Custom survived: Ilkeston’s Charter Fair and opening ceremony

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Ilkeston Charter Fair is an impressive spectacle. Ilkeston is perhaps not the most picturesque Derbyshire town; far away from the more noted Peak District and its picture-postcard towns and villages. However despite its slight lack of the tourist idea of a town – and it does have a fine museum – it becomes most attractive and highly visitable for the second week of October when this ancient fair brightens up the dullness with its vibrant sights, sounds and smells.

The best day to go is when it is ceremonially opened by the Town’s Mayor which is the Thursday – although in a quaint turn of Britishness the fair has been running since Wednesday!

Fair opening time

Sat outside the Town Hall festoon with banners proclaiming the fair and its vintage was a platform with two bells at the side. It was these two bells which would ring in the fair in and officially open it at 12 midday. I turned up at around 11.30

After being entertained by a certain Johnny Victory with his musical selection which surprisingly was known beyond the elderly attendees, out came the dignitaries the Macebearer, the Mayor in his chain and red and black clock sporting the traditional tricorn hat and a selection of gold chain wearing attendees probably Mayors of our nearby towns although they did also look like a rather bad put together 1980s rap crew.

The Macebearer approached the lectern and read the proclamation:

“For Hugh Son of Ralph. The King to his Archbishops etc. Greeting. Know ye that we have granted and by this our Charter confirmed to our beloved and faithful Hugh son of Ralph, that he and his heirs for ever shall have free warren in all their demesne lands of Ilkesdon in the country of Derby and Gresley and Muscampis in the Country of Nottingham. So nevertheless that such lands be not within the metes of our forest, so that no one shall enter those lands to hunt in them or to take anything which belongs to warren without licence and Will of the said Hugh and his heirs upon for forfeiture to us of ten pounds. Also we have granted by this our Charter confirmed to the same Hugh that he and his heirs for ever shall have one Market every week on Thursday at his aforesaid Manor of Ilkesdon and that they will have there one fair every year to continue on the vigil and on one day of the assumption of the Blessed Mary Unless such Market and such Fair be to the Nuisance of the neighbouring Markets and neighbouring Fairs. Wherefore we will [wish] that the aforesaid Hugh and his heirs for ever shall have free warren as is aforesaid and that they shall have one Market every week and one Fair every year at his aforesaid Manor or Ilkesdon as is aforesaid with all the liberties and free customs to such Market and Fair belonging unless [such as Market and Fair to be a nuisance] These being Witnesses: Guy de Lezingny and William de Valencia, our brothers, Richard de Grey, John de Grey, J. Mansell Reeve of Beverley, Ralph the son of Nicholas, Bertram de Crioll, Master William de Kilkenni Archdeacon of Coventry, Rober Waler, Elyas de Rabayn, Ralph de Bakepuz, William Gernun, Roger de Lokinton, John de Geres and others. Dated by our hand at Windsor, the 10th day of April.”

After reading the lengthy Charter the Mayor approached the stand and gave a brief introduction before approaching the bells as the church bells rang 12….I think we may have been running late…especially as the Mayor said the trick was to ring without the church bells drowning them out. He had managed it! The bells were rung with great effort and the fair officially opened to great cheers.

Top of the Charters

The original fair called the Assumption Fair was held in the church yard during August was mainly food and drink with cockfighting and bear baiting as supplementary entertainments. Later on a Hiring or Statutes fair was established where agricultural labourers would attend to find winter employment. Again supplementary entertainments arose and then in 1888 the two were combined and the date confirmed as the third week in October. Its close proximity to Nottingham’s Goose Fair meant it was a convenient event for showmen. and it has been held continuously bar a break in the First World War.

The Show families were always welcomed at Ilkeston and a great relationship developed one the town council still is proud of. Indeed, in 1922, John Proctor one of the families who still attend became the Councillor for the town. The grand opening of the fair begun in 1931 when Councillor Beardsley became the first Mayor to organise a civic opening and custom which has continued ever since.

 

Swings and roundabouts

Then the assembled dignitaries lead by the Mayor went to inspect the fair – and get some free rides. First to the dodgems and the Mayor and Mayoress climbed into the first car followed by the rest. The buzzer went and off they went enjoying bumping into each other and possibly letting off some civic stress. Next it was the big wheel. The off to the Cake Walk which was the most challenging of the rides with the vicar finding getting off a bit of a challenger. As the Mayor paraded around he met young children and reached into his gown to find some cards – free ride cards – the children’s face lighting up when being given them. The Mayor then arrived at the Ghost Train and left looking surprisingly shocked! When the civic party arrived at the Gallopers, one of the showmen appeared. I could see many of the assembled hearts sink when they were told that the engine on the gallopers was broken and they’d have to try the Whizzer instead! Far less gentile! But they got the gallopers going and on they went. Round and around…’I see the town council goin’ round in circles again…just as they do all the times’ I heard a bystander say. It is heartening to see the civic party take so much pride and fun in this annual fair.

 

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