Pretty Maidís Charity, DevonMany village and town fairs and fetes have their Queen or Princess, but St Peterís Fair in the North Devon town of Holsworthy has a rather different slant on the idea. The fair is generally heralded on the first Tuesday in July by the Court Leet gathering and the lucky Portreeve ensuring the ale in the town is of good quality. The next day, however, marks the true start of the event. At precisely 12 noon as the clock begins to strike a closely guarded secret is revealed at the belfry doorway of the Church of St Peter and St Paul: the identity of the Pretty Maid for that year.
The custom was established in 1841 with a carefully worded bequest from the Reverend Thomas Meyrick, brother of the then rector of Holsworthy. In his will he stipulated that at that time a single woman of the parish, under 30 years of age, should be selected as being the most deserving, the most handsome, and the most noted for her quietness and attendance at church. He left money to be invested in government stock paying steady interest, which originally was worth £2 10s to the recipient, a tidy sum in the mid-19th century. These days the Ďprizeí is worth £5 to the chosen girl, who also has the honour of opening the fair.
The Rev. Meyrick had a worthy idea in mind when he made his will, stating that it was intended to demonstrate to the government that people react better to reward and pleasure than punishment. And he wasnít ageist either: originally a spinster aged 60 or over received a lesser sum, though that custom has apparently been dropped.
More British Folk Customs?