One of England's most popular fairs started in 1133 Barthomew Fair (Smithfield, London) when King Henry l granted a charter for it to be held. Usually it commenced on St. Batholomew's Day (24th August.) By the reign of Charles ll, it ran for a fortnight. The fair became a by-word for 'Summer Fun and laughter' Unfortunately, pickpockets, rogues and tricksters also visited to carry out their skullduggery on the unwary and country yokels.
Ben Johnson (author, comedian, alchemist, and Poet (whom some think to be the greatest English Dramatist other than Shakespeare,) wrote a play about the merriment to be had at this event, called 'Bartholomew Fayre: A Comedy;' which was first performed in October 1614.
The characters included, ' John Little-Wit, Zeal-of-the-Land-Busy, Quarlous, Moon-Calf, Trouble All, Wasp and Costard- Monger (the 1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue defined costard as a variety of apple; monger means seller) along with puppets.'
Plays and ballads were an extremely popular form of entertainment.A nursery rhyme 'the Grand old Duke of York' is thought to have originally been named after Richard Tarlton
( 1530 - 1588, author, wit and comedian.)
William Wordsworth (the English Romantic Poet (visit the Wordsworth Trust site here) in 1805 wrote about his visit to the fair "....
Holden where Martyrs suffered in past time,
And named of Saint Bartholomew; there, see
A work that’s finished to our hands, that lays,
If any spectacle on earth can do,
The whole creative powers of man asleep! …
…What a hell
For eyes and ears! what anarchy and din
Barbarian and infernal, – ’tis a dream,
Monstrous in colour, motion, shape, sight, sound!.."
Click here to play Old Tarlton's Song on The Shellies Balloons.
Authors Ian and Marie.