Bartholomew Fair

The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: Volume 1. Originally published by Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1921.

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E A Webb, 'Bartholomew Fair', in The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: Volume 1, (Oxford, 1921) pp. 298-317. British History Online [accessed 20 May 2024].

E A Webb. "Bartholomew Fair", in The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: Volume 1, (Oxford, 1921) 298-317. British History Online, accessed May 20, 2024,

Webb, E A. "Bartholomew Fair", The Records of St. Bartholomew's Priory and St. Bartholomew the Great, West Smithfield: Volume 1, (Oxford, 1921). 298-317. British History Online. Web. 20 May 2024,


The fair or market held on the eve, the day, and the morrow of the feast of St. Bartholomew (August 24th), was an important possession and source of income of the monastery of St. Bartholomew.

In the year 1364 the king stated, (fn. 1) when granting protection to those coming to the fair, that its profits 'formed a great part of the maintenance of the canons'. This, however, does not necessarily mean the maintenance of the whole monastery, which consisted of many others besides the canons; in fact, at the time of the suppression, the income of the fair, being valued at £65, showed that it formed less than a tenth of the total income of the monastery. The fair is here described apart from the other possessions of the monastery, because it was held within the monastic walls.

It is only proposed to refer to such public records of the fair as occur in the charters, Letters Patent, &c., and among the records of the corporation of the City of London. These give the history of the fair in connexion with the monastery and with the city, and they show for what reasons the corporation eventually, some 300 years after the suppression of the monastery, brought the fair to an end.

The excesses of 'Bartlemy Fair' have been told and retold: they are not very edifying and belong more to a history of Smithfield than to one of St. Bartholomew's. In 1859 Henry Morley wrote his Memoirs of Bartholomew Fair; and in 1883 Cornelius Walford gave a full chronological history of the fair in his Fairs Past and Present, (fn. 2) and to these works the reader is referred. Stourbridge Fair (fn. 3) and St. Bartholomew's Fair were probably the two most important fairs in England; the first mention of the former is in a charter of the year 1211, that of St. Bartholomew's is in the charter granted to Rahere in 1133. (fn. 4) Translated, the latter reads thus: (fn. 5)

'I grant also my firm peace to all persons coming to and returning from the fair which is wont to be celebrated in that place at the feast of St. Bartholomew; and I forbid any of the royal officials to implead any of such persons, or, without the consent of the canons, on those three days, to wit the eve of the feast, the feast itself, and the day following, to demand customary tolls in passing over ways or bridges either without the city or within from those resorting there, but all things that flow from the right to fairs shall belong to the said church and canons.'

This protection for the fair was confirmed by Henry II in his charter of about 1173, (fn. 6) by Richard I in 1190, (fn. 7) and by the same king in the same year in Letters Patent to the sheriffs of London and Middlesex, (fn. 8) to which latter the following clause is added:

'And we forbid, on pain of forfeiture by us, that any shall presume to stand or to sell anything in virtue of any custom, upon the land of the aforesaid canons, or to enter upon the burying ground of the same church except with the goodwill of them.'

Henry III, in the year 1253, (fn. 9) Edward I in 1290, (fn. 10) and subsequent kings, confirmed the charter of Henry I of 1133. And in 1364 Edward III issued further Letters Patent to the mayor and sheriff granting protection to the fair, and taking the prior and convent and their men, and all merchants coming to the fair, under his special protection.

Writing in the year 1598 John Stow thus refers to the fair: (fn. 11)

'To this priory King Henry II granted the privilege of fair, to be kept yearly at Bartholomew-tide for three days, to wit the eve, the day, and next morrow; to the which the clothiers of all England and drapers of London repaired and had their booths and standings within the churchyard of the priory, closed in with walls and gates locked every night, and watched for safety of men's goods and wares; a court of pie-powders was holden daily during the fair for debts and contracts.'

When, in the year 1761, at the request of the corporation, the City Lands Committee reported (fn. 12) by what grants and authority Bartholomew Fair was held, they unfortunately embodied the quotation above from Stow verbatim into their report, thus perpetuating Stow's error as regards the king who first made the grant of the fair.

The expression in Henry I's charter of 1133, that the fair at that time 'was wont to be celebrated in that place at the feast of St. Bartholomew', does not preclude the possibility of the fair having been held somewhere in Smithfield even before the founding of the priory in 1123; but as fairs were first occasioned by the resort of people to a place for solemnizing some festival, and especially the feast of the church's dedication, (fn. 13) we may assume that the fair originated with the founding of the monastery. The renown of the miraculous cases of healing which occurred at the church must have caused a great concourse of people to assemble on St. Bartholomew's Day. Such a concourse of those who came for healing, or to give thanks for healing, on that day in the year 1148, has already been referred to. (fn. 14)

Henry Morley quotes that scene to make the unwarrantable statement that, after his conversion, Rahere, the founder of the hospital that has done more to alleviate the suffering of the sick poor in England than any other institution, was a juggler, a cheat, and an impostor; (fn. 15) but it was after the suppression of Rahere's foundation that the jugglers, the cheats, and the impostors came on the scene.

It was on one of the great days of the fair, held on the patronal festival (August 24th) in 1315, that the tragedy was enacted of executing Sir William Wallace, the Scottish hero and patriot, in sight of the jostling crowd at the Elms in Smithfield, where he was hanged, drawn, and quartered.

