Lee Fair, West YorkshireThough it is not possible to prove the case beyond a shadow of doubt, there is good reason to believe the claims that Lee Fair is the oldest remaining chartered fair in the land. King Stephen while in Oxford granted a charter that is still in existence, though the date is not clear – the best guess is around April 1136. But the claims go further back in our history still, to Henry I and perhaps even before him.
The fair is in fact two fairs, Lee Gap Fair on August 17 and Latter Lee on September 17, something of a come down from the original when each event lasted three days, and given the significance of the fair as a trading centre many stayed on site from one to the other, inevitably such a gathering leading to charges of drunkenness and not infrequently to fighting and deaths.
Trade at the fair (originally Woodkirk Fair, as it was associated with the parish and the local priory until the Dissolution) was centred on cloth and horses, with dealers in cloth arriving in the medieval heyday from Spain, France and the Low Countries.
The name Lee Fair is derived from the changes after the Dissolution, the local vicar making arrangements that enabled it to be continued – he was one Dr Lee. At around this time gypsies began to attend the fair in numbers, as they still do to this day, partly for the trade in horses, partly as a great meeting point for the inevitably far flung elements of gypsy families. Until the early sixteenth century gypsies were banned from England, and there are cases earlier of people hanged on the mere suspicion of being ‘egyptians’.
Lee Fair has had its problems over recent years, with development taking away sites once used for the event, but local interest and a genuine need for such a gathering keeps it going, and with local pride still evident in the continuation of something that keeps us connected to our ancestors of almost 1000 years ago.
More British Folk Customs?
1 Response to Lee Fair
From mollie godman on 28th February 2011
does anyone know the song about lee gap fair. it starts Old sam matsy had a grey mare, took it up to lee gap fair. all the folk did laugh and stare to see samm matsy with his old grey mare. took it into soothill wood to see if it would do it a little good. bumped it s head again a tree. eeh by gum i thought it would die. my mum used to sing this and i would like to know all the words
If you like this, Share it
On this day: