Every year, on an early summer day, visitors to Pinner witness the spectacle of its picturesque streets being taken over by Morris Dancers, food stalls and fairground attractions.
2017 marked the 682nd year of the Pinner Fair which is still going strong against all the odds. There have been a number of times when the fair has been in danger of cancellation for reasons including financial, safety and propriety – in 1965, a Mr Jennery wrote to a local newspaper stating that the fair allowed Pinner to be ‘beset by gypsies who live in luxury caravans with spotless nylon curtains!’ Despite Mr Jennery’s appeal, the fair (and no doubt the curtains) lived to continue the following year.
The first Pinner Fair took place in 1336 by royal permission. The Archbishop of Canterbury who, at the time, was also Lord of the Manor of Harrow, was given permission by King Edward III to hold two fairs per year plus as many markets per week as he wished. At that time, the Lord of the Manor held the fair in June and August, later moving it to Whit Wednesday. Since that time, the fair has been protected by Royal Charter which giver its organisers royal permission to hold the fair on the first Wednesday after the May Bank Holiday.
Like many fairs at that time, the Pinner Fair was created to allow local farmers to sell livestock and produce and to hire labour for the coming season and, would have been one of the most important events of the year. With the onset of the Industrial Revolution, which saw many people moving into factory work, the fair evolved into a purely recreational event featuring roundabouts, boxing matches, gingling (a game whose details have been lost in the midst of time) and dancing. People would come from miles around – often walking across miles of muddy fields – to reach the fair which would generate great excitement for weeks beforehand. One fair-goer remembers, “Everyone would gather on the Tuesday evening to witness the ‘rush in’. At six o’clock, the police sergeant would blow his whistle and everybody would rush in to the High Street from the side roads to claim a good spot by putting a pole down in the gutter.”
A fair hearing
Where there’s dancing there is, of course, booze and the Pinner Fair soon gained a reputation as a rowdy affair dominated by drinking, gambling, immoral pursuits and, unfortunately, robberies. Due to the social problems associated with the fair, Edgware magistrates attempted to ban the fair between 1829 and 1830 stating disruption, disorder and the cost of policing the event as their reasons. Outraged farmers petitioned the Lord of the Manor who ruled that the fair should continue. A second attempt to spoil the fun was made in December 1893 when the unlikely named Mr Loveland-Loveland, Deputy Chairman of the Middlesex Quarter Sessions appealed to Lady Northwick, Lady of the Manor, who agreed to abolish the fair due to the fact that “many undesirable people came from Whitechapel, bringing disease into the district.” Again, the ruling was overturned, this time after a petition of 200 local residents and businesses was presented to the Home Office who found that there was no public order case to be answered.
Happily, the ‘last surviving street fair in Middlesex’ is still going strong today and is organised by the Showman’s Guild in liaison with Harrow Council. Although the gingling, boxing matches and immoral activities are now a thing of the past, with the fair being very much a family event, today’s Pinner Fair still enjoys its fair share of beer and dancing – and long may it continue!
By Nicci Rae