Back after a COVID break, Goose Fair is on at the Forest Recreation Ground in Nottingham for 10 days, much longer than usual, and ends on Sunday 9 October. As I often do when the fair is on I went for a wander around to take photos (and buy some candy floss and brandy snaps). There are a bunch of new rides this year that looked quite impressive though I didn’t partake myself – I’ve never been that much of a fan and since being diagnosed with polycystic kidney disease anything that may throw me around is definitely to be avoided!
The history of the fair begins in around 1284, though there may indeed have been a fair even longer ago than that. It used to be based in the Market Square, where the Council House now is, and the name “Goose Fair” comes from the geese that would have been brought from surrounding counties to be sold at the market. It moved to the Forest Rec in the 1920s since the Market Square was too small for the ever expanding fair and was being redeveloped.
Food has always been a feature of the fair – roast goose was a traditional holiday treat for Michaelmas, the end of the harvest season which was celebrated around the time the fair has traditionally been held at the end of September. Nowadays the food tends to be more along the lines of the above and the local delicacy of mushy peas and mint. Though there seemed to be a big increase of fresh food stalls this year and some were making some delicious looking and smelling hot food from all around the globe.
One of the stand out tales from the fair is the Great Cheese Riot of 1766. Food prices were rising and food shortages were a real threat (sound familiar?) and some Lincolnshire traders bought some Nottingham cheese to take away and sell in Lincolnshire. Some Nottingham locals objected, wanting the cheese to feed the people of Nottingham instead, violence broke out and wheels of cheese went flying, one of which knocked over the mayor of Nottingham who’d been trying to calm things down. It got so bad that the army was called in and seemingly a perfectly innocent man was shot dead; eventually calm was restored some days later. Things don’t tend to get quite so volatile these days and as an event that can attract up to 400,000 people it’s generally a very good family friendly atmosphere.
COVID isn’t the only reason the fair has been cancelled, nor is it the only pandemic to cause cancellation. It was cancelled in 1646 because of the Great Plague and during World War I, though interestingly during World War II it was held during daytime in the summer, to avoid blackout regulations, in 1943 and 1944. The Nottingham Hidden History Team have some great photos of past fairs here.
It used to be the case, for locals like myself, that Goose Fair was the first place you were allowed to go with your friends and no adult supervision (in the teen years at least!) though I suspect that probably isn’t the case nowadays. You can find some more photos of my trips to the fair over the years here.