St Giles’ Fair in the 1850s: W. E. Sherwood

W.E. Sherwood was Master of Magdalen College School as well as the first University man to become Mayor of Oxford. Here describes St Giles’ Fair at the time of his childhood in the late 1850s in his book Oxford Yesterday (1927):

After the races [the Oxford Races on Port Meadow] came St Giles’s Fair, which is still with us, so that I need not say much about it except that we were all, and especially the children, much less sophisticated in those days, and so were content with much humbler things to amuse and delight us. The shows, therefore, and the toys were all very primitive, and would be utterly despised by the young folk now. Even the ‘roundabouts’ of that far-off time were worked by boy-power, youngsters being induced to run round between the nave and the horses, and push against their supporting spokes in return for a free ride after so many minutes. The music, too, was restricted by the necessary limits of mere human endurance, and though the showman worked hard and banged drums and gongs, and blew trumpets, and turned the handles of barrel-organs from eleven in the morning till eleven at night, and made much noise, it was almost silence compared with the blare of the present ‘music’, driven as it is by the engines which work the horses and other successors of the old affairs. In those days positions were not allotted beforehand, and the caravans could not enter the City until four o’clock in the morning, but were drawn up outside the boundary tones on all the roads. As the clock struck there was a wild rush followed by a scramble for places, which it was part of the fun of the fair to watch, although it involved very early rising.


St Giles’ home

Stephanie Jenkins

Oxford History home