St Giles’ Fair, 1937: Sir John Betjeman

John Betjeman, An Oxford University Chest (1937):

It is about the biggest fair in England. The whole of St Giles’ and even Magdalen Street by Elliston and Cavell’s right up to and beyond the War Memorial, at the meeting of the Woodstock and Banbury roads, is thick with freak shows, roundabouts, cake-walks, the whip, and the witching waves. Every sort of fairman finds it worth his while to come to St Giles’. Old roundabouts worked by hand that revolve slow enough to suit the very young or the very old, ageing palmists and sinister, alluring houris excite the wonder and the passions of red-faced ploughmen…. Beyond St Giles’ the University is silent and dark. Even the lights of the multiple stores in the Cornmarket seem feeble…. And in the alleys between the booths you can hear people talking with an Oxfordshire accent, a change from the Oxford one.

Betjeman omits to mention the charity stalls of the 1930s, such as the Radcliffe Infirmary one shown below:

Hospital stall at fairAbove: Radcliffe Infirmary display stand at St. Giles' Fair in front of the Martyr’s Memorial, late 1930s. Standing immediately behind the seated girl is Charles Richard Hobbs, Governor of the Hospital, with four of his grandchildren immediately to his left and right (Photograph provided in 2017 by his grandson A.R. Tim Brown  from New Zealand, then aged 89)

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Stephanie Jenkins

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