The monastic fair was undoubtedly held in the wide space within the walls on the north side of the church, for the entrance from Smithfield is described in the bounds of 1544 as the 'West Gate of the fair of St. Bartholomew'. As Stow also states that the fair was held within the churchyard of the priory, the position of the second graveyard used by the parish (and in the early days by the hospital too for the burial of their poor) is incidentally located. That space remained unbuilt upon until Queen Elizabeth's time (as shown in Agas's map) and was described in the 'particulars for grant' in 1544 as 'the Great Green of the Market'. (fn. 16) The burial ground probably formed a small portion only of this great green, and should have been fenced off; but it may not have been so, for it is probable that the erection of the booths of a fair on a graveyard was not considered a sacrilege in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, in view of the astonishing fact, recorded in the rental of the monastery in the year 1306, that the sacrist of the church had stallage at the feast of St. Bartholomew 'from the stalls that are inside the church and those fixed to the church outside'. (fn. 17) That such a custom had grown up in the Church elsewhere than at St. Bartholomew's is indicated by the fact that the Bishop of Winchester (John de Pontissara), in his Synodal Statutes of about the year 1295, decreed that:

'In order that the churches, which are houses of prayer, may not be made a den of thieves, we strictly forbid the holding of public markets in churches or churchyards; nor for this purpose let tents be pitched in the same, nor secular pleas be held, nor let buildings be constructed there, unless, which God forbid, war should break out. Any built must be pulled down before Easter. We direct also that churchyards be properly enclosed with a ditch, hedge, or wall, so that thereby unclean animals be kept out, and in them, on the festivals of saints and at other times, let not wrestling take place, nor dances nor other showy sports be held: nor in them let animals be fed.' (fn. 18)

If these abuses in churches and graveyards at that time were not existing, no such directions would have been necessary. We know from the Rental that grazing of animals was taking place in the graveyards of St. Bartholomew's in the year 1306, because we are told that the value of such grazing was 4s., and that it, like the stallage, went to the sacrist.

The west gate of the fair was on the north side of the west façade of the church, where is still the entrance from Smithfield to Cloth Fair, but both gate and gateway have been removed. It was from here that the proclamation declaring the fair to be open was read. The west gate, being closed at night, gave protection to the goods of the clothiers and drapers; and this continued to be so after the suppression.

Bartholomew Fair in monastic times was the great annual market for the woollen and cloth trade of the country, hence the present name of the street, Cloth Fair. Strype says that later on leather and pewter were also sold here; and we may assume that the seventeenthcentury name 'Rugman's Row' for what is now the south side of Newbury Street, indicates that rugs also were sold at the fair. The fact that the woollen trade was one of the staples of the wealth of England in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries caused the kings to safeguard the position and privileges of Bartholomew Fair as an important market of the industry. Thus, in the year 1292, (fn. 19) when the privileges of the city were forfeited into the king's hands, the corporation held that one half of the profit of the eve, and the whole of those of the morrow of the feast, belonged to the king; but the king, after taking security of the prior, allowed him to take the profits as before. (fn. 20)

In the year 1321 the privileges of the prior as regards the fair were challenged by a writ of Quo Warranto, as has been fully explained in an earlier chapter. (fn. 21)

In the year 1364, the year when the first regular charter was granted to the Drapers' Company, the king (Edward III), wishing to stop frauds in the drapery trade, ordered that no one should use the mystery of drapers in the city or suburbs who had not been apprenticed thereto; but in case such should interfere with the fair, the king specially reserved from this restriction 'his beloved in God the prior of St. Bartholomew in Smithfield and other lords who had fairs in the suburbs by grants from his progenitors or himself'. (fn. 22) The prior and his fair were also exempted from the regulation that any one having cloth to sell in the city could only do so by wholesale and not by retail.

In the same year (1364), there having been a riot and tumult in the fair the previous year, several merchants and others who used to frequent the fair, fearing violence, had intimated that they would stay away the next year. The king therefore issued the writ, referred to already, informing the mayor and sheriffs that he had taken the prior and canons, and all merchants desiring to come to the fair, under his special protection, because 'the non-coming of the said merchants—which God forbid—would bring the fair to nought', (fn. 23) and he further 'forbade that any goods brought to the fair should be taken for his use'. Similar letters of protection were issued by the king in the years 1373 (fn. 24) and 1376, (fn. 25) and by Richard II in 1377. (fn. 26)

Some idea of the importance of the fair in monastic times may be inferred from the fact that in the year 1535 the Lord Mayor petitioned Thomas Cromwell to move the king to give £10,000 to the city 'because the Zeeland fleet had arrived with so many goods that people would be prevented from buying clothes at Bartholomew Fair'. (fn. 27)

To maintain the character of the goods sold at the fair, St. Bartholomew's, like Southwark Fair, was subject to the annual search and admeasurements by the Drapers' and the Merchant Taylors' Companies; cloth being at both fairs the principal commodity sold. The Merchant Taylors still possess the silver yard for the admeasurement of cloth, with which standard they year after year attended Bar tholomew Fair. (fn. 28) In 1566 one Pullen was committed to prison for using an unlawful yard which was found in his shop at the time of the search. (fn. 29) The Drapers, moreover, had a special ordinance made by Henry IV (1404–5), which forbade members of that company, under a penalty of £10, from being found with goods at the fairs of either Westminster (May Fair), Southwark or St. Bartholomew's 'over the franchise' (that is, over the time allotted for holding the fair), which was 30 days for Westminster and 3 each for St. Bartholomew's and Southwark. The searchers always had a treat on these occasions; thus in the year 1514 the sum of 22s. was paid 'for a potacion at Ribert Lazenby's after our search on St. Bartholomew's even'. On the other hand, the prior would sometimes be the guest of the Drapers' Company (fn. 30) at their feasts. All these searches were, however, subjected to the control of the city corporation, (fn. 31) who, during the dispute between the Drapers' and Merchant Taylors' Companies, took into their own hands the search for woollen cloth exposed for sale by tailors at Bartholomew Fair. (fn. 32)

Disagreements between the members of convents and the civic authorities seem to have occurred in all towns where there was a religious house; more especially was this the case where a fair or market was controlled by a monastery, and St. Bartholomew's was no exception. It is probable that disputes between the prior and convent and the corporation commenced as early as the year 1190, and that claim was made by the civic authorities to have stalls at the fair within the walls of the monastery. For in that year King Richard issued the Letters Patent referred to above to the sheriff in these words (translated from the Latin):

