Administrative area: Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Somerset, Dorsetshire, Hampshire, Devonshire, Cornwall, the former county of Avon and the Isle of Wight.
The Western Section is the second largest of the Guild’s ten regions.
One of its earliest fairs each year is the first of the two annual Mop fairs in the Gloucestershire town of Chipping Sodbury. This former hiring fair, set out along the town’s wide main street, it is held on the Friday before 25 March, once the start of the new year.
The April fair on the Green in the Wiltshire town of Devizes owes its origin to a seventeenth century charter. The market place in the cathedral city of Wells resounds to the sound of the amusements at the start of May with the coming of a fair that dates from the twelfth century. That same month the ancient customs of the Hobby Horse Day at Padstow and the Flora Dance at Helston attract the support of the travelling showmen. Horses at sold alongside the fairground attractions at the Hampshire town of Wickham’s annual fair on 20 May.
The Scuttlebrook Wake, held in the Cotswold town of Chipping Campden on the first Saturday in June, sees the main street lined with fairground amusements. The Corpus Christi fair at Penzance, which usually falls in June, is a major fair in Cornwall. The Wiltshire village of Aldbourne celebrates its annual Feast in July with a street fair, while along the Devon coast during August a fair is usually to be found at the county’s many regattas. High up in Mendip Hills that month, Priddy Sheep Fair has been held since the time of the Black Death. The Great Dorset Steam Fair, held after the August bank holiday, dates only from 1969, but is now the largest show of its kind in the world.
September is the month of many historic fairs in the south-west: at Crewkerne (once famous for the sale of cheese) and Glastonbury in Somerset, Barnstaple in Devon and Summercourt in Cornwall. The premier event of the whole region takes place in September: Bridgwater St Matthew’s Fair, dating from the thirteenth century and held on St Matthew’s Field at the end of the month.
In October the mop fairs at Marlborough, Cirencester, Winchcombe, Tewkesbury and Highworth take place. The Taro Fair, held on the Heath at the Hampshire town of Petersfield on 6 October, is believed to be over 700 years old. The second Wednesday in October is the day of the twelfth century Tavistock ‘Goosey Fair’, where geese are still sold, while the third Monday in the month is the start of Salisbury’s three-day Michaelmas fair, granted by charter of Henry III in 1270.
In Somerset, the impressive circuit of night-time carnival processions in seven of the county’s town, extends well into November with several being supported by a funfair.