One of the joys of local history is to build a story by putting together evidence from a wide number of sources. Such is the story of the Fair at Great Mongeham. The photograph shows the stile which leads from the Three Horseshoes to Fairfield.

Stile to the Fairfield in Great Mongeham
Stile to the Fairfield

A Charter is Granted

Mediaeval fairs emerged from religious festivals which brought people together to celebrate the feast day of a particular saint. (The word ‘fair’ is believed to come from the Latin feria meaning ‘feast’.) Such a gathering would provide a ready market for all kinds of merchants and pedlars. In an age when travel for ordinary people was restricted Kings granted charters for fairs which provided special conditions for trade and for the security of merchants en route. And so fairs became outlets for more specialised goods than could be found at weekly markets. Customers came from far and wide. Of course the charter would incur a fee and the king would exact tolls on goods the merchant brought to the fair and the lord of the manor would charge rent for the ground occupied by the merchants. By the thirteenth century fairs had become lucrative business, and enterprising lords of the manor would apply to the king for a charter.

Fines rolls
Fines rolls

One of the earliest was granted to Bertram de Crioll on 12th April 1251. It gave permission to hold a fair at ‘Monigeham’ (Great Mongeham) and ‘Shoueldon’ (Sholden) to be held over three days, from the eve of St. Luke’s day (18th October) until the day after. For this charter Bertram paid the king eleven marks (about £9 13s 6d).The payment is recorded in the Fines Rolls of Henry II, the relevant extract of which can be seen above in the sentence third line down. Translated it reads ‘Concerning a fine for a charter. – Bertram de Criel owes the king 11 marks for a charter to have a market and fair at Great Mongeham.’The entry is dated April 1251.

Although the Latin is abbreviated it is possible to read Bertmus de Crioll (the bar over Bertmusmeans it is abbreviated from Bertramus) debit (symbol for King Henry) xj marc (owes King Henry 11 marks). Towards the end can be made out the words feria(fair) and Munigham.

The fair flourishes

The fair must have been an exciting interruption to a normally quiet and peaceful rural scene. Pedlars and merchants would come from far afield, possibly even from France. Not only would there be stalls for cloth and haberdashery, but household goods of all kinds. There would be entertainers such as musicians, magicians and jugglers. Mongeham fair was licensed for livestock as well as pedlary, so buying and selling of animals would be added to the entertainment. Crowds would be drawn from all the surrounding villages to join in the festivities. No doubt the Red Lion, later to become the Leather Bottle, would have done a roaring trade. Several years ago Nick Atkins found these coins behind the pub when laying a patio. In 1874 the thatched mediaeval wayside inn burnt down and was replaced by the present building. In 1735 the Three Horseshoes would have also benefitted from the extra trade from the fair when it started business as an alehouse. By 1770 it too was an inn and able to accommodate those traders who were too far from home.

Thirteenth C coins from Leather Bottle

Decline of the Fair

But the heyday of the Great Mongeham fair was to pass. As the Middle Ages progressed so more and more goods would have been available from shops in nearby towns such as Sandwich and Dover. The growth of Deal in the seventeenth century meant that there was not so far to walk to the shops. In Richard Kilburne’s survey of Kent of 1659 he wrote ‘A Fair is kept here yearly upon St. Lukes day’, which suggests that the fair had already been reduced to one day. By 1800 the date had been changed to 29th October. A newspaper article in the Deal, Walmer and Sandwich Mercury of 3 November, 1865 recorded that “This fair was held on Monday last and will soon be numbered among the things that were. Time was when the Mongeham ‘annual’ attracted a considerable number of dealers in cattle, sheep and horses, but of late years it has continued to grow ‘small by degrees and beautifully less’. The show on Monday consisted of a few old nags – high in bone and low in flesh – and we are informed, only one cow.” By the late nineteenth century the fair was gone. All that was left in the village was an annual funfair which was held in the field opposite the Three Horseshoes, where the dairy now stands. That too is gone, and only survives in the memories of some of our older inhabitants.

Evidence for a Fair

Thus we learn of the history of the fair from charters, history books and newspapers, but none of them tell where the fair took place. This must come from more oblique sources. A map of 1840 identifies the field behind the Three Horseshoes as ‘Fairfield’. The name is reflected in the names of houses along St. Richards Road which were built on the edge of that field, namely Fairfield, Fairfield Cottages and Fairview Cottages. The map is adapted from part of that 1840 map. It also shows the five footpaths that give access to the field (one was diverted about twenty years ago). Dick’s Alley, which could once accommodate a horse and cart, is now reduced to a much overgrown, barely used footpath. The evidence from house names and footpaths provide fairly conclusive evidence for the site of the fair. At the height of the fair these paths would have seen much activity.

Fairfield Mongeham Footpaths

Coins and many other items must have been dropped there over the centuries. A merchant’s token found in a garden which butts on to the field dating from the sixteenth century. What else might have been found in the surrounding gardens?

Bertram de Criol’s charter also allowed for a weekly market to be held every Thursday. There was a ‘Market Square’ in the village into the nineteenth century. This was possibly in Cherry lane.

Merchants token obvers & reverse rotated