‘Weyhill Fair – the greatest fair in the Kingdom’
The date of the first Weyhill Fair may never be known, but the earliest record of what was the ‘largest and greatest’ fair in England is from the 13th Century. as described in the Magna Britannia 1720
Weyhill has its origins dating back to early Bronze Age and a Round-barrow on the fairground site also showed that there was evidence of a burial dating back to around 1500 BC. Within the same area were finds showing continuous settlement in the area through Roman and Saxon times.
Two important ‘primitive’ roads cross on the fairground site – the Harrow Way crosses from west to east; and the ‘Gold Road, runs from north to south. The Harrow Way (also known as the ‘Pilgrim’s Way) is an ancient road originating near Penzance in Cornwall and terminating on the downs near Dover in Kent, it was the road also which took the pilgrims to the shrine of Thomas a’ Beckett at Canterbury. The ‘Gold Road’ is the local name for a road that originates near Holyhead down to the South Coast and is made up of a network of pack roads and driftways, along which the Welsh and Irish gold was brought to be shipped to the continent. One part of the fairground was always known as Gold Street.
In all there are eight roads or ‘driftways’ which converge on the fairground site, bringing traffic from Farnham and the East, Winchester, Southampton, Salisbury and the West, Marlborough, Hungerford and Newbury.
Weyhill’s position made it an ideal site for a meeting of the travellers; a place where they could stop and trade their livestock and goods. It is still a meeting point for three parishes – Amport, Monxton and Penton Grafton. Weyhill Fair was described in 1720 in the great atlas ‘Magna Brittannia’ as “…..the greatest fair in the Kingdom”.
The author Daniel Defoe, described Weyhill as “…where the greatest fair for sheep is kept that this nation can show” and Thomas Hardy used Weyhill as the scene for the wife-selling incident in his book ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, renaming it as Weydon Priors.
Over the centuries Weyhill Fair grew from a local fair, servicing the needs of farmers and landowners to the equivalent of a huge ‘hypermarket’ where one could buy anything from a piece of ribbon to a made-to-measure suit and a thimble to a traction-engine.
William Cobbett, the great parliamentarian and orator, was a frequent visitor to the site and in his book ‘Rural Rides’, in 1826, noted that there were times when £300,000 were taken home by the sheep-dealers.
Weyhill could boast a sheep fair; a horse fair; a ‘beasts’ fair (where you could buy cattle, geese, and other animals; a cheese fair; a hiring or ‘mop’ fair; a hop fair and of course the expected pleasure fair. It became so large that Andover wanted its share of the profits and managed to incorporate it into one of the town’s charters, causing a legal battle during the 17th century that lasted from 1675 until 1688. The ensuing court cases brought Weyhill to prominence in the news giving the fair a rejuvenation that lasted almost a hundred years.
Latterly, thanks to the drive of the parish council at Penton Grafton, the Fairground site has been imaginatively restored and redeveloped. The appearance of the area today reflects a programme of careful restoration and a fresh vitality now abounds at The Fairground with the injection of new enthusiasm and determination.
Nowadays, a variety of high quality craft studios, shops, a superb gallery, an excellent tea room, a holistic salon and not forgetting the well equipped community hall, all work wonderfully well together to create this vibrant community.
Come and visit the Fairground Craft Centre for yourself – a warm welcome awaits.
Examine the history of the Fairground as shown on the unique and exclusive storyboards on the walls outside the studios.
We would like to give our thanks to Tony Raper, local author and historian, for providing the history of the fairground and for supplying these photographs.
Should you wish to learn more about the history, then you can purchase Tony's book, 'The Ancient and Famous Weyhill Fair'