EC1 Echo and Bartholomew Fair

The EC1 Echo was first to promote publicly the idea of restaging Bartholomew Fair, in its edition of June-July 2022.

Flip through the edition. Click/touch X above for full screen, if showing. Alternatively download to view under three dots. 

Here’s the articles by Matthew Bell and David Wilcox. Text below.

Matthew provided an update in June 2023

Links

Text of EC1 Echo articles

Article by Matthew Bell, City Councillor

There is a move to try to resurrect Bartholomew Fair, which used to take place around the 24th August every year. 

With a group working to the same end, we are hoping that it will be up and running in time for the 900th celebrations next year of Rahere, the monk who founded St Bartholomew’s the Great and St Bartholomew’s Hospital

The Fair ran from 1133 until 1855. It started in Cloth Fair and the churchyard of St Bartholomew the Great, east of Smithfield Market (when the market was on open field, long before it was housed in the building it is now). The fair grew over the years to take in a much larger space around St Bart’s Hospital

In its heyday, Bartholomew Fair had become an important holiday event. The making and selling of cloth was of enormous importance for British exports in this period of growing Empire and the Fair became the most important international place for all sorts of British cloth to be sold. Bartholomew Fair soon also became a thriving and fun-packed long weekend of all sorts of events and pleasures obtainable for a price, drawing people from far and wide – including some of the Rabelaisian figures to be seen in these contemporary illustrations, such as the contortionist John Clark the Posture Master, able to turn his feet to face each other, dancer Phillips the Merry Andrew, and Mrs Allen the Horned Woman. 

By 1855, it had all got far too fun-packed for the Victorians and it was closed down.

We are now thinking there are new ways that Bartholomew Fair can be brought into the 21st Century – and which would have blown Rahere’s mind.

A small group of us including St Bart’s the Great, St Barts Hospital, and City of London Corporation are contacting various Livery Companies who were historically connected with the fair to try to drum up some interest in its revival. As well as resurrecting the Fair, we have long felt that it would be tremendous to have augmented reality for smartphones in places like Cloth Fair and the Guildhall amphitheatre. Our neighbour and colleague (and EC1 Echo contributor, see page 13) suggested that it would be a great way of making the Bartholomew Fair a virtual event – which is an exciting possibility.

Article by David Wilcox

Writes David Wilcox: Re-starting Bartholomew Fair in 2023, as Matthew Bell suggests, will be a great way to bring together residents, visitors and workers in one of London’s most historic neighbourhoods, now part of the City’s Culture Mile.

Here’s an ambitious vision of what a fair might be like in the digital age. In the spirit of the original fair much can be achieved by harnessing local skills and resources. In this case that’s the residents, Livery companies, organisations and businesses in the City and nearby Clerkenwell. That collaboration can also support plans for the City’s new Culture Mile Business Improvement District, and Creative Communities programme.

In 2023 the Fair doesn’t have to be limited to a few days in August or available only to those who can visit the area. During the Fair events could be livestreamed. Culture Mile venues offer a lot of activities online, and we can build on that.

We can develop augmented reality experiences, so that visitors to the area can use their smartphones to match images from today with historic images and information. We can draw on the resources of the London Metropolitan Archives and Museum of London – which pioneered the StreetMuseum app 2010. Local creative agency Shift has developed Historypin, which allows you to embed historic photos in today’s settings.

We can demonstrate how to make audio and video walks that anyone with a smartphone can create, contributing to a Museum of the Streets (removed in edit).

Developing the virtual Bartholomew Fair offers lots of opportunities for professionals to work with local residents, schools and students and we can build on the maps, data and media that I have assembled for the Exploring EC1 project. The Layers of London mapping website offers maps of the area from 1270 to the present day.

As well as maps and media showing the Fairground today, we might be able to create a virtual fairground of stalls and performance spaces – and the old phrase “meet me at Bartholomew Fair” could be bought up to date.

If you are interested in helping me develop the virtual Bartholomew Fair, please get in touch at david@socialreporter.com.

Credits

These prints of Bartholomew Fair courtesy of London Metropolitan Archives(LMA), available to view to view at London Picture Archive website along with 250,000 images www.londonpicturearchive.org.uk. Located in Clerkenwell, LMA is London’s historical archive providing free access to millions of documents, films and images from 1067 to now. Its exhibition Magnificendt Maps of London, runs until 26 October. See www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/lma


Update by Matthew Bell June 2023

There is something big to look forward to in September. Dust off your ducking stools – Bartholomew Fair is returning to the City of London after 168 years. 

When David Wilcox and I wrote last year about re-starting Bart’s Fair, which had run from 1133 and was closed down in 1855, we hoped that it would be taken up by the City of London in time for the 900th anniversary of St Bart’s this year. David had done some fantastic work on ‘Museum of the Streets’ and was keen for the Fair to take in some developing digital ideas. Meanwhile, I had spoken to masses of people, including Livery companies, local residents and businesses and everyone agreed it was a tremendous idea. 

When the City of London’s ‘Destination City’ officially started late last year, I ensured that the Bartholomew Fair relaunch was on the desk of the new Director the morning she took office. As a Councillor in the City, I am used to things taking a long time to process, so it is with some degree of surprise (and excitement) that we are able to write that it was rubber stamped by the Corporation last month and is due to happen this September. 

The plan is that it will once again, become an annual event. 

As the Corporation is keen to have events that take in the whole of the Square Mile, it is no longer a local fair but now a City-wide extravaganza. At the time of going to press, the dates are not precise but it will be from around August 30th to the end of September. 

This does not leave much time of course and there is much to do. While the City are planning a website to go with the festival type feel, David Wilcox is creating a more neighbourhood-focussed one at bartsfair. city initially concentrating on our EC1 area.