St Giles’ Fair, 1889: Oxford Chronicle

Extract from the Oxford Chronicle of 24 September 1889:

The stalls extended on the west side from Little Clarendon Street to New-Inn-Hall Street. At the top of St Giles’ Blandy’s Ghost Illusions formed the attraction. In close proximity was a flying trapeze, which was a novelty. A thick wire was erected about 30 feet high and 40 yards long. To this was attached a handle with wheels, which with slight pressure ran swiftly down the wire. The public were invited to take hold of this handle, throw themselves from the platform, and then experience the peculiar sensation of flying though the air. At the end of the wire was a padded board to prevent injury to the aerialists, and a net underneath in case of a fall. This was well patronized, not by men and boys only, but on Monday by numerous females, who ascended the platform and made the flight quite regardless of the audible comments of the onlookers at their temerity. After a time the proprietor of the trapeze was informed that the journey would not be allowed to be undertaken by females.

Day’s menagerie, containing a collection of 500 animals, including lions, tigers, leopards, bears, haenas, pack of wild wolves, ostriches, pelicans, vultures, owls, &c., was filled from morning to night. Amongst the other shows were … two sparring saloons, the armless wonder (a man born without hands or arms) who performed all kinds of work with his feet, ‘The Beauty of Adelaide’, a woman of immense size, ‘Kasper and Tamara’, the mysterious thought readers, Carver’s champion shooters (a man firing at apples, plums, &c. on a woman’s head), Scott’s circus, Anderton’s conjuring entertainment, Sidgwick’s menagerie and waxworks (including Lorenzo, an American lion tamer), the performing fleas, &c. The roundabouts were numerous, and included the old-fashioned ones turned with a handle to the latest improvements in steam-powered engines…. Two steam switchback railways should be included among the novelties. They were largely patronized by old and young, and the proprietors of ‘the plant’ will carry with them pleasant recollections of the fair….

The Oxford Bible stall was, as usual, erected near St John’s and Mr Wheelhouse and Commander Williams courteously received all comers. Tracts were freely distributed, and the Church Army held meetings in St Giles’ on both days…. The majority of young people, as on previous occasions, amused themselves by brushing each other’s faces with feather brushes. In a few cases where these were being roughly used the police deprived the owners of them. The attendance was extremely large on both days.


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Stephanie Jenkins

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