Victorian London - Entertainment and Recreation - Fairs - Bartholomew Fair

see also George Cruikshank in the Comic Almanack - click here

Bartholemew Fair, the only one held in London, commences on the 3d of September, and continues for three days, to the great annoyance of all the respectable inhabitants of Smithfield, the proprietors of public-houses and gin palaces alone excepted. It is held by ancient charter, and is invariably proclaimed by the Lord Mayor in person. Our rural visiters, who, in their peaceful viIlages, have enjoyed the humour of a country fair, must not expect to find in Smithfield a repetition of the harmless amusements that, in a rustic revel, are always accompanied with spirit-stirring mirth. Bartholemew Fair presents a picture of a very different description the visiters to that scene of boisterous exuberance chiefly consisting of low apprentices, servant maids, the working classes of the lowest order, a very small sprinkling of decent people, few and far between, together with an innumerable herd of thieves, vagabonds, prostitutes, and pickpockets.

Mogg's New Picture of London and Visitor's Guide to it Sights, 1844

... Bartholomew Fair, too long a real nuisance, with scarce a vestige of antiquity or utility about it, is now (1849) composed of a dozen toy-stalls and a few fruit-barrows. The Fair, in fact, cannot be said to exist.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850 

see also James Grant in Sketches in London - click here

The Fair dwindled year by year: the writer remembers it at midnight, before gas had become common : viewed from Richardson's, the shows, booths, and stalls, with their flaring oil-lamps and torches, shed a strange glare over the vast sea of heads which filled the area of Smithfield and the adjacent streets. As lately 1830, upwards of 200 booths for toys and gingerbread crowded the pavement around the Fair, and overflowed into the adjacent streets. Richardson, Saunders, and Wombwell were late in the ascendant as showmen. Among the latest larks was that of young men of caste disguising themselves in working clothes, to enjoy the loose delights of "Bartlemy'' Fair, in September.
    For 300 years the Lord Mayor and Aldermen had in vain attempted to suppress the Fair; when, in 1840, upon the recommendation of the City Solicitor, Mr. Charles Pearson, having purchased Lord Kensington's interest, they refused to let the ground for the shows and booths, but upon exorbitant prices, and limited the Fair to one day; and the State proclamation of the Lord Mayor was given up. In 1849, the Fair was reduced to one or two stalls for gingerbread, gambling-tables for nuts, a few fruit-barrows and toy-stalls, and one puppet-show. In 1852, the number was still less.
    . . . in the year 1850 ... there was not any Fair left worth a Mayor's proclaiming. After that year, therefore, no Mayor accompanied the gentleman whose duty it was to read a certain form of words out of a certain parchment under a quiet gateway. . . . Bartholomew Fair was proclaimed for the last time in the year 1855.

John Timbs, Curiosities of London, 1867