© Bere Regis Village  2003  -  2017

The History of Woodbury Hill

Fair

Bere Regis Village Website Bere Regis Village website
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THE   IRON AGE   fortifications   of   Woodbury   Hill   and   its   possible   occupations   during   the   Roman   period   have   already   been dealt   with,   but   in   later   times   a   chapel   known   as   the Anchoret's   Chapel   was   built   on   Woodbury's   flat   top   near   the   western edge.   The   date   of   the   foundation   of   this   chapel   is   not   known,   but   it   is   known   to   have   existed   in   the   15th   century   when   it is   referred   to   in   Dean   Chandler's   register   of   visitations,   in   which   John   Sperhauk   is   quoted   as   chaplain   of   Woodbury   in 1408, and John Hyde in 1411. Little   more   is   known   of   the   chapel   except   that   its   foundations   were   still   visible   in   about   1770.   In   association   with   the   chapel   was   a   very   deep   well, necessarily   so   on   Woodbury   Hill,   known   as   the   Anchorets   Well,   in   which,   according   to   tradition,   a   golden   table   or   tablet   had   once   been   hidden. The   well   was   also   reputed   to   have   produced   water   having   remarkable   healing   properties   (perhaps   due   to   the   tablet?)   and   for   this   reason   large numbers of people made annual pilgrimages to the well on 21 September, the date of its dedication, to drink the water. These   annual   gatherings   were   probably   responsible   for   the   origin   of   the   fair,   as   it   was   always   held   during   the   week   in which   21   September   fell,   and   it   seems   likely   that   such   large   gatherings   would   have   attracted   prospective   salesmen   and entertainers. There   is   a   tradition   that   the   fair   originated   through   a   travelling   trader   in   cloth,   who   having   been   drenched   by a heavy storm, stopped on Woodbury Hill to spread and dry his soaked cloth. Passers   by,   seeing   the   cloth   laid   out   in   this   way   assumed   it   was   for   sale,   and   in   a   short   while   the   trader   had   disposed   of   his   stock   with   little   effort. He   returned   again   the   following   year   with   the   same   result   and   repeated   it   annually   when   other   traders   began   to   follow his   example   until   the   trade   grew   to   sufficient   proportions   to   rank   as   a   fair   and   warrant   a   charter.   This   traditional   story seems   likely   enough   when   considered   in   the   light   of   the   annual   pilgrimages   to   the   well.   The   trader's   first   visit   probably coincided   by   chance   with   the   large   gathering   at   the   well   on   21   September,   as   he   would   be   unlikely   to   have   met   many prospective   purchasers   on   any   other   day   of   the   year,   and   it   would   also   account   for   his   returning   in   a   year's   time presumably on the same date. Whatever   the   origin   of   the   fair   may   have   been   it   certainly   developed   into   the   largest   in   the   south   of   England,   and   on   what must   have   been   one   of   the   most   unusual   and   dramatic   of   fair   sites-the   flat   top   of   an   Iron Age   hill   fort   about   350   feet   (105 metres)   above   sea   level,   and   some   13   acres   (5   hectares)   in   extent.   The   fair   probably   originated   well   before   the   year 1200,   but   charters   for   it   are   known   to   have   been   granted   by   Henry   III   in   1231,   1235   and   1266   and   confirmed   by   King Edward   II   in   1325.   The   fair   began   to   decline   during   the   18th   century,   as   the   tolls   which   had   formerly   amounted   to   over £100   each   year   had   decreased   to   £30   or   £40   by   1730.   In   later   times   the   trading   side   of   the   fair   had   almost   disappeared   until   in   1938,   after   more than   700   years,   it   had   become   a   two   day   fair   of   entertainments   only.   After   being   discontinued   during   the   1939-45   war   it   was   revived   for   a   few years until 1951 but has not been held since. The fair used to last for five days from September 18-22, and each day was set aside for a particular purpose as follows: 1.   Wholesale   Day.   As   its   name   implies,   mainly   for   the   benefit   of   wholesale   traders.   