' We command you that you trouble not nor suffer to be troubled the canons of the church of St. Bartholomew, London, which is our demesne chapel, in the matter of their fair which they hold at the feast of the same church, nor demand from those coming to the fair of St. Bartholomew to sell or to buy, either without the city or within, nor in passing over ways or bridges, any customs or services, or any matter which may infringe the franchise of the said church of St. Bartholomew. And we forbid, on pain of forfeiture by us, that any shall presume to stand, or to sell anything, in virtue of any custom, upon the land of the aforesaid canons, or to enter upon the burying ground of the same church except with their goodwill. But all things which can flow from the right to fairs shall belong to the said canons of ours as fully and entirely as if they were of our table and house. Wherefore we will and strictly ordain that the aforesaid church of St. Bartholomew shall have and hold all these peaceably, freely and quietly for ever.'

Under the year 1246 there occurs the following in the Liber de Antiquis Legibus (fn. 33) at the Guildhall:

'In this year the prior and canons of St. Bartholomew's by counsel and aid of William de Haverille, treasurer of his lordship the king, and of John de Kondres, their sokereve, and of Nicholas Fitz Jocey, set up a new tron, (fn. 34) on the vigil of St. Bartholomew, refusing to allow any one to weigh except with that tron; and this in contravention of the liberties and customs of the city. Wherefore the principal men of the city, together with their mayor, Peter FitzAlan, and a multitude of the citizens, on the morrow went to the priory of St. Bartholomew, and advised the prior and canons of that place to make amends for that act of presumption, and to desist therefrom; whereupon they forthwith gave up the practice, and by the mayor and sheriffs of London it was published that every man was to sell buy and weigh in that market just as they previously had been wont to do.'

In this matter the prior and convent seem to have been in the wrong.

In the year 1293, a freeman of the city was attached to answer why he and his companions on the eve of St. Bartholomew, and on the morrow at St. Bartholomew's fair, levied a certain tronage (fn. 35) in the fair in the name of the prior, and attacked citizens who wished to weigh with their own trons to the prejudice of the freedom of the city to the extent of £1,000. The freeman denied the charge and demanded an inquiry, but proceedings were taken against him for making illicit bargains and using a tron. (fn. 36) There is nothing to show that this levying of the tronage was done with the knowledge or consent of the prior.

Another matter of dispute arose in the year 1377, when the fair had increased so much in size that it overflowed the monastic precincts into Smithfield. The question arose who should receive the fees for picking up the road for the erection of the booths. The prior was therefore summoned to the Guildhall on the Thursday before St. Bartholomew's Day, 1 Richard II (20th August, 1377), to show by what authority he took divers customs on the city's soil. The prior produced his charter of King Henry I (1133), but as the charter made no mention of pickage (pykagium) the Common Serjeant was instructed to levy pickage on all who opened the city's ground in Smithfield at the time of the fair, and to answer for the same to the commonalty. As to other customs levied on merchants trading at the fair, it was agreed that they should be collected by the Common Serjeant and the prior's bailiff, and a return made of the amount received. (fn. 37)

In the year 1446 a composition was made between the prior and the city as to the manner of levying tolls. The journals of the Court of Common Council (fn. 38) give the names of the gatherers, the places of their standing, what money was levied, and the rewards to the tollgatherers for their labour. But in the year 1453 an agreement (fn. 39) was come to, as has been already mentioned, (fn. 40) between the prior and corporation upon all outstanding differences. At that time the fair had extended to 'the further side of the great south gate of the priory in Duck Lane, up to the Bars in St. John Street on the north, and from the Bars to the steps of St. Sepulchre's church on the south next to the vicarage there; and from the tenement called "the Cock" (fn. 41) belonging to the priory at the corner of Long Lane and Aldersgate Street at the east up to Holborn Cross at Hosier Lane end next West Smithfield at the west'. (fn. 42)

The agreement has been thus calendared: (fn. 43)

'That on occasions when Bartholomew Fair is held, "pickage (fn. 44) and stallage (fn. 45) " levied in Westsmythfeld outside the precinct of the priory prescribed by metes and bounds should thenceforth belong to the mayor and commonalty without objection being raised by the prior, and that the same tolls taken within the close and precinct of the priory should be the property of the prior and convent for the time being, without challenge by the civic authorities. It was further agreed that the mayor and commonalty, and their successors, should exercise the scrutiny of weights and measures, and of goods exposed for sale at the fair and adjacent places aforesaid, outside the precinct of the priory, as well as within the said precinct, the prior for the time being and his successors being at liberty to join the mayor in his yearly visit for the purpose within the precinct; also that all forfeitures and tolls, excepting pickage and stallage, both within and without the precinct of the priory, should in future be levied and collected by officers appointed both by the mayor and aldermen and by the prior, the said officers making a return of the value of such forfeitures, etc., to the men of law presiding over the Fair Courts; that one half of the tolls should go to the sheriffs of the city; one half of forfeitures to the mayor and commonalty; and the other half, both of tolls and forfeitures, to the prior and convent. It was further agreed that the prior for the time being should hold his court of Pie-powder (pedis pulver) on the prescribed days by his steward or other person learned in law, in conjunction with the common serjeant-at-law of the city, one of the under-sheriffs, or some other person learned in law, (fn. 46) appointed by the mayor and aldermen; the said steward and his associate having suitable food and drink with the prior during the time of the fair. It was likewise agreed that no arrest, attachment or execution by authority of the court of Pie-powder, should be made except by sergeants-at-mace of the mayor or sheriffs, or by others specially appointed, and that all fines and amercements issuing from the said court should be for the use of the prior for the time being.'

