Custom survived: The Nottingham Goose Fair

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Goose that laid the golden egg

Nottingham’s Goose fair is unique. Indeed there are many fun fairs, many of them having older origins, but there is something special and atmospheric about this 700 year old event. The size is certainly one of them. Started by Edward the First in 1284, it has survived cancellation during the plague of 1646, two world wars and its removal from the city centre in 1928. Now it sprawls across the Forest recreation ground, a large area of football pitches and park and ride car park, which is for most of the year rather bland and uninspiring, an island of colourful garish  giddy excitement laying in a sea of white caravans and lorries. Another reason is the anticipation, a week before the roundabout along Mansfield road, the ancient route to the city from North Nottinghamshire, a large white goose appears upon its plinth. A visual sign to its imminent arrival for no words are affixed to it (although occasionally it does inherit some comedy flotsam and jetsam, such as a large golden medallion.) This expectation is also built up by the entrance into the fair from this road. A long walkway like a procession route downwards with the senses excited by the visual delight of the fair looming on the horizon, the smell of kerosene and the sounds of ecstatic children crying ‘It’s the Goose fair!’

Having a gander

Even if like me you are not biggest fan of those heart pulsating spinning rides, there is much to interest. Taking that processional route one enters a strange row of infant orientated rides, a plethora of food stalls and some strange stalls.

Focusing on the strange stalls first, this is again where the unique nature of the fair is again underlined. Over the years there have been cacti stalls, clothes stalls, the fire service, the army and this year the Church of England each taking the chance to promote themselves! Showing that it’s not all fun at the fair but faith as well.

The food stalls are a varied phenomena as well indicating the ethic mix of Nottingham, however the minty mushy peas is the central food focus for those that come and the largest at the junction of the row and the main centre of the fair is always packed, sending the smell of peas and mint into the air from frothing vats…

What’s good for the goose….

Elsewhere the demand for the new has seen the traditional rides fall by the wayside, but again not here. Over the years, those rides have survived and so we can find Victorian and Edwardian originals such as the Helter Skelter, a cake walk, a waltzer and gallopers all of which have certainly working far into a second century. Together with these one can encounter on and off, a wall of death, a guess your age man, a flea circus and freak show. This later attraction, sadly absent over the last few years is a memorable edifice, a large pantecnicen with flashy bulbs with crowd pleasing slogans such as ‘ see the ….. ‘ or my favourite ‘ a piece of the Berlin Wall. Believe it or not.’ To which I sorry I cannot believe…nor can I  believe in a ‘Japanese Octopus!’ Of all things! More easy to believe are the atrocious spellings. Inside one is witness to a strange selection of aborted animal foetuses, stuffed ‘dare I say it’ fakes and antique relics from older exhibits slowly in many cases in a slow gentle decay. One always leaves it laughing but by the look of the owner I am not sure that is their desire!  On a wild goose chase Despite the obvious reason that Nottingham lay on a convenient stopping point for goose from Lincolnshire, indeed over 16,006 to 20,000, were annually driven up from the fens for sale here. The sale of geese at this time being associated with the rather convenient, for those breeders, belief that eating geese on Michaelmas was considered lucky, and helped the consumer avoid debt.  However, despite this a legend is told of an angler who was engaged in angling in the Trent, near Nottingham. In a time he felt or saw a bite that had been made. Unlike modem anglers he jerked the line high up in the air, together with the catch, which preyed to be a large pike. A wild goose happening at that time to be flying overhead espied the fish in the air, which he at once secured. Not content with the pike, he carried off with him the rod, line, and angler too. The story goes on to relate that when passing over the Nottingham Market Place, either from fatigue or other cause, the goose dropped his booty of man, fish, and tackle. Very strange indeed to relate, the hero of our story alighted very comfortably, unhurt. To celebrate this exceeding good luck a holiday was proclaimed, and there was great rejoicing among the good folks of old Nottingham.

Can’t say boo to a goose

Today the fair is rather lacking is geese, although I did spy two children with Geese hats! One tradition which every year appears to be threatened with disappearance is the Cock on a stick, chicken shaped (surely it should be a goose) sweet on a stick. The tradition goes back to the 19th century and has continued through one family. It is said that this confections came over from Italy with the Whitehead family. It’s a Goose fair tradition as is the crude jokes made about it. Why no geese? Well obviously tastes change, but perhaps one can could suggest 1752 was the result. This was when the calendar changed, and such the fair moved from 21st in September (ideal for a Michealmas goose) to the first Thursday in October (not ideal!) and perhaps this resulted in the shift from fowl to fun!

Yet this is of course unimportant for the Goose Fair remains one of the greatest of England’s travelling fairs.

copyright Pixyled publications

 

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