In the medieval period Southampton had the rights to hold four annual fairs. They were not mentioned in any of the general town charters but depended on particular grants.

Trinity Fair or Chapel Fair, which was the oldest (it was first mentioned in 1496 but it may predate this) and largest of the fairs, was held on the three days following Trinity Sunday which falls in either May or June. It was held on land near Trinity Chapel and was started by the town’s officials hoisting a large glove on a pole (image below), the significance of which has never been understood, although gloves were a common symbol to indicate a fair was in progress. Trinity Fair was still being held in a truncated format in the early years of the 20th century. It was moved to the Cattle Market in 1871 and reduced to just one day in 1875. The last time the glove was hoisted to signal the start of the fair was in 1873. The last mention of the fair was in 1928.

St Mark’s Fair, or Above Bar Fair, was held in Above Bar Street for three days in April and often over-spilled into what is now Palmerston Park but was in the past referred to as the Fairground. In the 19th century there were increasing complaints about Above Bar Fair, partly because it was seen as an obstruction to one of the town’s main thoroughfares and partly because it was increasingly being seen as a nuisance. In 1859 the town council issued notices that henceforth it would be removed from the town centre to the recreation area on the Marsh. However, it appears that the fair continued to be held in the Above Bar area, newspaper reports of the time describe it either on the Fair Ground or at the West Marlands, until c.1875.

Two smaller fairs were also held, one on the Tuesday before Shrove Sunday and the two following days, and another on the Tuesday after the feast of St Andrew in November. These two fairs never flourished and had disappeared by the early 19th century.

Originally fairs had important economic functions (trading goods, markets, hiring workmen, etc.), which were mixed with elements of entertainment. In the 19th century the economic aspects of fairs diminished and they were given over entirely to pleasure; a good reason for the clergy and 'respectable' classes to seek to have them terminated.

The Ceremonial Stuffed Glove

Image Unavailable

The ceremonial stuffed glove was hoisted on a pole to signal the opening of Trinity Fair.
Photographed in Tudor House in the 1930s

Further reading:

'The serious Business of Fun' by Alistair Arnott, in FOSMAG Newsletter, no.58 Spring 2006, p5-7. (HS/lt)
Southampton Occasional Notes, 2nd Series, by ‘Townsman’, p35. (HS/h)
History of Southampton, by Rev. J. S. Davies, p230-233. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol 1, by A. Temple Patterson, p112. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol 2, by A. Temple Patterson, p136. (HS/h)
History of Southampton Vol 3, by A. Temple Patterson, p30. (HS/h)
Medieval Southampton, by Colin Platt, p168. (HS/h)


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