On   the   remaining   days   retail   trade was carried on. 2.   Gentlefolk's   Day.   Devoted   largely   to   entertainments.   On   this   day   oysters   were   traditionally   eaten,   and   even   today oyster shells may be found under the turf on the hill. 3. Allfolks Day. A day of general dealing and entertainments with popular appeal. 4. Sheep fair Day. Particularly for dealing in sheep, cattle, horses and other livestock. 5. Pack and Penny Day, when all the unsold goods remaining were offered at reduced prices. The   first   roast   pork   of   the   season   was   always   obtainable   at   the   fair,   and   several   local   inhabitants   took   out   special   licences   to   sell   liquor   for   this one week of the year, in addition to that obtainable from the permanent public house on the hill. Although   cheese,   hops,   cloth,   cattle,   sheep   and   horses   were   among   the   main   commodities   dealt   in   at   the   fair,   almost anything   else   could   be   bought   or   sold   there.   As   an   example   of   the   variety   of   merchandise   available,   there   is   an   item concerning   Woodbury   in   the   accounts   of   Corfe   Castle   for   the   year   1282.   In   this   year,   during   the   Festival   of   the   Nativity   of the   Virgin   Mary   (the   week   in   which   the   fair   was   held)   news   came   that   the   King   was   expected   to   visit   Corfe   at   short notice,   so   that   building   repair   and   alteration   works   then   in   progress   were   hurriedly   finished,   any   materials   still   required being   purchased   locally   as   far   as   was   possible.   Various   items   of   ironmongery   were   obtained   at   Woodbury   Hill   fair   in   connection   with   this   work, including great iron spike nails, locks and keys. Four great locks with keys cost 4s. In   its   heyday   the   fair   attracted   thousands   of   visitors   each   day   and   traders   came   from   as   far   a   field   as   Birmingham, Norwich,   Exeter,   Bristol   and   London,   as   well   as   from   most   of   Dorset   and   neighbouring   counties.   Visitors   flocked   to   the fair   from   all   the   surrounding   towns   and   villages,   whether   to   conduct   serious   business   or   simply   for   pleasure,   and   most farm   workers   in   the   locality   were   given   a   day   off   to   attend-about   the   only   day's   holiday   they   had   during   the   whole   year. Dorchester   was   said   to   have   been   practically   deserted   during   the   week   of   the   fair,   and   the   effect   on   Bere   Regis   must have   been   rather   the   reverse.   For   days   before   the   fair   the   roads   and   lanes   around   the   village   were   thronged   with   people, goods   and   animals,   particularly   sheep,   being   driven   to   the   fair,   and   the   whole   period   was   quaintly   referred   to   as   Woodburytyde   in   the   old churchwardens account book of 1682-1740. By   the   end   of   the   19th   century   the   fair   had   declined   considerably   from   its   former   importance,   but   was   still   a   thriving   two day   event   of   principally   entertainments.   From   the   old   parish   magazines   we   find   that   when   the   two   fair   days   adjoined   or occurred   on   either   side   of   Sunday,   as   they   did   in   1895,   an   open   air   Service   was   normally   held   on   the   hill   on   the   Sunday afternoon. The   Church   Itinerant   Mission   usually   seems   to   have   attended   the   fair   each   year,   when   a   tent   was   provided   as a   schoolroom   so   that   lessons   could   be   given   to   the   children   of   the   stall   proprietors   and   others,   and   over   40   of   such children attended this improvised schoolroom in 1895. In   the   18th   century   there   were   a   number   of   permanent   buildings   on   the   hill   used   each   year   in   connection   with   the   fail, arranged   mainly   on   either   side   of   the   central   concourse.   These   buildings   probably   formed   the   basis   for   some   of   the cottages   later   built   on   the   site,   as   some   of   these   fair   buildings   were,   in   1788,   used   as   temporary   accommodation   for families   made   homeless   by   the   disastrous   village   fire   in   June   of   that   year,   and   no   doubt   the   temporary   accommodation became permanent in a number of cases.
