Markets and Fairs


Markets and Fairs have always been important in towns where they encourage trade and exchange of information. Thrapston, like most small towns had its share of these festive occasions. It is interesting to trace their history from original records, old directories and newspaper reports to see how they developed or fell into disuse.

Markets were usually held weekly and fairs on special days during the year. Fairs could be associated with religious festivals or with Spring and Autumn when the population had time to spare.

“The History and Antiquities of Northamptonshire”

by John Bridges 1791 records the following:-

In the year of King John (1206) Baldwin de Veer gave the King two palfreys for the privilege of a mercate on Tuesday at his manor of Thrapston……… In the 29th year of this reign (of Henry III 1243) , Robert the son and successor of Baldwin de Veer obtained the liberty of a fair to begin on the eve of St James the Apostle and to continue for three days………….Randolph de Veer (the son of Robert) in the third year of Edward III (1330) was required to show cause why he claimed to have a mercate and a fair here with a view to frank-pledge every year after Easter and Michaelmas. For the enjoyment of these liberties he pleaded the Royal charters and immemorial prescription from his ancestors”

Gregorian Calendar

The New Style Calendar (Gregorian) was finally adopted in England in 1752 when September 2nd was changed to September 14th 1752. This caused some confusion and led to demands for the restoration of the missing 11 days There was confusion over the correct dates for fairs and a notice appeared in the

Northampton Mercury of July 18th 1763:

Thrapston. Wheras (through mistake) St. James Fair was held last year on the 25th day of July, New Style, this is to inform the public that this year, and for the future, the said St James Fair will be holden at Thrapston  aforesaid on the 5th day of August, New Style. N.B. At the request of several dealers, Chapmen, Farmers and Graziers, there will be held at Thrapston aforesaid a meeting for the sale of horses, colts, cows, Sheep and Hogs, Toll Free on Tuesday 11th October 1763.”

Pigots’s Directory 1830

has an account of Thrapston which includes the following:-

The weekly market is held on Tuesday; the annual fairs are the last Tuesday in May and the first Tuesday after old Michaelmas for cattle sheep and dogs: the charter fair called St. James’s fair is held on the 5th August for cattle of all kinds, and the hiring of harvest men, the hog and grain markets are the largest in this part of the country

Whellan’s Directory of Northamptonshire 1848

had a similar account:

“The market is held on Tuesday and is famed for its good supply of corn and pigs; that on the first Tuesday after Michaelmas is as large as a fair. A fair for shoes pedlary etc. is held on the first Tuesday in May; and another was usually held on the 5th of August, but not withstanding several effort s to support it, it has fallen into disuse.”

Thrapston Market Company

By 1871 the market appears to have become more organised as there was now a Thrapston Market Company and the

Northampton Herald ,December 16th 1871

printed the following announcement:-

New premises of the Thrapston Market Company were opened on Tuesday last……. tollage was first taken on that day ……. under the superintendance of Mr G. Siddons

This development caused quite a stir at the time and led to a case in the magistrates court which was reported in the

Northampton Herald, June 15th 1872

as follows:-

Thrapston. Case where pigs were offered for sale in the yard of the Swan Hotel instead of in the market. Charles Loveday a post messenger living in Thrapston said that a pig market had been held in the Swan yard for 12 or 14 years paying 10s a year rent. 100 to 200 pigs in the yard. Mr J W Smith, owner of the Swan Inn, acquainted with it for 40 years – pig sties existed in the same form as present. Wm. Jones of Woodford aged 69 had known a pig market to be held in the Swan Yard ever since he was 5 years old, his father occupied 4 pens, he had occupied a pen on and off for 40 years. The bench found in favour of the Market Company – the powers of the Market Company were absolute – the occupiers of the sties were not legal tenants, they paid no rates, taxes or easements

The Swan Yard had evidently been used as a pig market for many years and although this was officially stopped , I believe some private trading in pigs still took place in the yard even in the 20th century before the Swan Inn was demolished.

Statute Fair

Northampton Herald, 29th September 1872

reported the occurrence of the Statute fair. :-

On Tuesday last the ‘Statute’ took place – it was the smallest ever held and is questionable whether it is expedient any longer to continue a festival which has apparently died out. Good servants are invariably hired before they leave their present situations. Even the motley throng of booths, stalls and shooting galleries had perceptibly diminished, being probably attracted to more profitable quarters.

A year later the ‘Statute’ was held again and the following report was in the

Northampton Herald, 27th September 1873:

The ‘Statute’ was held on Tuesday last 22nd instant,. There was a pretty good attendance of servants. The weather being fine, a good many hiring transactions took place. The striking feature was the rise in wages demanded by many of the girls, being just double the amount demanded a few years ago. The street was lined  with a collection of stalls, photographic galleries and the  usual implements for testing the lungs of pleasure
seekers or giving them a dose of galvanic torture. What may be elegantly styled ‘ the riffraff’ cleared off at a respectable hour, thanks to the beneficent powers of the New Act.

It would be interesting to know when the ‘Statute’ fair finally disappeared.

Feast of St. James

The celebrations for the feast of St. James continued but the pattern changed. In 1872 there was a cricket match and a meat tea for the teams at the Swan Inn., reported on the 17th August. Early in the 20th century it was celebrated by a Sports Day, when people came from all the surrounding villages to take part.

Whittakers Almanac of 1879

has a very brief entry :

Fairs 1st Tuesday in May, Aug 5th, Tuesday after Michaelmas Day

The Thrapston and Raunds Almanac ,1914

is also very brief:

The feast is recorded as the Sunday after August 5th , and the fairs and Markets as the first Tuesday in May and the first Tuesday after October 11th

Thrapston Market

The Thrapston Market Company’s Office was in the Corn Exchange, the Secretary was Mr Ernest Jellis and the Tool Collector Mr E. Marks.

Kelly’s Directory , 1928

gives a little more detail:-

A Cattle Market is held on Tuesday for grain, cattle, sheep and pigs. Fairs are held on the first Tuesday in May and on the first Tuesday after old Michaelmas Day. The exclusive right to levying tolls and holding fairs in the town is now rested in the Market Company established by Special; Act of Parliament in 1870 (James Campion Secretary and Toll Collector).

Mary Humphries, Woodford