Ilkeston Charter Fair was first granted in 1252 and can claim a heritage older than Nottingham and Hull. Held on the first Thursday after the first Sunday after the 11th of October, the event has remained in its traditional setting, the market square over the past seven centuries. The original Charter was granted by Henry III and the fair was held on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin of Our Lady in August. The main components of the fair would have been trading but amusements and festivities were also largely associated with fairs held on holy days.
The start of hiring fairs or mops can be traced to the fourteenth century with the passing of the Statute of Labourers in 1351 by Edward III. The agricultural calendar in Ilkeston necessitated the holding of a Statutes or Hiring Fair in October and both events continued to be held into the nineteenth century. Neither dates are mentioned in Owen's Book of Fair in the eighteenth century editions and Owen's New Book of Fairs for 1802. Two later fairs are dated in the 1859-60 edition of the fair in which it is stated the following: March 6, Whit Tuesday, Thursday after December 25 for cattle and pigs.
In 1888 the Assumption Fair and the Statute Fair were amalgamated and from there onwards one event was adopted which became known as the Charter Fair and was held during Wakes Week in October. With the proximity of the town to Nottingham and following so closely on from the Goose Fair, the event prospered and it became one of the most prominent fairs to be held in October in the United Kingdom. Many of the showmen who appeared at the Goose Fair would appear at the fair with other showfamillies such as Samuel Taylor the Ilkeston Giant and John Albert Proctor becoming deeply associated with the town.
The relationship between the showfamilies and the local authorities has always been strong and this was particularly the case in 1922 when John Proctor became Councillor for Ilkeston and lived at Dragon House on Stanton Road. The fair became strongly fixed in the minds of its controlling authority in 1931 when it received its first civic opening, when Councillor Beardsley became the first Mayor of Ilkeston to officially open the fair. The local government reorganisation in 1974 did little to alter the strength of this understanding and warmth that had developed between the Borough Council and the showmen and Erewash Borough Council, the successor to Ilkeston Borough Council continued to expand and develop the fair.
Ilkeston Charter fair is a classic example of a sprawling street fair that takes over the town, transforming the everyday experience and aesthetics into an entirely new purpose. Fairground rides, stalls and juveniles are squeezed into every space possible, the main streets transformed into a festival of lights, music, screams and mechanical groans with large fairground machines meticulously positioned for maximum impact.