The prior's part of the agreement was sealed with the common seal of the mayor and commonalty, and the city's part was sealed in the chapter-house of the prior and convent with their seal. (fn. 47) The tokens appointed to the toll-gatherers were struck on one side with the arms of the city and on the other with a crown for the priory. (fn. 48)

Forty-five years later (1498) there was still some friction between the priory and the city, for the Court of Aldermen that year (fn. 49) resolved that the wardens of the Drapers' and Merchant Taylors' Companies should be advised that in consideration of 'the unkind disposition of the Prior of St. Bartholomew's (William Guy) and the master of the hospital' neither of their fellowships should take any booth at the fair of the priory but on the city land only.

The court of Pie-powder, referred to above (denominated Pied poudre or Curia pedis pulverizati), was incident to every fair as a court baron is to a manor. Blackstone says (fn. 50) that 'it was the lowest and at the same time most expeditious court of justice known to the law of England, and was so called from the dusty feet of the suitors'; or, according to Sir Edward Coke, (fn. 51) because justice is there done as speedily as dust can fall from the foot; upon the same principle that justice among the Jews was administered in the gate of the city, that the proceedings might be more speedy as well as public. But the etymology given us by a later writer (fn. 52) is more ingenious and satisfactory; the name being derived, according to him, from pied puldreaux (a pedlar in old French), and therefore signifying the court of such petty chapmen as resort to fairs or markets. 'It is a court of record, of which the steward of him who owns or has the toll of the market is the judge; and its jurisdiction extends to administer justice for all commercial injuries done in that very fair or market and not in any preceding one. So that the injury done must be done, complained of, heard and determined within the compass of one and the same day, unless the fair continues longer. The court hath cognizance of all matters of contract that can possibly arise within the precinct of that fair or market; and the plaintiff must make oath that the cause of action arose there.' The cases which came before the court were mainly for trading without licences, or for not having the freedom of the city or for selling with false measures. It was because the city became entitled to a share of the tolls of the fair that they claimed to be represented at the court by the common serjeant and an under-sheriff.

The proclamation of the fair by the lord of the manor, at any rate after the suppression, was as follows: (fn. 53)

'All manner of persons may take notice that in the close of St. Bartholomew the Great and West Smithfield, London, and the lands and places adjoining, is now to be held a fair for this day and the two days following, to which all persons may freely resort and buy and sell according to the liberties and privileges of the said fair, and may depart without disturbance, paying their duties: And all persons are straitly charged and commanded, in his Majesty's name, to keep the peace, and to do nothing in the disturbance of the said fair as they will answer to the contrary, at their perils; and that there be no manner of arrest or arrests, but by such officers as are appointed. And if any persons be aggrieved let them repair to the court of Pie-Powder, where they may have speedy relief according to justice and equity.

'God save the King and the Lord of the Manor!'

The proclamation by the Lord Mayor in the eighteenth century was as follows: (fn. 54)

'The Rt. Hon. Sir . . . Kt., Lord Mayor of the City of London, and his Rt. worshipful Brethren the Aldermen of the said city, straitly charge and demand, on behalf of our Sovereign Lord the King, that all manner of persons, of whatsoever estate, degree, or condition they be, having recourse to this fair, keep the peace of our Sovereign Lord the King.

'That no manner of persons make any congregation, conventicles or affrays by the which the said peace may be broken or disturbed, upon pain of imprisonment and fine to be made after the discretion of the Lord Mayor and Aldermen.

'Also that all manner of sellers of wine, ale, or beer, sell by measure ensealed, as by gallon, pottle, quart, and pint, upon pain that will fall thereof.

'And that no person sell any bread, except it keep the assize; and that it be good and wholesome for man's body, upon pain that will fall thereof.

'And that no manner of cook, pie baker, nor huckster, sell or put to sale any manner of victual, except it be good and wholesome for man's body, upon pain that will fall thereof.

'And that no manner of person buy nor sell but with true weights and measures, sealed according to the statute in that behalf made, upon pain that will fall thereof.

'And that no manner of person or persons take upon him or them, within this fair, to make any manner of arrest, attachment, summons or execution, except it be done by the officers of this city thereunto assigned, upon pain that will befall thereof.

'And that no person or persons whatsoever within the limits and bounds of this fair presume to break the Lord's Day in selling, showing or offering to sale, or in buying or offering to sale, or in buying or offering to buy, any commodities whatsoever; or in sitting, tippling or drinking in any tavern, inn, alehouse, tippling house, or cook's house, or in doing any other thing that may tend to the breach thereof, upon the pains and penalties contained in several Acts of Parliament, which will be severely inflicted upon the breakers thereof.

'And, finally, that what persons soever find themselves grieved, injured, or wronged by any manner of person in this fair, that they come with their plaints before the steward in this fair, assigned to hear and determine pleas; and they will minister to all parties justice, according to the laws of this land and the customs of this city.'

The annexed view (pl. XII b) of a case being tried in the Pie-powder Court, published by R. Wilkinson in 1811, is descriptive of the court determining a cause between two suitors (apparently actors) respecting some injury sustained in the fair. It is being held at the 'Hand and Shears' public-house, which still stands, where shown here, at the corner of Middle Street and Kinghorn Street, though it has been rebuilt since this view was taken. We have no record where the court was held during monastic times, but we may assume it was in the guest-house. After the suppression it was at first apparently held at the Barley Mow Tavern in Long Lane, where there was a house known as 'The Old Court House'. (fn. 55)

In the Guildhall Library is a MS., known as the Smithfield Court Book, (fn. 56) which was the last official Court Book of the court of Piepowder. It gives:

(1) A copy of summons issued by the court for payment for a licence.

(2) A copy of the last appointment of the steward of the court (21 July 1840).

(3) A copy of the notice that the court would be held at the 'Hand and Shears'.

(4) The form of proclamation of the fair.

(5) The prices of toll.

(6) The warrant to take toll.

(7) The proclamation on first opening the court.

(8) The constable's oath administered after opening the court.

(9) The tables of lawyers' fees.

