Glasgow Fair

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The Northern Looking Glass Sp Coll Bh14-x.8

Special Collections will be closed on Monday 18th July for the Glasgow Fair.

The Glasgow Fair is a public holiday held by the city each July. The Fair began its life in the 12th century, originally as an eight day period during which merchants and dealers could trade under the King’s protection without paying tolls. At this time the Fair, held within the boundaries of Glasgow cathedral, took the form of a large market primarily concerned with the buying and selling of goods and livestock. From the 1800’s onward the Fair was held at Glasgow Green, where it evolved into our modern understanding of a fair, with attractions such as; circuses, fairground rides, shows and amusements. The festivities traditionally began on ‘Fair Friday’, a shortened working day that allowed employees to begin their holiday early.

From the late 18th century, industrial workers were given their annual holiday during the week of the Fair – going ‘doon the watter’ on a paddle steamer for visits to the coast became popular during this time. For many, the week-long holiday was extended to two weeks after the First World War. This tradition held strong until the the 1960’s, when industries associated with the holiday began to close, and the working year became more standardised across the UK. The name however has been preserved in the form of a long weekend including a bank holiday Monday, which many Glaswegians still enjoy today.

Further insight can be gained from the pamphlet entitled Guide to Glasgow Fair (Sp Coll Mu22-c.7). Printed in the 1850’s, the booklet highlights some of the Fair’s attractions, these included:

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The Northern Looking Glass Bh14-x.8

Professor Anderson’s Magic Temple – ‘Here we have the great Wizard of the North again, and not among the least wondrous of his feats is his planning and conception of the novel and capacious structure, in which his mystic wonders are performed. The ample frontage of two hundred feet is imposing in the extreme, and is a beautiful representation of Balmoral Castle’

Chinese Collection – ‘This novel and brilliant collection of Chinese curiosities is now exhibiting on the Green to crowded and pleased audiences. The visitor, on entering the Collection, is at once arrested with the gorgeousness and dazzling grandeur of the scene’

Wombwell’s Menagerie – ‘Glasgow Fair would not have been complete without a menagerie … [it] is complete in all its departments, including beasts, birds and reptiles, of every variety’

Franconi’s Castle – ‘This elegant and capacious Equestrian Establishment is situated at the foot of Maxwell Street, and comprises, among its corps, some of the most famed equestrian artistes in Europe’

Such a strong citywide tradition inevitably inspired many popular songs and poems to be produced for mass consumption. A few examples of such works can been seen in Special Collections. These two ballads, Glasgow Fair on the banks o’ the Clyde and The Week after the Fair, were printed in 19th century broadsides.

mu23y1_22 glasgow fair broadside ballads

Glasgow Fair on the banks o’ the Clyde and The week after the Fair Mu23-y.1

Special Collections will reopen on Tuesday 19th July at 9am.


Further reading:

The humours of Glasgow Fair : a new song

Gallimaufry on Glasgow fair

Glasgow Broadside Ballads


Categories: Library, Special Collections

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