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© Bere Regis Village  2003  -  2017

The History of Woodbury

Hill Fair

Bere Regis Village Website
Click / tap image for a larger view Click / tap T on image for more text - L to enlarge image
THE    IRON    AGE    fortifications    of    Woodbury    Hill    and    its    possible occupations   during   the   Roman   period   have already   been   dealt   with,   but   in   later   times   a chapel   known   as   the   Anchoret's   Chapel   was built   on   Woodbury's   flat   top   near   the   western edge.    The    date    of    the    foundation    of    this chapel   is   not   known,   but   it   is   known   to   have existed   in   the   15th   century   when   it   is   referred   to   in   Dean   Chandler's register   of   visitations,   in   which   John   Sperhauk   is   quoted   as   chaplain   of Woodbury in 1408, and John Hyde in 1411. Little   more   is   known   of   the   chapel   except   that   its   foundations   were   still visible   in   about   1770.   In   association   with   the   chapel   was   a   very   deep well,   necessarily   so   on   Woodbury   Hill,   known as   the   Anchorets   Well,   in   which,   according   to tradition,   a   golden   table   or   tablet   had   once been   hidden.   The   well   was   also   reputed   to have     produced     water     having     remarkable healing   properties   (perhaps   due   to   the   tablet?)   and   for   this   reason large   numbers   of   people   made   annual   pilgrimages   to   the   well   on   21 September, the date of its dedication, to drink the water. These   annual   gatherings   were   probably   responsible   for   the   origin   of the   fair,   as   it   was   always   held   during   the   week in    which    21    September    fell,    and    it    seems likely   that   such   large   gatherings   would   have attracted        prospective        salesmen        and entertainers.   There   is   a   tradition   that   the   fair originated    through    a    travelling    trader    in    cloth,    who    having    been drenched   by   a   heavy   storm,   stopped   on   Woodbury   Hill   to   spread   and dry his soaked cloth. Passers   by,   seeing   the   cloth   laid   out   in   this   way   assumed   it   was   for sale,   and   in   a   short   while   the   trader   had   disposed   of   his   stock   with   little effort.   He   returned   again   the   following   year with   the   same   result   and   repeated   it   annually when     other     traders     began     to     follow     his example    until    the    trade    grew    to    sufficient proportions   to   rank   as   a   fair   and   warrant   a charter.    This    traditional    story    seems    likely enough   when   considered   in   the   light   of   the   annual   pilgrimages   to   the well.   The   trader's   first   visit   probably   coincided   by   chance   with   the   large gathering   at   the   well   on   21   September,   as   he   would   be   unlikely   to   have met   many   prospective   purchasers   on   any   other   day   of   the   year,   and   it would   also   account   for   his   returning   in   a   year's   time   presumably   on   the same date. Whatever   the   origin   of   the   fair   may   have   been   it   certainly   developed into   the   largest   in   the   south   of   England,   and   on   what   must   have   been one   of   the   most   unusual   and   dramatic   of   fair   sites-the   flat   top   of   an   Iron Age    hill    fort    about    350    feet    (105    metres) above    sea    level,    and    some    13    acres    (5 hectares)     in     extent.     The     fair     probably originated    well    before    the    year    1200,    but charters    for    it    are    known    to    have    been granted   by   Henry   III   in   1231,   1235   and   1266   and   confirmed   by   King Edward   II   in   1325. The   fair   began   to   decline   during   the   18th   century,   as the   tolls   which   had   formerly   amounted   to   over   £100   each   year   had decreased   to   £30   or   £40   by   1730.   In   later   times   the   trading   side   of   the fair   had   almost   disappeared   until   in   1938,   after   more   than   700   years,   it had    become    a    two    day    fair    of    entertainments    only.    After    being discontinued   during   the   1939-45   war   it   was   revived   for   a   few   years   until 1951 but has not been held since. The   fair   used   to   last   for   five   days   from   September   18-22,   and   each   day was set aside for a particular purpose as follows: 1.    Wholesale    Day.    As    its    name    implies,    mainly    for    the    benefit    of wholesale traders. On the remaining days retail trade was carried on. 2.     