this view will change as the new old people’s flats are being built along Ock Street. The residents are going to have great views as some of the biggest rides will be opposite.
The best view, unless you own a drone, is from the high swing ride at the end of Ock Street.
This picture is taken from near Reeves chip shop where people sit along the wall and eat chips.
There are also lots of vans selling chips and donuts.
Some of our local restaurants offer more exotic street food. Dorindos dressed in ponchos for the occasion.
Traffic cannot get along High Street and Ock Street during the fair and so for three days, from Sunday to Tuesday, buses and cars are diverted.
A pink unicorn, made in China, joined the cuddly toys in our house today. There seemed to be a lot of people carrying pink unicorns at the fair. My guess is China is offloading a surplus.
The County Hall always looks good, and the bright lights from the fair make it look stunning.
Anyway, that is all for another year. By tomorrow the fair will be gone.
A few children’s rides will return next Sunday for the Monday Runaway Fair.