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Summercourt Fair

A K Hamilton Jenkin



Down to the sixties of the last century (1860s) it was still the custom for public-houses to remain open all night during the all important occasion of the local fair. As an old Cornishman once remarked 'Et belonged for everybody to git drunk on feerday ', and few there were who did not take full advantage of the licence granted them at such times by public opinion and the law. Outstanding amongst the great fairs of the county was Summercourt Fair, an event which is still held annually in the little wayside village of that name adjoining the china-clay district of mid-Cornwall.

The business side of this, as of other fairs, has largely declined of late years, and the crowds who still flock to it from all the surrounding country-side are chiefly attracted to-day by the varied round of amusements which it provides. Prior to the establishment of the official cattle markets, however, and the regular opportunities now offered to farmers for the disposal of their stock, Summercourt Fair was one of the chief meeting-places for cattle and horse dealers from all over the county. Here, amidst endless haggling, bickering, hilarity, and stubbornness, thousands of animals of every description annually changed hands, their owners frequently putting up in the village for several days in order to ensure the successful transaction of their business.



Hither also, in the olden days, came the unemployed farm labourers and maidservants, waiting to be hired; whilst scores of tradesmen and cheapjacks standing behind their stalls displayed wares of every description--boots, clothing, saddlery, cloam-ovens, pitchers, pans, bussas (earthenware pots), broth-basins, knives, forks, plates, ropes, brushes, ornaments, baskets, and other articles too numerous to mention. Quack doctors, then as now, flourished in abundance, their stock-in-trade consisting of sticking-plaster, pills, 'Dutch drops', and other wonderful nostrums so potent as to be 'positively guaranteed' to cure every ill from tic-douloureux to corns. Such was the persuasive oratory indeed, of these salesmen that many who stopped to listen to them out of curiosity, straightway found themselves afflicted with all manner of ailments, of whose very name they had previously been ignorant.

Beyond the cheapjacks lay the refreshment booths, at which were obtainable rumps and rounds of beef, hot and cold, bread and potatoes and last but not least, the 'boiled-roast' geese for which Summercourt or 'Old Fair' was erstwhile famous. These geese were killed and boiled a few days before the event, and when fair-day came were roasted over an open fire until they were nicely browned, a way of cooking which earned them the sobriquet by which they were known. Well satisfied with the feasting and drinking, the crowd would then turn their attention to the innumerable sideshows and entertainments, all of which were vociferously eager to win their patronage. These included Sanders's theatre, waxworks, marionettes, penny peeps, giants, dwarfs, and fat women not to mention the boxing and wrestling booths, which offered substantial prizes to those who were willing to display their athletic prowess.

As the result of these exercises and the continual drinking of beer and spirits which went on from early morning, the majority of those who attended the fair were glad to get home the same night. Some, however, spent one or two days in the vicinity, whilst a few took a whole week, returning home at last looking very crestfallen and dilapidated like an overdue ship, that has long been battling with storms and heavy weather.

For the benefit of the wives of such revellers, a local rhymester, Billy Treglase, used regularly to haunt the fair, singing the following verse of his own composition:

All the women of Summercourt Fair,
I 'll give 'ee advice, then you can beware.
If your man do drink too much beer or gin
You must scat 'un down with a rolling pin;
So, women, I hope you 'll follow this plan
If you should be plagued with a drunken man.


Originally published in 'Cornwall and the Cornish' 1933