Gentlefolk's     Day.     Devoted     largely     to entertainments.    On    this    day    oysters    were traditionally    eaten,    and    even    today    oyster shells may be found under the turf on the hill. 3.   Allfolks   Day.   A   day   of   general   dealing   and entertainments with popular appeal. 4.   Sheep   fair   Day.   Particularly   for   dealing   in   sheep,   cattle,   horses   and other livestock. 5.   Pack   and   Penny   Day,   when   all   the   unsold   goods   remaining   were offered at reduced prices. The   first   roast   pork   of   the   season   was   always   obtainable   at   the   fair, and   several   local   inhabitants   took   out   special   licences   to   sell   liquor   for this    one    week    of    the    year,    in    addition    to    that    obtainable    from    the permanent public house on the hill. Although   cheese,   hops,   cloth,   cattle,   sheep   and   horses   were   among the   main   commodities   dealt   in   at   the   fair,   almost   anything   else   could   be bought   or   sold   there.   As   an   example   of   the   variety   of   merchandise available,   there   is   an   item   concerning   Woodbury   in   the   accounts   of Corfe   Castle   for   the   year   1282.   In   this   year, during   the   Festival   of   the   Nativity   of   the   Virgin Mary   (the   week   in   which   the   fair   was   held) news   came   that   the   King   was   expected   to visit    Corfe    at    short    notice,    so    that    building repair   and   alteration   works   then   in   progress were   hurriedly   finished,   any   materials   still   required   being   purchased locally   as   far   as   was   possible.   Various   items   of   ironmongery   were obtained   at   Woodbury   Hill   fair   in   connection   with   this   work,   including great   iron   spike   nails,   locks   and   keys.   Four   great   locks   with   keys   cost 4s. In   its   heyday   the   fair   attracted   thousands   of   visitors   each   day   and traders    came    from    as    far    a    field    as    Birmingham,    Norwich,    Exeter, Bristol   and   London,   as   well   as   from   most   of   Dorset   and   neighbouring counties.   Visitors   flocked   to   the   fair   from   all the   surrounding   towns   and   villages,   whether to    conduct    serious    business    or    simply    for pleasure,    and    most    farm    workers    in    the locality   were   given   a   day   off   to   attend-about the    only    day's    holiday    they    had    during    the whole   year.   Dorchester   was   said   to   have   been   practically   deserted during   the   week   of   the   fair,   and   the   effect   on   Bere   Regis   must   have been   rather   the   reverse.   For   days   before   the   fair   the   roads   and   lanes around   the   village   were   thronged   with   people,   goods   and   animals, particularly   sheep,   being   driven   to   the   fair,   and   the   whole   period   was quaintly    referred    to    as    Woodburytyde    in    the    old    churchwardens account book of 1682-1740. By   the   end   of   the   19th   century   the   fair   had   declined   considerably   from its    former    importance,    but    was    still    a    thriving    two    day    event    of principally   entertainments.   From   the   old   parish   magazines   we   find   that when   the   two   fair   days   adjoined   or   occurred   on   either   side   of   Sunday, as   they   did   in   1895,   an   open   air   Service   was normally    held    on    the    hill    on    the    Sunday afternoon.     The     Church     Itinerant     Mission usually   seems   to   have   attended   the   fair   each year,     when     a     tent     was     provided     as     a schoolroom   so   that   lessons   could   be   given   to   the   children   of   the   stall proprietors   and   others,   and   over   40   of   such   children   attended   this improvised schoolroom in 1895. In   the   18th   century   there   were   a   number   of   permanent   buildings   on   the hill   used   each   year   in   connection   with   the   fail,   arranged   mainly   on either   side   of   the   central   concourse.   These   buildings   probably   formed the   basis   for   some   of   the   cottages   later   built on   the   site,   as   some   of   these   fair   buildings were,      in      1788,      used      as      temporary accommodation   for   families   made   homeless by   the   disastrous   village   fire   in   June   of   that year,   and   no   doubt   the   temporary   accommodation   became   permanent in a number of cases.
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