(10) Fees paid to the following:

The Merchant Taylors' Company 11s. 2d.
The beadle of the company 2s. 6d.
The Lord Mayor's officers 6s. 8d.
The rector of St. Bartholomew's 4s. 6d.

(11) The Minutes of the court, including the dates when the court was held, the eve, the feast, and the morrow, which, in the first entry in the book (1790), were the 3rd, 4th, and 6th September respectively—(the new calendar having altered the dates),—the 5th being a Sunday, the fair was not held that day.

(12) The names of the serjeants-at-mace.

(13) The names of each licence-holder, together with the nature of his sale or show.

(In the year 1790 there were 87 licences, which realized £25 4s.; in 1812 there were 220, which realized £37 6s. In 1819 receipts from licences had fallen to £13 16s.; in 1832 to £5 18s.; in 1850 there were only 3 licences, and in 1853 only 4, which realized 10s. and 14s. respectively.)

We have no record when Bartholomew Fair was first proclaimed by the Lord Mayor. The custom probably commenced when the city first secured a share of the tolls. In the year 1598 Paul Hentzner, in his Journey to England, wrote: (fn. 57)

'Every year it is usual for the Lord Mayor of London to ride into Smithfield, attended by 12 principal aldermen, dressed in their scarlet gowns and robes, and whenever he goes abroad a sceptre, that is to say, a mace and cap, are borne before him. When the yearly fair is proclaimed a tent is pitched, and after the ceremony is over the mob begin to wrestle before them, two at a time, and the conquerors are rewarded by money thrown from the tent. After this a parcel of wild rabbits are turned loose in the crowd, and hunted by boys with great noise, at which the mayor and aldermen do much besport themselves. Before this time there was an old custom for the scholars of London to meet at this festival, at the priory of St. Bartholomew, to dispute in logic and grammar, upon a bank under a tree: the best of them were rewarded with silver bows and arrows.'

In the year 1549 Wriothesley (fn. 58) also refers to the Lord Mayor and aldermen riding to Bartholomew Fair in their scarlet, but he tells us that the wrestling that year had been put down by the Court of Aldermen because of the commotions in Norfolk; and no wonder, as two days before the fair the sheriffs had had to witness the hanging, beheading, and quartering of three men in connexion with Ket's rising.

When Nightingale wrote, in 1815, (fn. 59) the only ceremony observed was that of the Lord Mayor drinking the health of the gentlemen near him at the door of the keeper's house of Newgate, then bowing to the populace while he sat in his state carriage; he then proceeded to Smithfield, where he alighted from his carriage, entered a clothier's house on the south side of the gate, No. 59 West Smithfield (then occupied by Divett, Price, Jackson & Co.), and passed through it into Cloth Fair; from where the proclamation was read by the City Remembrancer, and after this only was it lawful to begin the fair.

There used to be a burlesque proclamation, the evening before the proclamation by the Lord Mayor, by a company of drapers and tailors who met at the 'Hand and Shears' (a title no doubt connected with the shears used in those trades), from whence they marched, shears in hand, to the archway leading from Cloth Fair into Smithfield, and announced the opening of the fair with a general shout and snapping of shears. (fn. 60) From the seventeenth to early in the nineteenth century a body of blackguards, called Lady Holland's mob, used to assemble for a similar purpose (fn. 61) and committed great excesses.

In the year 1348, it is recorded that the Black Death broke out at Bartholomew Fair and lasted until the next fair time, but we have found no record that the fair was then closed. In 1592, when over 10,600 citizens died of the plague, Queen Elizabeth issued a proclamation forbidding the fair being held in Smithfield, and ordering 'that the sale of woollen clothes and linen be confined to wholesale trading only, and that all the goods should be brought within the Close-yard of St. Bartholomew's where shoppes are there contynned and have gates to shut the same place in the nightes'. (fn. 62) The same occurred during the Great Plague visitations of 1603, 1625, 1630, and 1637, and in the Great Plague of 1665, when over 68,500 Londoners died.

At the suppression of the monastery in 1539, the fair continued, and in 1544 it was, with the rest of the monastery, sold to Sir Richard Rich, (fn. 63) at a price based on an annual value of £65 16s. 3d. Rich retained the fair until his death, not parting with it to Queen Mary in his grant to her of the church and monastic buildings. It descended, with the rest of the St. Bartholomew property, through his son to his grandson Robert, the 3rd Lord Rich, who, in 1612, conveyed it to his younger son Henry, created in 1624 Earl of Holland. Robert, the 3rd baron, seems to have covered the site of the fair with buildings (fn. 64) in a deplorable manner, for the leases of Cloth Fair houses mentioned in the survey of 1616 date from 1597 to 1612. The leases of houses in Newbury Street and Middle Street date from 1612 to 1614 and must be the ones referred to by Thomas Gundrey, who, when writing to the Earl of Middlesex in the year 1636, and speaking of the poor of the parish, said, 'which is the commodity the parish hath gotten by the Earl of Holland's building'. (fn. 65)

In order that the profits of the fair should not be lessened for want of space for erecting the booths, Lord Holland inserted the following clause in the leases of the houses he had crowded into Cloth Fair:

'Except and always reserved out of the present demise unto the said Robert Earl of Holland, the low room or shop of the same messuage or tenement for the space of seven days in every year during the term hereafter mentioned, that is to say the feast day of St. Bartholomew the Apostle and three days next before and three days next after the said feast, to be had and used as a booth or booths in the saide faire there by such person or persons to whom the said Robert Earl Holland shall from time to time yearly during the said seven days and for the use aforesaid let and dispose the same.'

(This example is from a lease granted by his son Robert, the 2nd Earl Holland, and his first wife Elizabeth, to John Wotten, cloth worker, of a messuage in Newman's Row, Cloth Fair, containing a cellar, a low room, a shop, two chambers and a garret; (fn. 66) but all the leases seem to have had a similar clause.)

