Bartholomew Fair returns to its roots

This week Bartholomew Fair returned to Cloth Fair and Smithfield, where it started in 1133. I’ve put together some pages about the programme and businesses that committed to being open, with maps. I’ve also pulled together some articles and videos about the area.

On a stroll down Cloth Fair I was greeted by some engaging performers.

I’ve also done a little video to help promote Yvonne Courtney’s excellent pop up shop at 38 Bartholomew Fair EC1A 7HP, just around the corner from Cloth Fair. It is open until 6pm on Saturday 16 September.

Tonight I’m going to hear about Cries of London from The Gentle Author. There’s a taster here on Spitalfields Life with illustrated interviews by Henry Mayhew telling the story of London’s poor 150 years ago. The social media of its day, and more engaging.

Bartholomew Fair re-staged – from 1923 to 2023

While this year’s re-staging of Bartholomew Fair is certainly the most ambitious, it isn’t the first. I’ve been digging around newspaper and other archives, and here’s what I’ve found so far.

The Fair was originally started by St Bartholomew the Great to support what became Barts Hospital, and both are currently celebrating Barts 900.

The hospital staged a substantial re-enactment of the Fair for its Octocentenary celebrations in 1923, over several days. The Sphere provided an illustration, showing a temporary bridge across to the rotunda garden.

The Fair featured stocks …

also recorded by Pathe News

More here about Bartholomew Fair in 1923

Fifty years later the hospital held a one-day event which greatly appealed to Simon Jenkins, writing in the Evening Standard:

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The Fairs have started!

On the evening of 30 August St Bartholomew the Great hosted two events – a traditional ribbon-cutting by the Lord Mayor, and The Great Disputation.

The story of Bartholomew Fair re-staged

City Councillor Matthew Bell lives in Cloth Fair – the original site of Bartholomew Fair – and spent several years trying to interest people in re-staging the event.

Here he tells the story of how the Destination City programme, aimed at attracting visitors to the Square Mile, provided the context this year for the Corporation to invest £1.3 million in a City-wide Spectacular.

Matthew writes:
When Bartholomew Fair re-opens in the City next week, after a gap of 168 years, there will be two opening ceremonies. One will be a spectacular aerial ballet performed high up on St Paul’s Cathedral, while the other will be a traditional ceremony with the Lord Mayor cutting a ribbon.

This new era of Bartholomew Fair is going to be the biggest ever to have been staged by the City of London, so we are witnessing history over the next few weeks. The Corporation is wanting to get people in to see the rich cultural gems of every age that you trip up over with virtually every step when wandering around the Square Mile. The City was after all, London for the bulk of its history.

Read Matthew’s article here

Bartholomew Fair revival continues Destination City campaign

City Councillor John Griffiths wrote this article for the OnLondon site – original here. Thanks for permission to republish.

The City Corporation is continuing its bid to broaden perceptions of the area and attract more visitors

Bringing a modern twist to a festival which dates back to the 12th Century, the City of London’s revival of Bartholomew Fair is the latest pitch in its Destination City campaign to capture a share of the growing number of visitors now returning, post-pandemic, to the capital.

Originally a three-day gathering for trading cloth and other goods which coincided with the 24 August feast of St Bartholomew, the event grew to become London’s preeminent leisure fair, lasting for a couple of weeks and attracting visitors and acts from across the country.

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How Bartholomew Fair 2023 developed

These blog posts tell the story of how re-staging Bartholomew Fair in 2023 originated in two articles in the EC1 Echo in 2022, and became a £1.3 million City Spectacular. Posts also cover the development of the City Corporation’s Destination City programme – of which the Fair is the highlight. There are ideas about how walks and other informal activities could complement large scale events, as part of that programme. Posts from 2022 to July 2023 were originally published in the Connections blog by David Wilcox. Blog posts and other pages:

How Bartholomew Fair might benefit City residents and visitors all year

Update: the Policy and Resource Committee approved plans for the Bartholomew Fair spectacular, with some discussion of wayfinding, maps and media. See note at end.

The promise of an aerial dance display on the facade of St Paul’s Cathedral in September as part of a revived Bartholomew Fair has understandably captured the headlines in the Evening Standard.

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Corporation plans a spectacular City-wide Bartholomew Fair throughout September

Update: the Evening Standard has picked up on the plans saying “The city is increasingly trying to throw off its “nine to five” image and become a leisure destination for Londoners and others”

When Matthew Bell and I floated the idea of re-staging Bartholomew Fair (1123-1855) in the EC1 Echo last year little did we realise that the City Corporation would pick up the idea with such enthusiasm.

The agenda for next week’s Policy and Resources committee offers plans for a contemporary version of the Fair that includes a bespoke aerial performance on the exterior of St Paul’s Cathedral, and “a magical and engaging narrative projection trail through the City of London on building facades at six points across The City.”

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Revive Bartholomew Fair? Maybe it’s already happening in Culture Mile

Articles in the EC1Echo about reviving Bartholomew Fair in 2023 have attracted support. However, in lots of ways we already have an all-year Fair taking place in the many venues along the City of London’s Culture Mile.

Here’s a discussion paper on how we might combine a new Fair with promotion of those very varied activities, support the Barts 900 fund-raising plans of Barts Hospital and St Bartholomew’s the Great, and join with the Destination City campaign. Read the paper here.

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Restaging Bartholomew Fair on the ground and online

Update April 2023: The City Corporation are planning a spectacular City-wide Bartholomew Fair in September.

Next year Barts Hospital and St Bartholomew the Great celebrate 900 years of service. The Fair that was started to help fund their work became a huge success – but was eventually closed down for encouraging debauchery and public disorder. Can we we restaged a Fair suitable for today, both traditionally in Smithfield and using the online media we now have? Matthew Bell and David Wilcox floated the idea in the EC1 Echo.

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