Thursday, 19 November 2009

The Weyhill Fair, Weyhill, Hampshire

Weyhill Fair was the longest lived of any of the rural fairs and was actually three separate fairs held on 11th April, the last Friday in July and from October 9th to the 12th. It was held to the west of Andover on the Fair
Ground, a parcel of land at the junction of two ancient ways - the 'Gold road' from Holyhead which was reputedly used to carry Irish gold to south coast ports - and the Harrow Way, one of our oldest trade routes running from the West Country through the heart of Southern England to Dover. Weyhill was also at the junction of six other 'drift roads' to major settlements in the region.

Weyhill was the fair which provided the factual information upon which Thomas Hardy based his fictionalised account of wife-selling in The Mayor of Casterbridge. Thieves and vagabonds were drawn to the fair and often the only way to keep hold of your money was to sew it into the lining of your clothes. In its heyday it was a gigantic amalgam of stock market, superstore and theme park. There could be up to 100,000 sheep sold in a day; there were horse dealers and cattle sales, there were booths selling ales, cheese, jewellery, clothing and a great variety of household goods. There was a wide range of amusements including side shows, freak shows, boxing and wrestling booths and humble swings and roundabouts. Substantial stalls were built to house some of the established traders and these were eventually made permanent - some of these can still be seen on the site today.