By a book of account in the Record Office, (fn. 67) of the profits arising from the fair in the year 1629, it would seem that all the streets contributed their shops as booths, which brought the gross profit of the fair to £96 1s., and net to £81 18s. 3d.; this was after paying £2 to the steward, £1 each to the assessor and the clerk, 10s. each to three serjeants, 15s. to the constable, 5s. to ten warders, &c.

The fair continued in the possession of the Earls of Holland until the death of Edward, the 5th Earl of Holland and 8th Earl of Warwick, in 1759, when the property reverted to William Edwardes, the younger son of Elizabeth Rich, by her marriage with F. Edwardes. The title having died out with the 5th earl, William Edwardes was created Baron Kensington of Ireland in 1776, and in 1829 his son William Edwardes, the 2nd Lord Kensington, sold his share of the fair to the mayor and commonalty of the city, the receipts from the fair at that time being probably lower than in any previous year.

The Corporation thus succeeded in acquiring complete control of the fair, but only after nearly 300 years of fruitless effort to do so; for, in the year 1553, there is a record that the Court of Aldermen appointed certain of their number to talk with Lord Rich touching the purchase of his interest in Bartholomew Fair to the city's use. (fn. 68) As the negotiations came to nothing, about ten years later a committee of aldermen was appointed to consider the formation of a new fair to be kept over and beside Bartholomew Fair, (fn. 69) but the scheme was not carried out.

When Robert, the 3rd Lord Rich named above, inherited the property of St. Bartholomew's in 1581, he apparently resented the city taking any part at all in even opening the fair, for, on the 16th August of that year, there is a record in the Repertories, (fn. 70) that certain aldermen were to repair to Lord Rich that the Lord Mayor might, without interruption, ride into Bartholomew Fair with the sword before him as accustomed.

In 1596 the question of tolls was raised again between the city and Lord Rich, when it was resolved that 'the Recorder, the Sheriffs, and the Chamberlain should repair presently to the said Lord Rich touching the taking of tolls at the fair' (fn. 71); and later it was resolved to 'signify unto his lordship that the city is content to stand to and abide by the composition between the late prior of the dissolved priory of St. Bartholomew and themselves made in the time of Henry VI (1453) touching the taking of tolls; more deliberation to be had hereafter'. (fn. 72)

In 1606 the Court of Aldermen appointed a committee to confer with Lord Rich concerning the purchase of all the late monastery, which it seems had been offered for sale.

During the seventeenth century the records show that at any rate the part of the fair held outside what had been the priory walls had become disreputable and that, its duration having been extended to fourteen days, it had, in the year 1691, to be curtailed again by the Corporation to the original period of three days. (fn. 73) This was petitioned against, but the aldermen would not give way. (fn. 74) Before the time of the Commonwealth, St. Bartholomew's Day was still a great religious festival. John Stephens, writing in the year 1631 in New Essays and Characters, (fn. 75) says, 'Like a bookseller's shop on Bartholomew's Day in London the stalls of which are so adorned with Bibles and prayer books that almost nothing is left within but heathen knowledge'. During the time of the Commonwealth all plays and interludes at the fair were stopped by the Act of 1647, but only to break out again with greater licence at the Restoration. The centre of the vice and immorality would seem to have been in the Long Walk and cloister of the hospital.

In the eighteenth century the Corporation made a great effort to put an end to the scandals of Bartholomew Fair and the Lady Fair of Southwark. In 1735 the Court of Common Council resolved that the fair, which had been extended—as mentioned above—to fourteen days, should be restricted to the eve, the day, and the morrow, and to the sale of goods; also that no acting should be permitted. (fn. 76) Great resistance was offered to the enforcement of these regulations, so much so that in 1736 theatrical booths were again allowed, and later on the fair was extended to four days.

In December of the year 1760, the committee for letting the city lands were directed to inquire (fn. 77) by what grants and authority Bartholomew and Southwark Fairs were held, who were interested in the fairs, and what perquisites or emoluments belonged to any of the city officers on account of those fairs. In the following August (1761) the committee presented their report. (fn. 78) After quoting from Stow, the brief of Edward I in his 20th year (1292), and the settlement of Henry VI in his 32nd year (1453), they reported that William Edwardes of Johnson, near Haverford West, who was the owner of the benefits of the fair, said that if the fair was suppressed his estate would be greatly reduced in value, and that he could not consent to yield up his interest without a very considerable sum of money by way of compensation. (fn. 79) The committee compiled a list of the fees received for the several shows, which consisted of five drolls, four puppet shows, two waxworks, one wild-beast show and one crocodile show, which, with stalls £4 15s. and roundabouts 12s., amounted to £56 5s. 6d., and they concluded by recommending that counsel's opinion be taken as to how far the city's powers might extend for suppressing the fairs. Counsel's opinion, i.e. that of the Recorder and of the Common Serjeant, was that it would be difficult to suppress the fairs legally without Parliament, but that the magistrates had powers to stop nuisances, (fn. 80) and this power it was resolved to put into force. Consequently in the following year the plays and drolls were prohibited, but again there was a disturbance in which the deputy City Marshal lost his life.

William Hone, in his Every-day Book, gives an excellent account of his visit to Bartholomew Fair on Monday, the 5th September, 1825. (fn. 81) He shows how there were uncovered stalls on both sides of Giltspur Street, as far as Newgate Street. The covered stalls extended from Giltspur Street to Cock Lane, then to Hosier Lane, and from thence all along the west side of Smithfield to the Cow Lane corner. They then extended from the corner leading to John Street, Clerkenwell, to Smithfield Bars, and there ended. On the west side from the Bars these covered stalls went to Long Lane, and thence on the east side of Smithfield to the great gate of Cloth Fair. Crossing Duke Street (now Little Britain) they went to the great front gate of St. Bartholomew's Hospital, and so on till they joined the uncovered stalls in Giltspur Street. These covered stalls had their fronts facing the houses with the pavement between; and here were sold gingerbread, oysters, (fn. 82) hardwear, trinkets, and such-like. The shows of all kinds had their fronts towards the area of Smithfield, and their backs close against the backs of the covered stalls; thus leaving the area of Smithfield entirely open. They completely surrounded Smithfield, except on the north side, where no stalls were allowed to be erected. The sheep-pens occupied the centre of the area, and yet, although no vehicle of any kind was permitted to pass, this large unobstructed carriage way was so thronged as to be wholly impassable.

