HISTORY & TIMELINE
In medieval England, there was little difference between a ‘market’ and a ‘fair’. They were occasions to trade and people would travel from far and wide to buy or sell goods and livestock.
Fairs and markets were occasions for festivity, a welcome break from hard toil in the fields or workshops. For many, they were likely their only holiday of the year. Visitors brought the gossip from distant places; friendships were renewed, and new ones made.
1154 – Earliest known reference to the Fair
The first known reference to a market at Rothwell is in 1154, when Roger the Earl of Clare acquitted the monks and canons of Sulby Abbey from paying any toll on articles bought and sold at Rowell Fair.
It was customary for feasts or fairs of a particular town to be linked with the patronal festival of its church. As the Parish Church is dedicated to the Holy Trinity, the fair was proclaimed open early on the Monday morning following Trinity Sunday.
1204 – The Fair is granted a Charter by King John
By the start of the 13th Century, Rowell Fair was an important date in the calendar. It attracted livestock traders from far and wide, and tradesmen brought leather goods, cloth, boots, and farming implements.
The Clares were a powerful Norman family with estates stretching across England to Wales, and Rowell was becoming a town of importance for trade and pilgrimage. In 1204 the Lord of the Manor, Richard, Earl of Clare (son of Roger), had the Fair officially confirmed by asking King John of England to grant a charter.
1614 – The Charter becomes the Proclamation
The Royal Charter of today’s Proclamation was granted by King James I in 1614 when William Cockayne purchased the estates and became Lord of the Manor. The Manorial Rights have remained in the same family ever since that time.
“Whereas, heretofore, his late Majesty King James the First, and his progenitors, Lords of the Manor of Rowell had, and used to have one fair in the year, to be holden in the said Manor which said Manor is now by good and lawful means come to Zandra Maunsell Powell, she the said Zandra Maunsell Powell doth by these presents notify and declare, that the said Fair shall begin this Monday after the Feast of the Holy Trinity, and so to continue for the space of five days next after the holding and keeping of it, and no longer, during which time it shall be lawful for all Her Majesty’s subjects to come and to go, to buy and to sell all manner of cattle, merchandise, and other stuff being saleable ware and allowed to be bought and sold by the laws of this Kingdom. No toll for cattle, stakes for horses, sheep pens, shows and stalls are charged for as heretofore. And she further strictly chargeth and commandeth all persons within the liberties of the said fair to keep the King’s peace in all things, upon such penalties as the laws and statutes of the Kingdom are now provided.
God save the King and the Lord of the Manor”.
Read more about the Charter HERE
17th – 19th Centuries
From the seventeenth century up to the early part of the twentieth century, Rowell was a very well-known livestock fair. However, the coming of the railways and the improved roads meant that dealers and tradesmen were able to do business on a more regular basis, and gradually became less reliant on the annual fair.
Entertainment started to replace trade, and Rowell Fair became a fun-fair rather than the livestock market that it used to be. It still lasts for the traditional five days, however, in the 19th Century steam-driven fun fair rides appeared.
Late in the nineteenth century saw the beginning of the steam-driven rides, bioscope shows (the forerunner to the cinema) and showmen’s engines that also generated electricity.
Rowell Fair in the news! Saturday, 23rd June 1906.
The Era was a national newspaper which was first seen in 1838 and continued publishing for just over a hundred years, until 1939, when the outbreak of World War II brought it to an abrupt end. It originally published weekly, every Sunday, before switching to Saturdays in 1881. More about The Era newspaper HERE.
Added: 30 November 2022
Our thanks to Michael Wells and David Springthorpe
for drawing our attention to this early reference to the Rowell Fair.
By the 1960s, the Rowell Fair was in danger of dying out, and in need of some much-needed revitalisation and support. A town meeting was called on Thursday, 29 February 1968 and the Rowell Fair Society was duly formed to preserve and maintain the traditions of the ancient Charter Fair. It is now arguably the largest organisation in Rothwell, with around 300 members.
Today, the Rowell Fair is a week-long celebration and includes traditional events. Rowell Fair takes over the town centre with fairground rides, street entertainment, live bands, food and a range of stands and exhibitors. Many traditions remain and, in particular, its historical links are remembered by the Charter Proclamation, which starts early on Proclamation Monday.
For many families, Rowell Fair is a time for homecoming, when people who have moved away make a point of returning from far and wide to be at home with their families and friends.
Rowell Fair is a unique and proud medieval custom that the tides of progress and modern living have failed to submerge. For an event to have survived for over 800 years, it has had to change with the times, and so it lives on, and long may it continue to do so.
“See you at the
Proclamation & the Fair!”
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