Battle of Fairs

There were many problems caused by the urbanisation of Britain; houses had to be build fast, and were often overcrowded and substandard. Before railways allowed mass movement of food, fairs and markets were crucial in ensuring food supplies, especially to the ‘great wen’ of London. Markets and fairs were conducted by licence, often of long standing, that were worth a lot of money in tolls to those who held them. But areas of Britain were also depopulated by urbanisation, so some fairs either struggled or died out. Here’s a pair of notices from the Leeds Intelligencer of 1764 which shows how confusing arrangements could become. This is from the Leeds Intelligencer, April 1765:

WHEREAS a Fortnight MEETING for the sale of HORSES, CATTLE, SHEEP, &c. hath been lately open’d at Wakefield, at the desire of many Dealers and Others in several Counties, is likely to be of great and public Utility; for which Reason his grace the Duke of LEEDS, the Right Honourable Lords the Earl of CARDIGAN, the Earl of STAFFORD, the Lord BINGLEY, theLord IRWIN, the Lord Galway, together with Sir GEORGE Saville, Sir LIONEL PILKINGTON and many other Gentlemen, along with the Principal inhabitants of Wakefield, and many other Persons, have thought proper to encourage this same; And whereas the great Numbers and quick Sale of the Sheep, Cattle, &c. which have been brought to said Meetings, have fully answered the Expectations of the Country, which has excited some persons to attempt an Interruption of this publick Good,by giving out that People might be prosecuted for attending such Meetings. Now for quieting the Minds of such Persons as may be under any Uneasiness at such a Report, it is thought fit to give them this Account of the Establishment of the said Meeting from whence they may be well assured, that the Nobility, Gentry, and Others under whose Encouragement such Meeting has been open’d, will be ready to support and vindicate the same.

The same paper carried this alternative version:


WHEREAS it has been for some Time advertised in this Paper, That the Dealers in Cattle have determined to hold a Meeting in Wakefield, on Wednesday every Fortnight throughout the Year, for the Sale of Fat and Lean CATTLE, SHEEP &c. although there is no legal authority for the holding of such Meetings, and the same would be highly prejudicial to the neighbouring fairs and Markets at Adwalton, which are held by virtue of a Royal Charter. It is thought proper to give this public Notice to all Dealers in Cattle and Others, whom it man concern, That Actions At Law will be brought against all such Persons by whom such intended Meetings at Wakefield shall be held, and who shall bring their Cattle to be sold at any such Meetings; and that the Fairs and Markets at Adwalton will continue to be holden as usual.

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