Bampton Charter Fair

While researching events and activities for the kids near Exeter during the school holidays I came across a mention of Bampton Charter Fair. I was surprised I’d never heard of it before as apparently it’s quite well known and as old as the hills (almost). As the extensive “history” section of the official website explains:

“A Royal Charter was granted on 14th June 1258 to Master Osmund the rector of Bampton to hold an annual fair at the chapel of St.-Luke-Outside-the-Town on the “vigil, day, and the morrow” of Saint Luke (October 18th). The Charter did little more than recognise the existence of the fair, and to channel money from it in the direction of the king. The fair had been mentioned in 1212, and was very likely old then. It was held in the two fields adjoining the chapel, and was primarily for livestock.”

These days it’s less about the livestock and more about stalls selling a wide variety of products, plus musical performances and food. But this description of the old-style version is fascinating:

“Cattle always had a presence at the fair. Houses and shops were boarded up for the day, though not as a fence against the human element. There was one incident involving a cow walking into a tailor’s shop via the plate glass window. It later became an antique shop with a goodly quantity of chinaware(!). The public houses however, were in a somewhat different position. Their windows were constructed in such a way that they could be removed, complete with frame, for the fair, irrespective of weather or temperature. There was good reason for this. Sooner or later someone would become involved in a brawl and be cast bodily through the window. The lack of glass in the way made for a slightly safer flight, and a lot less mess and expense. The normally prim and tastefully furnished tea rooms became bare, the carpets being replaced with thick wads of paper or straw to cater for the mud and its constituents which clung to the boots of the clientèle.”

Sounds like it was a bit more fun in the olden days…

We drove up from Exeter on the morning of Thursday 30th October, parked in a field at the top of the town as the streets were closed to traffic that day, and walked back down, arriving just in time to catch the last couple of minutes of the traditional “Mummers’ play“.
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One of the cast members had started on the refreshments a little early.

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You can see the whole performance here on Youtube.

Elsewhere roaming musicians entertained the crowds.

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The market itself was a little disappointing. Here and there were a few interesting stalls offering local delicacies or crafts, but there was also a lot of tat and plastic crap. I couldn’t help but be reminded of this classic satirical video:

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There was a van for the kids to decorate with paint or chalk.

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Dartboard-style cheese displays.

I’m not sure exactly how old a comic needs to be for for it to be considered “Old Skool”. Maybe it’s just the fact that they’re printed and not in the form of an iPad app?

We bought some duck and plum sausages to take home for that night’s dinner.

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At the top end of town near the church was a small funfair with flashing lights and deafeningly loud music. The kids were permitted one ride before we moved on to check out the wood carving display. I was pretty tempted by the tall piece in the middle with the face carved into a branch.

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And the dog sculpture was quite realistic, especially compared to the bears and owls. A different artist, perhaps?

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There were more crafts and secondhand books inside the church, placed on large flat boards balanced across the pews.

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Next door was a pub/restaurant with a mouthwatering menu and stickers in the window from the Michelin guide. Sadly they weren’t serving food that day as they’d set up a stall outside offering just a few basics like burgers, so went went back down through the town to one of the food trucks we’d seen earlier. Sri Lanka has been on our minds recently as we’ve just booked a holiday there for this Christmas, so we were pleasantly surprised to see a Sri Lankan caterer offering her wares. We all tucked in and it was delicious (the kids liked theirs too). Now I’m even more excited about our upcoming visit.

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So, not a bad morning overall, although if it were me I’d try to restrict the number of stalls and discourage the cheap junk sellers. After all one of the main selling points of the event is the fact that it’s an ancient, traditional and local event, so it’d be nice to see that reflected more in the products on offer. It’s also worth noting that while the market itself is only on for one day there’s an “after” event with two days of performances by local musicians.