THE HISTORY OF THE HAMPSTEAD HEATH FUN-FAIRS
Traditional fairs are arranged in association with the Showmen's Guild of Great Britain and managed by the City of London.
(see City Of London Map)
A fair has been held on Hampstead Heath since the late 19th century.
However, the Spectator, no443 20th July, 1712 states "This is to give notice, that Hampstead Fair is to be kept upon the Lower Flask tavern walk, on Friday the first of August, and holds for four days."
The current fair is traditionally held over Easter and other bank holidays.
It was extremely popular: 30,000-50,000 people often attended a bank holiday Fair.
In 1910, attendance records were broken on Easter Monday when an estimated 200,000 people visited the fair.
In 1920, the event attracted royalty when Queen Alexandra drove past to view the Easter Monday festivities and attractions.
Another flourished for many years at West End until it was stopped by magistrates for rowdiness in 1820.
Small fairs were reported in South End Green, then known as Pond Street, in the 1830s.
Modern Fair dates from mid nineteenth century.
Sir Thomas Wilson regularised fair and charged stallholders for their pitches in 1865.
He set aside large area of Lower Heath near Hampstead Ponds as a fairground.
An 1872 report states that a fair was held on Hampstead Heath on Whit Monday…
This fair was spread all over East Heath, stretching from South End Green to Spaniards Road and the Vale of Health.
It was reported in the London Illustrated News.
This whole area was a “congregation of working-class Londoners, everywhere swarming in multitudinous clusters, like flies upon a batch of cakes in a baker’s sunny shop-window”
The entertainments were largely organized by the crowds themselves.
The most popular diversion was “Kiss-in-the-Ring” followed by dancing “effectively promoted by the presence of many Italian and English performers on the grinding organ”
Donkey rides were once a popular activity for children on The Heath.
The Donkey Derby was held annually during the fair.
The donkeys were ridden furiously but Spaniards Road was reserved for “the cabs, the barouches and the chaises, which brought parties of middle-class spectators to watch the fun of the day"
There were said to be 100 donkeys daily on the heath in 1836. Soon their popularity inspired cartoonists and attracted Charles Dickens and even, in the early 1850s, Karl Marx, who rode with more fervour than skill.
The Metropolitan Board of Works. sought sites for donkey stands when it took over in 1872; 45 were built near the Vale of Health and 60 at the foot of Downshire Hill.
Residents soon petitioned against Sunday rides, in 1873 the drivers' noisy plying for trade led to their being licensed.
In 1876 their alleged unkindness contributed to the establishment of a Hampstead branch of the RSPCA.
There were also coconut shies, stereoscopes, skipping ropes, sweetmeat vendors, silhouette artists, and a machine with a “galvanic battery” which gave an electric shock.
The holiday crowds and fairs transformed The Vale Of Health.
JOE COGGERS’ WALTZER
Built by Maxwells in 1974, Joe Cogger’s Spinning Top Waltzer, decorated by Fred Fowle in vibrant pinks and purples, was typical of this period of fairground décor. Amazingly, the décor was originally applied with a pale coloured background (see below right), but was revamped with the more contemporary colour scheme, whilst retaining the original designs.
Pictures show The original décor of three of the elaborately lettered rounding boards... the bottom shutters, The paybox, and a car (showing the different styles of décor.)
These people are riding on roundabout swings on Hampstead Heath during the funfair.
There was a weekly funfair, as well as a more famous fair on bank holidays, that operated into the 1960s.
Hampstead Heath, an hour's ride by omnibus from the Bank of England in the 1920s, was a relatively wild corner of north London.
It was overgrown with brambles and dotted with pools in sandy hollows left where red and silver sand, much in demand in the late 19th century, had been excavated.
"Cockney Carnival at 'Appy 'Ampstead"
Phil May was a popular cartoonist in the 1890s, whose work appeared in Punch and other magazines.
One of his favourite subjects was everyday life around London.
The train and tube made it easy for East Londoners to escape the crowded city streets for the countryside setting of Hampstead Heath.