Hone describes each of the shows, but, being all in St. Sepulchre's parish, they hardly refer to the history of St. Bartholomew's. The more serious business of the Cloth Market was held in Cloth Fair, the whole parish being protected at that time by locked gates.

The city continued its exertions to end the fair in the nineteenth century, until it was successful in 1854.

In 1816 the Court of Common Council resolved: (fn. 83) 'That it be referred to the committee for letting the city's lands to take into consideration the expediency and practicability of immediately abolishing Bartholomew Fair.' The committee reported that it was expedient to abolish the fair, but, as stated in 1761, it could not be abolished without the aid of Parliament, but that it was not improbable that Parliament might be induced to comply with such an application on the parties interested being compensated. There were, however, legal difficulties in the matter, as seen in the Recorder's opinion on this occasion. He pointed out that fairs and markets were granted because they were beneficial to the public, so that a non-user would not suppress the fair, but would enable the king to regrant the fair to some one else. For the same reason no agreement with Mr. Edwardes [Lord Kensington] (fn. 84) would avail the city.

Nine years later, in 1825, (fn. 85) the Council again referred the matter to the same committee to report whether any and if so what measures could be taken for the removal of any nuisances existing in the same fair or for its ultimate suppression; but after considering their further report the court ordered that the fair should be held as usual.

However, on the 11th May, 1829, the City Lands Committee reported (fn. 86) in favour of 'purchasing Lord Kensington's interest in the Pie-powder Court at Bartholomew Fair and other Droits there'. This report was thereupon 'read, agreed to, and referred back for execution', and in 1830 the purchase was carried through.

The Corporation now possessed Lord Kensington's moiety of the tolls as well as their own, but still there were the difficulties of suppressing the fair which the Recorder had pointed out; so, apparently forgetful of the report of 1761, they again, in the year 1830, directed (fn. 87) the committee for letting the city's lands to inquire and report by what authority, and under what charter, if any existed, Bartholomew Fair was annually held, and also if any and what means could be adopted for speedily and effectually abolishing the scandalous and abominable nuisance.

But still the fair went on. The Corporation tried increasing the tolls for stalls, which had the effect of increasing the income from the fair, but not of discontinuing the stalls.

In 1839 the committee of the London City Mission petitioned the Corporation for the suppression of the fair, (fn. 88) when the matter was referred to the Market Committee, who, in turn, referred it to Mr. Solicitor (Charles Pearson). (fn. 89) Pearson, in his report, (fn. 90) disagreed with counsel's opinion (to which we have referred above) and considered that the fair could be ended without parliamentary powers: just as May Fair, which was a grant to the Abbot of Westminster, and Lady Fair, Southwark, which was held by a grant to the Corporation, both of which had been the scenes of practices as disgraceful as those that prevailed at Smithfield, had been suppressed without the aid of Parliament. Pearson showed that, as the interests of Lord Kensington in the fair were, in the year 1830, purchased by the Corporation, and were now held by the Chamberlain of London and the Town Clerk as trustees, all the rights of the fair were now vested in the Corporation.

Pearson argued that the fair was granted for the purpose of trade for the good of the public, and that, if the Corporation were satisfied that the interests of the public could not be otherwise protected than by confining the fair strictly to this original object and purpose, they might undoubtedly do so. By abridging the duration to two clear days, and by refusing to let standings for show booths, they would prepare the way for the fair's natural death, and not many years would elapse before the Corporation would be able to omit to proclaim the fair and thus suppress it altogether; and they could do that without exciting any feeling among the public that the Corporation were improperly interfering with the recreations of the humbler classes of the community.

In an excellent résumé of the history of the fair, Pearson showed how the depressed state of the revenues of the Corporation in the eighteenth century had compelled them to tolerate the irregularities which occurred there, for the Sword-bearer and other city officers were partly paid out of the proceeds of the fair. He showed how the result had been that gambling-houses were freely licensed, disgusting scenes of all descriptions publicly exhibited, and the most profligate vices of every kind openly practised; while the violence of Lady Holland's mob often broke out in frightful excesses and spread consternation and terror around, so that the fair was frequently presented by the Grand Jury as a nuisance.

On July 2nd, 1840, the court adopted Mr. Solicitor's report on the recommendation of the Market Committee, and at once the opening of the fair in state was discontinued and theatrical representations once more excluded. In 1843 shows of any kind were prohibited, though, as a sop to the public, arrangements were made for their continuance in Britannia Fields, Hoxton. (fn. 91) In 1850 the mayor found no fair worth proclaiming, so after that time the reading of the proclamation was left to the city officials; and by 1854 the natural death which Mr. Solicitor had foretold came to pass. The last entry in the Smithfield Court Book is:

'September 2nd, 1854. The Lord Mayor not having proclaimed Bartholomew Fair the court of Pie-powder consequently was not held.

'George Martin, Steward.'


