Norwich and Eastern Counties Section

Administrative area: The historic counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire, Rutland, Huntingdonshire, Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire.

The King’s Lynn Mart, which opens on 14 February, has long been regarded as the traditional curtain-raiser to the new season. Granted in 1537 by charter of Henry VIII, it is held in the capacious Tuesday Market Place. King’s Lynn has had an added significance for all showmen: it was here in the late 1860s that the engineer Frederick Savage successfully harnessed the power of steam to a fairground ride, thereby transforming fairs forever. Two further Marts follow in March: those at Wisbech and Peterborough, while at Uppingham in Rutland that month a fair in the market place maintains a tradition that dates from the sixteenth century.

Easter sees the showmen gathering at Norwich for a fair that is the successor to one of the city’s ancient Tombland fairs. The ancient market place at Great Yarmouth, home of the town’s famous chip stalls, is the customary site of an attractive fair of some longstanding, held on the Friday and Saturday of Easter week. Rothwell Fair in Northamptonshire, known to all locals as ‘Rowell Fair’ and granted by charter in 1304, maintains its original fourteenth century date of Trinity Monday with an opening ceremony that begins at 6 o’clock that morning. The Southwold Charter Fair, dating from 1490 and held on the South Green at this Suffolk seaside town, is also opened with a civic ceremony on Trinity Monday.

Cambridge Midsummer Fair in June was granted by a charter of Henry III in 1229 and is still held on its original site, the beautiful Midsummer Common close to the city centre. As part of the opening ceremony, it is traditional for children to compete for the newly-minted pennies thrown into the air by the Mayor of Cambridge.

The showmen return to Wisbech in September for the town’s statute fair, usually in the same week that Stevenage celebrates its charter fair. The town of Kimbolton, formerly in Huntingdonshire, also has a September statute fair, held in the main street. A statute fair also takes place at Clifton in Bedfordshire. By tradition, a civic supper of sausages and mash at the town hall marks the opening of Peterborough Bridge Fair early in October. The Michaelmas Fair at St Ives, a town that owes its very existence to its once-famous medieval Easter fair, falls on the second Monday in October. Goldington Feast is held in this former Bedfordshire village on the weekend nearest to 5 November.