Henry I granted a fair to the abbot and
convent for 7 days, beginning 3 days before
the feast of St. Etheldreda; (fn. 95) in 1312 a fair was
granted to the prior for 15 days at the festival at St.
Lambert; (fn. 96) in 1318 a fair was granted to the bishop for
22 days, beginning on the Vigil of the Ascension. (fn. 97)
Throughout the Middle Ages the fairs were marts of
great activity, particularly that of St. Etheldreda. Booths
were erected all round the precinct walls, at the gateways, in the streets, and on the wharves. By the 15th
century agents of great commercial firms bargained here
over the sale of iron and timber. (fn. 98) Townspeople took
part in the lively scene. St. Audrey's ribbons, held in
veneration even in the 16th century as having touched
the shrine of St. Etheldreda, were in wide demand. (fn. 99)
So profitable were the fairs to the grantee that a jealous
eye was kept lest any other fair should queer the pitch. (fn. 1)
In 1542 two annual fairs at Lynn were abolished,
because the regrating of salt fish there was held to be
detrimental to the fairs at Ely and elsewhere. (fn. 2) At the
end of this century (fn. 3) the fairs were still an important
source of revenue to the bishop, who appointed the
special bailiff of the fairs. In 1665 they were prohibited owing to the Great Plague. (fn. 4) St. Lambert's
fair had disappeared by the later 18th century, and
the dates of the other two had been changed. (fn. 5) They
were rapidly declining in importance by this period
and were held for only a few days annually. The two
fairs are still held in May and October, now under the
aegis of the Urban District Council. (fn. 6)
||For the history of the market see
above, p. 47.
||B.M. Add. MS. 5809, f. 97.
Cal. Chart. R., 1300-26, 185.
||D. and C. Mun., Sacrist R., 18 Ed. IV
(1478-9); Stewart, Archit. Hist. Ely Cath.
||A student of Clare Hall, Camb.,
seeking the favour of Thos. Cromwell, in
1533, sent him 'some hallowed Tawdreye
laces' (L. and P. Hen. VIII, vi, 516). See
also Oxf. Engl. Dict. s.v. tawdry lace.
||Matt. Paris, Chron. Majora (Rolls
Ser.), v, 29.
||33 Hen. VIII, c. 34.
||S.C. 6/Eliz./282 m. 1 (View of
||Bentham, Ely, 131 n.
||Lysons, Magna Brit. (ed. 1810), ii
||Above, p. 47, n. 21.