  • 1. Cal. Pat., 38 Edw. III, 2 July.
  • 2. pp. 164–243.
  • 3. Formerly held on what is now known as Midsummer Common at Cambridge.
  • 4. App. I, p. 477, Charter No. I.
  • 5. See also above, p. 62.
  • 6. App. I, p. 478, Charter No. 4.
  • 7. Ib., p. 481, No. 9.
  • 8. Ib., p. 482, No. 12.
  • 9. Ib., p. 485, No. 16.
  • 10. Ib., p. 487, No. 18.
  • 11. Stow, p. 141.
  • 12. Journ. C. C. C., Guildhall, No. 62, f. 260.
  • 13. Burn, Eccles. Law, i, 339.
  • 14. See above, p. 66.
  • 15. Morley, Barth. Fair, p. 22 (4th ed.).
  • 16. See Vol. II, chap. xi.
  • 17. See below, p. 373.
  • 18. Cant. and York Soc., Winchester, Reg. J. de Pontissara, p. 210.
  • 19. See above, p. 137
  • 20. T. Frost, Old Showmen, pp. 10–11, copies the error in date in Strype's Stow, 1295 for 1292, and says the city authorities confined some of the canons in the tun on Cornhill, but does not give his authority.
  • 21. See above, p. 160.
  • 22. Cal. Pat., 38 Edw. III, 15 July (1364); Rymer, Foedera, iii, 742, quoting Close, 38 Edw. III; Herbert, Liv. Cos. i, 400.
  • 23. Pat., 38 Edw. III, pt. 1, m. 1, 2 July (1364). Now calendared, p. 524.
  • 24. Cal. Let. Bk. G, 310.
  • 25. Ib., H, 29, and in full in Walford, Fairs P. and P., p. 175.
  • 26. Cal. Pat., 1 Rich. II, 28 July (1377).
  • 27. Cal. State Papers, i, 442.
  • 28. Herbert, Liv. Cos. i, 427. The measure dates from between 1480, when the arms which it bears were granted, and 1587, when other arms were granted which are upon the company's mace.
  • 29. Ib., 47.
  • 30. See above, p. 18.
  • 31. Herbert, Liv. Cos. i, 47.
  • 32. Cal. Let. Bk. K, 259.
  • 33. Translated from the Latin by H. T. Riley in his Chronicle of Mayors and Sheriffs, p. 13.
  • 34. Beam or scale for weighing of wool and heavy goods.
  • 35. Payment for weighing by a tron.
  • 36. Cal. Let. Bk. C, 13.
  • 37. Cal. Let. Bk. H. 70.
  • 38. Journ. No. 4, f. 188 b, 18 Aug., 24 Hen. VI (1446).
  • 39. Dated the eve of St. Simon and St. Jude, 32 Hen. VI (27 Oct. 1453). Cal. Let. Bk. K, 354. Journ. C.C.C., Guildhall, v, 106 b, 107.
  • 40. See above, p. 215.
  • 41. This was the brewery of the priory: see Vol. II, chap. x.
  • 42. Journ. C.C.C., No. 62, f. 260 b, where the agreement is recited.
  • 43. Cal. Let. Bk. K, 354.
  • 44. Toll paid for breaking ground.
  • 45. Toll paid for erecting booths.
  • 46. As decided at a Common Council, 15 Mar. 1453.
  • 47. Journ. C.C.C., No. 62, f. 263.
  • 48. Ib., No. 4, f. 188 b.
  • 49. Repertories Guildhall, i, f. 38.
  • 50. Blackstone, Commentaries, III, iv, 32.
  • 51. Coke, Institutes, iv, 273.
  • 52. Daines Barrington, Observations on the Statutes, 3rd ed., p. 382.
  • 53. Wilkinson, Lond. Illust., The Priory St. Barth.
  • 54. Maitland, London, p. 1214 (1756).
  • 55. See Vol. II, chap. xii, Cloth Fair.
  • 56. MS. Guildhall Lib., No. 95.
  • 57. B. and B., Beauties of England and Wales, vol. x, pt. 3, p. 464.
  • 58. Wriothesley, Chronicles, ii, 21.
  • 59. B. and B., Beauties E. and W., 465.
  • 60. Chambers, Book of Days, ii, 263.
  • 61. Morley, Barth. Fair, 182, 348.
  • 62. Maitland, London, i, 275.
  • 63. See above, p. 269.
  • 64. Some were demolished in 1914, others in 1917.
  • 65. Hist. MSS. Com., Rep. 4, p. 292.
  • 66. Rentals and Surv., R.O. Exhibits, Chancery bundle 18.
  • 67. Rentals and Surv., 11/40, 5 Charles I.
  • 68. Repertories Guildhall, 13, f. 37, 27 Mar., 7 Edw. VI.
  • 69. Ib., 15, f. 213 b.
  • 70. Ib., 20, f. 227 b, 16 Aug., 23 Eliz.
  • 71. Ib., 23, f. 562, 27 July.
  • 72. Ib., 23, f. 566, 6 Aug. 1596.
  • 73. Repertories Guildhall, 94, f. 400 and 410.
  • 74. Ib., 94, f. 419.
  • 75. J. T. Smith, Anc. Topog. of London.
  • 76. Min. Proceed. C.C.C. (printed), 1839, p. 244.
  • 77. Journ. C.C.C., No. 62, f. 180 b, 3 Dec.
  • 78. Ib., 62, f. 260, 21 Aug.
  • 79. From a rental and survey of the year 1629 in the R.O. it appears that at that time the net profits to Lord Holland from the fair were £81 18s. 3d.
  • 80. Journ. C.C.C., No. 62, f. 340.
  • 81. Vol. i, p. 1169.
  • 82. As the fair was still being held according to the Old Style Calendar in 1825, it fell in September instead of August, so that oysters were in season.
  • 83. Min. Proceed. C.C.C. (printed), p. 95, 10 June, 1816.
  • 84. He had succeeded his father as 2nd Lord Kensington in 1801.
  • 85. Min. Proceed. C.C.C., p. 92, 28 July 1825.
  • 86. Ib., p. 44, 11 May 1829.
  • 87. Ib., p. 172, 10 Dec. 1830.
  • 88. Min. Proceed. C.C.C., 26 Sept. 1839.
  • 89. Ib.
  • 90. Ib., p. 243, 2 July 1840.
  • 91. Walford, Fairs, p. 241.