Bartholomew Fair

This section under development. Pages here will cover

  • History of the Fair
  • The City’s plans for a spectacular Fair in September 2023
  • Any plans for a Fair in Smithfield

Bartholomew Fair was originally started in 1133 with a charter from King Henry I to fund the Priory of St Bartholomew, which would found Barts Hospital. This year both St Bartholomew the Great and the hospital are mounting Barts 900 fund-raising celebrations. More below on the history of the Fair.

Above is the Fair in West Smithfield, and below, the site now

In July 2022 councillor Matthew Bell – who lives in Cloth Fair – and David Wilcox proposed in the EC1 Echo re-staging the Fair, both on the ground and through online tours of the area.

In April 2023 the City Corporation released plans for their Destination City tourism programme to stage a contemporary version of the Fair through the City in September 2023.It will include 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.”

You can download a presentation about the Fair here.

Wayfinding, walks and tours

One element of the plans is to “Improve wayfinding by increasing awareness that the City is not individual buildings, but a collective of fascinating places to see, spend in and work at”.

That supports the aim to “drive footfall across The City, focusing on clusters of emotive and impactful activity that encourage attendance, discovery, dwell time and spend”.

Here’s a blog post with some ideas on how expanding and co-designing the idea of wayfinding might benefit City residents and visitors all year.

“Wayfinding” rather suggests better signposting – which is needed. However, far more could be achieved if maps and media were developed collaboratively with City guides and residents. That would help develop a shared understanding of the City of value to residents, workers and visitors.

The Bartholomew Fair proposals include Strand 3 – ‘Let’s Get Involved’ performances and workshops open to everyone, with a focus on engaging City resident, workers and local Londoners”.

At the moment it looks as if involvement will be offered during the Fair – but why not start earlier with some participatory mapping workshops to invite contributions both from specialists and any residents who may be interested.

That would help develop interest, allow the Destination City team to explain how things will run on the day, and deal with any concerns about disturbance.

How Bartholomew Fair might benefit City residents and visitors all year

History of the Fair

The City’s presentation about the Fair says:

“Bartholomew Fair was originally a cloth fair. Originally chartered as a three-day event, it would last a full two weeks in the 17th century. With a change in the calendar, the fair commenced on 3 September from 1753. A trading event for cloth and other goods as well as a pleasure fair, the event drew crowds from all classes of English society.
“It was customary for the Lord Mayor of London to open the fair on St Bartholomew’s Eve. The Mayor would stop at Newgate Prison to accept a cup of sack (fortified white wine) from the governor. The Merchant Taylors Guild processed to Cloth Fair to test the measures for cloth, using their standard silver yard, until 1854. The annual fair grew to become the chief cloth sale in the kingdom. By 1641, the fair had achieved international importance. It had outgrown the former location along Cloth Fair, and around the Priory graveyard to now cover four parishes: Christ Church, Great and Little St Bartholomew’s and St Sepulchre’s. The fair featured sideshows, prize-fighters, musicians, wire-walkers, acrobats, puppets, freaks and feasts”.

Blog posts

Here’s the most recent blog posts about Bartholomew Fair.