Barking Fair

Soap illustration by Monteagle Primary School year 4 children

“A yearly event of great importance to inhabitants was the Barking Fair, held 18th, 19th and 20th October. The swings and roundabouts made a great show. Everybody made a point of visiting the fair. We children were taken out in the morning, were always given a farthing, which we usually spent on ginger-bread or ginger-nuts, jumbles, and those curious little china-head dolls with black hair and red eyes”

“The men behind the stalls all more of less wore earrings. There were the usual fair ‘wonders’ - fortune tellers, juggles, performing animals...The stalls were loaded with cheap ribbons, cheap china… There was very little fruit visible in those days, but huge piles of nuts of all sorts and tons of toffee and boiled sweets.”

"In the evening of the fair days, the streets of Barking were almost solid with people, who came in from all the surrounding villages...the people danced to the strains of accordions, concertinas and barrel organs.”

Remembered by EM Stor

Donkeys were hired out for children to ride.

“It was very amusing to see the fishermen and their wives having donkey rides.”

The days on which the fair was held (October 22, 23 and 24th) were the festival days of St Ethelburga, the first abbess of Barking. The fair had various “shows, stalls, shooting galleries and travelling theatres”. Most of the public houses had booths erected for dancing in their rear gardens and for three days the town represented some gigantic carnival. On the horse pond stood Wombells travelling Menageries. Waxwork and other sows with the usual handsome decorated fronts and Fredericks Travelling Theatre.

The last fair was held in 1874 and in October 1875 the police were stationed at the roads leading into the town and turned back the showmen, who did not realise an Order had been past by Home Secretary for the abolition of the fair. Mr James Holmes of the George Inn was a great supporter of the fair and in commemoration he gave away to his customers Ginger Bread and Nuts - his wife continuing the tradition and custom after his death in 1881.

Another recalls:

“It is perhaps true to say that in 1866 Barking people enjoyed much fresher and healthier food than at the present day. People kept their own Pigs (a sucking pig was not an uncommon dish), made their own sausages, cured their own bacon and hams. Butchers slaughtered their own beasts which had been grazed on the marshes. Market Gardeners supplied vegetables grown at home. Milk and Butter could be had from the Farms. Home-brewed beer was common, and Ginger Wine, the usual refreshment offered visitors, with home-made cake and biscuits."

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