Every year Nantwich would hold initially three, and after from 1819 four, fairs. These were very important events in the calendar and were a mixture of business and pleasure. There’s even a tune, called Nantwich Fair. This report in the Nantwich Chronicle, from Saturday 14 February, 1948, gives a fascinating insight to what went on.
For Young (And Old) Readers
Local Life Before
“The Pictures Era”
Boxing Cats, Dancing Bears
At Candlemass Fair
A FEW DAYS AGO Mr. Percy W. Bell, Broomland Cottage, Hatherton, vetern “Chronicle” reader, was sheltering in a Nantwich shop doorway with a couple of schoolgirl. As the rain pelted down, said one schoolgirl to the other, “Isn’t this a dismal hop-it of a place! Whatever must it have been like here before there were pictures and ‘buses?”
Mr. Bell had not the time to tell these youngsters about Nantwich before the advent of the films and the ‘buses, but when he got home he sat down and wrote the following article for the benefit of Nantwich’s critical rising generation.
Here Is Mr. Bell’s epistle to the young:
In days gone by. we had far healthier enjoyment than sitting or standing in a crowded picture house or on ’buses. Let me give a brief description of one of our many fair days—Candlemass Fair. or New Market Fair—which was always held on the first Saturday after February 2nd. After an auction sale of trees and plants, we came to the first stall—two boxing cats, a mouse and five birds! They all acted together, the mouse sitting on a cat’s head, and the birds nulling along a small tin stage-coach! For 6d. on the next stall you could smash a large stone on a man’s head, and also see him eat fire and glass, swallow a sword, and dance with bare feet on broken glass.
The next stall caused the greatest amusement to all but the victim. Here was the Quack Doctor (what a talker he was!) He had a high wagon for a stall, and at intervals between pill’s. etc., he would extract teeth free of charge. And it was not unusual in those days to see fine healthy farm workers with swollen faces and a piece of red flannel tied round the head! The Quack would have on his wagon two boys out of the crowd, and each was given a drum and two sticks while the Quack’s wife stood by with a cymbal.
After much coaxing victim No. 1 would ascend the scaffold (I mean the ladder). His head was held under the doctor’s arm, and at a given signal the drums struck up and the cymbal clashed. The din drowned all the howls of the victim, but we could see him kicking! After the “operation,” the farmhand. of course, would require a shilling packet of powder to stop the bleeding and a 6d. box of pills to prevent other teeth from aching. This went on right up to 10 o’clock at night, the Quack doing a good trade in the, flare of his paraffin lamps.
In front of Bowen’s shop stood Neddy the mug-man, who banged away on a large tin tray and ‘smashed half a dozen plates or so just to encourage the crowd. When he got to his lowest bid—say 9d. — he would hurl the Plates to the ground, shouting “If they are not worth 9d. they are worth nothing!” It paid ‘him to smash a few lots, for most likely they were already damaged and worth nothing!
NUTS OF IRON
At the Aunt Sally stall a highly coloured tinsel flower for the buttonhole was the prize for smashing a Pipe in Aunt Sally’s mouth, and then next-door was the coconut shie, The nuts (?) took some knocking over, and on one occasion they were found to be made of iron! Then we had the man who by dress and colour came from the East, but his accent obviously came from Wigan or Bolton. He sold almonds and nuts, not to eat, but to carry in your pocket to ward off colds. Next we came to a tent, where for 2d. you saw a calf with two heads, serpents in glass jars, a monkey of almost prehistoric age, a large water jar and sandal, which he said belonged to Rachel, who was not the Biblical figure. but probably his wife or daughter! At the “clock stall” you paid 2d. to give the fingers a sharp turn. If they stopped on a gift you had it, but I always saw them stop between the prizes, unless, sometimes it happened to be a penny tablet of soap.
Cooked on Nantwich Square, you could get a plate of hot peas for a Penny, and then you could move on to the jeweller’s stall. He always got a crowd, because if there is anything a “Dabber” liked it was something for nothing, and this merchant seemed to know it, for he would throw out dozens of key rings, cards of buttons and studs. But I Suppose he made money somehow, for he came every fair-day of the year.
The spell of the fortune teller wab always a feature of the fair. She once told me I would never have a day’s worry, but had she said “You will never have a day free from worry” she would have been much nearer the truth You could also have your ” bumps” felt for an extra 2d.!
In a very small cage nearby were some tiny yellow birds, and if you could throw a ring over one, you got it for 6d. It was the same with the goldfish. By this time, we had reached Garnett’s Corner. where Messrs Wright’s auction office now stands.
The street was only half the present-day width, and here stood the brandy snap and candy stall, where you got ¼lb. of candy or any other kind of sweets for Id. Chocolate was ½d, 1d and 2d. a bar. Near the Crown Hotel were Italian organ grinders, with little monkeys in red coats turning somersaults and saluting the crowd, who threw them coppers. On payment of 1d., lovebirds, in the charge of Italian women, would select a printed slip bearing your fortune, and sometimes a man turned up with a great dancing bear. led on a chain.
After dark, scores of paraffin flares and coke fires in braziers illuminated the Square, as also did the great electric lamp on a 30-foot pole. This pole was fitted with pulley and block, and the large lamp was lowered for lighting. I don’t know where the power came from, but I believe it was from Johnson’s. of Oat Market.
Mr. Bell concludes: I think I have shown the schoolgirl that if she considers Nantwich a dismal hop-it in 1948, it has not always been so. I could fill a “Chronicle” with a description of the September Fair. when as children we had excitement every day and all day long for a week.
NO FAIR NOW
The “New Market “ Fair should have been held on Saturday last (being the fist Saturday after Candlemas Day, Feb 2nd), but there were none of the one-time familiar stalls on the Square, and it appears that the old fair has now died out completely.
You can learn more about the author, Percy Bell, in his brother’s obituary here.