On 26th June 1338 a parchment witnessed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Chichester, The Chancellor, Henry, Earl of Derby, Thomas de Wake and Henry de Ferrais, Chamberlain gave Adam Nowell , Lord of the Manor of Netherton, Great Harwood, the privilege of holding a weekly market on Thursdays and an annual fair on St. Lawrence's Day. This was his reward from King Edward III for services to the king in Scotland.
The rights to the Fair remained with the Nowell family until 1773 when they were sold to Sir Thomas Hesketh of Martholme for £150. Sir Thomas's steward wrote of the investment:
The Fair was more than a local affair. James K. Shuttleworth in his books called "Ribblesdale", though fiction, drew heavily on his memories of the Fair. He records shepherds and herdsmen bringing their stock from Yorkshire, Westmorland and the Scottish borders to be sold for fattening in the valleys and plains of Lancashire.
Source Mike Groszkruger
" There were strings of unkempt ponies, herds of long horned cattle, the beautiful breed of the Scotch Highland and some of the Ayrshire milking stock, which appeared in small groups. Great flocks of cheviots and the Westmorland black-faced sheep crowded the narrow lanes. There was also dairy stock brought from the neighbouring farms, cattle fat for the butcher, farm horses, a few roadsters and their appropriate attendants. "
The handloom weavers of Great Harwood and surrounding villages also came to sell their produce and buy household goods and the cloth of other districts; "flannels from Rochdale, fustians and calicoes from Blackburn and Rossendale, blankets and baize from Bury, the friezes of the Yorkshire valleys and broadcloths of their more distant towns."
The industrial revolution altered the lives of working people and to some extent the fair but The Accrington Free Press reported in 1858: "..... Few country towns can compete with Great Harwood with regard to good fairs. They are characteristic of good old English gatherings."
By this time The Fair had been reduced from a week to three days but now boasted stalls providing not only the staples of life such as fruit and crockery but photographic booths, shooting galleries and side shows where "living wonders" could be seen.
Reports of the 1870s tell of the procession up Queen St.
"OYEZ! OYEZ! OYEZ!"
JAMES LOMAX ESQ. LORD OF THE MANOR, STRICTLY COMMANDS ALL PEOPLE WHO
IF ANY CONTROVERSIES ARISE BETWEEN THE BUYER AND THE SELLER LET
GOD SAVE THE QUEEN, THE BUYER AND THE SELLER AND
THE FAIR IS NOW OPEN.
The javelin men were then given the "Table of Tolls" and any attempt to force an animal through the gates into the town without paying the due toll empowered the collector to use his javelin.
Later in the day, when all the animals were gone, the fair was given over to the stalls, sideshows and roundabouts.
It wasn't only buyers and sellers who were attracted to the Fair. In 1891 George Wheeler and Samuel Barlow, both of Manchester, were committed for trial at the County Police Court, Blackburn accused of stealing a horse trap and harness, a horse rug, two whips and three sacks, valued at £7 9s. Mr. E Taylor a poultry dealer from Bury had sold his horse and left the trap outside the Wellington Hotel while he went looking to borrow a horse to get him home. When he returned the trap and contents had gone later being found in Wheeler's possession in Manchester.
The Urban District Council, formed in 1895, bought the rights to the market and fair for £1,200 but by this time it had lost much of its importance. The report in 1903 was very short.
The Council did not encourage the fair and it continued to decline the last being held in 1931 although three horses are recorded as being sold 21st August 1933. The tradition of Crying the Fair was continued, however, but it wasn't until 1973 that the next fair was held.
Crying the Fair
Old Harwood. Louie Pollard and Harry E. Eaton. (Great Harwood Civic Society 1973) Pages 8, 17.
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Great Harwood Appreciation Society