Please find below a copy of an article published in the January 2015 edition of the WOTWATA (village magazine) submitted by Anna Fairhead which provides some information on the history of the Charter Fair. The original article is not currently available but we hope to publish this again as soon as possible.
Note: All historical information has been summarised from an article written in 2004 by David Burr after research by David and his late wife Helen. The full article and credits can be viewed on the charter fair website (see below for details).
What is now known as the Waltham Charter Fair was initiated in 1219. King Henry III granted the Abbot of Croxton a charter to hold a fair on the nativity of the Virgin Mary (Sept 8th), to be held in the grounds of the Abbey (the Church then owned the lands of Waltham). Due to the popularity of the fair and market and it becoming too disruptive for the monks it was decided after a few years to move the fair from the Abbey grounds to the village of Waltham, at this time it also became a three day event. The date then also changed to the 19th September after the calendars were found to be out by 11 days.
After the dissolution of the monasteries, control of the village and lands was passed to Thomas Manners – First Earl of Rutland, who was later advanced to the title of Marquess of Granby (after which the old Pub was named). Local government was run by Manorial Court and one of the duties was the election of 12 jurymen who acted as peacekeepers and policed the village for the year. These jurymen opened the fair, forming a court of “pied pudre” (literally, “powdered foot” and called locally as ”pie powder”) by carrying Halberds in procession. Two of these Halberds have been preserved and can now be seen in the Village Hall (see picture).
Each court session was summoned by the ringing of the church bell and the disputants, jury and chief constable gathered around the “Stone of Justice” that stood near the low wall that divided the slope of the churchyard from the village green. The case was heard and a decision given while the dust of the fair was still on their shoes.
The fair itself was described in John Nichols’ 1795 History of Leicestershire. He describes the outfits of the men of position, the small farmers and working men and the Parish Beadle, bellman and jurymen. He describes a cacophony of noise rising in the air as voices compete to be heard over the bay and bellow of horse and cow. The fair is now held in the 10 acre field of what is now Manor Farm, and most of the village has turned out to sample the home brewed ale or enjoy the swings and roundabouts of the funfair, close by the Methodist Chapel.
A more contemporary account has been provided by Mr Owen Chester, who set down his experiences at the age of 70 over 90 years ago (and copied out by Richard Snodin 40 years later). Mr. Chester describes how when he was 14 yrs old (in 1866) he was requested to carry a Halberd (and form part of the jury) along with another boy. As these were 7ft high they were deemed too unsafe for boys to carry and therefore 9 inches were cut off the bottom (of them all to keep them level). He describes how the dignitaries formed up at the Agricultural Hall (previously standing next to the Chapel) and start the procession, led by the band and followed by the Town Crier and a Lawyer from Melton. They arrive at the foot of the hill on Melton Road, climb the bank (now the front garden of a Fairfield property) and onto fair close where the charter is read, along with some legal jargon and how to conduct business. The procession then reformed and proceeded to the pleasure fair entering a gate between the Wesleyan Chapel and the Agricultural Hall where the Charter is read again, along with the duration of the fair (3 days) and the closure time among other matters. This proclaimed the start of this much-anticipated event. The proclamation procession continued until 1876.
Attractions at the fair included the Cheap Jack who “sold” a purse of gold, the fat woman, the bearded lady, the man who ate dead rats and rabbits, the Boxing Booth, peep shows, shooting galleries and the ten a penny “walnut man” who got cheap labour by promising a penny to any boy who shelled 100 walnuts for him. Owen Chester never knew anyone to get a penny but many had badly stained hands well after the fair was over. The curfew bell was rung to signal the end of the day, with children being sent home and the fair confined to the pleasure fair and the alehouses (both permanent as well as village houses where residents were allowed to brew and sell ale for the duration of the fair).
The fair initially ran for over 500 years, finally ceasing about 80 years ago. It may have encouraged the formation in the late 1700’s of the Waltham Agricultural Association under the patronage of the then Duke of Rutland. It was the first agricultural society in Leicestershire to promote an annual show. It proved to be a great annual exhibition of horses and cattle from a wide area.
Back to more recent times and the fair was rekindled in 2004 by Parish Councillor Jan Barratt, Parish Clerk John Kimber, George Bateman, Annie Robertson, David and Helen Burr, and Alecs Lord and Fairbrother, changing to the now previous committee, including Alec & Peggy Lord, Colin Andrews and Karen Oliver, who ran the event for 10 years, finishing in 2014. Although Cheap Jack was long gone, attractions included Big Bob and his Bouncy Castle, Alec himself – challenging children to tractor pulls and commentating on the classic cars and tractors, the church plant stall and preschool’s tea & cakes and I believe even Bob the Builder was spotted one year. Over the years they raised thousands of pounds for local groups and causes. Having helped them out a little over the last three years, I know how much time and energy they committed to this event. Thank you.
So into the breach… and I, along with James Granger (Chair), Becky Hayward, Kerry Mota, Andy Mack, Matt Wrisdale, Tina Morris and Simon Yates have volunteered to try and run the fair in 2015, which this year will be held on Saturday 19th September. We are keen to continue with the ethos of previous fairs, with the purpose of putting on a village event where all the family can come along and have a great time while also raising money for local groups and causes. One thing we all agree on is trying to enhance the involvement of local groups. The fair does require a significant amount of effort to run, and without the support of the village it would not be possible. Because we are starting off with no funds or equipment we will be more reliant on local support in order to make this year work. Due to this we may not be able to work to the format of the fair as seen in previous years. We are busy confirming what we think we can realistically achieve with these goals in mind. If you have any ideas or constructive opinions (ideally with some resource to help implement them J) or think you are able to help out with a few hours before or at the fair, then please let us know. We welcome anyone who would like to get involved further. Please message/e-mail us using the links below or come along to one of our committee meetings (we’re a friendly bunch and usually meet in the pub!).
More information on the history and news can be found on our website www.walthamcharterfair.co.uk