Friday, July 02, 2010

The first Friday in July, the Fairlop Fair

Traditions don't fall from the sky, they are created by people, and sometimes by good-hearted people whose simple acts of generosity become enshrined over time and bestow on their originators a place in history. The Fairlop Oak Festival (or Fairlop Fair) is a good example.

Long ago in England – the early- to mid-18th Century – on the first Friday in July, the Fairlop Oak Festival was held. The Fairlop Oak, a large tree, in Hainault Forest, Essex was said to have a whopping diameter of 6.7 metres (22 feet) and a girth of 20 metres (66 feet). These estimates are no doubt exaggerated; however, one Peter Kalm, a student of the great Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus (1707 - '78), measured the tree at 9.1 metres (30 feet) in 1748.

A prosperous pump-maker named Daniel Day (1673 - 1767), known to his friends as Good Day (perhaps he had an Australian cousin called Gid Day), started the practice of sharing a meal with his friends (and tenants, for Day had inherited some property and this was his annual rent-collecting day) under the oak on the first Friday in July. Day was quite particular as to the meal served each year: they always ate just beans and bacon beneath the 91-metre (300-feet) circumference canopy.

The English poet John Gay (1685 - 1732) referred to this quaint repast
Pedlars' stalls with glitt'ring toys are laid,
The various fairings of the country maid.
Long silken laces hang upon the twine,
And rows of pins and amber bracelets shine.

Good Day's friends in the pump-and-block trade, about 40 of them, used to come, accompanied by a band, from Wapping town via the hamlets of Bow, Stratford and Ilford in a huge six-horse-drawn float which was a brightly decorated boat mounted on a carriage – not just any boat, but a fully rigged frigate created by Good Day who was a keen sailor.

A circus atmosphere
Day's day developed into a major festival, complete with stalls and amusements, as more and more people became interested in the tradition. In the 1750s, more than 100,000 people attended the Fair from all over London. Stalls sold gingerbread men, toys, ribbons, and there were entertainments such as puppet shows, musicians, circus acrobats and even wild beasts. Fairlop Fair enjoyed a reputation of being a very well conducted day, but as early as 1736 certain stallholders were prosecuted for gaming and illegal sales of liquor. In 1793, the Fair was banned for its bacchanalian reputation ...

Today according to Australian Eastern Standard Time when this item was posted

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