Cambridge and Stourbridge Fair – how the book was written

Honor Ridout lives in Haslingfield and is an expert on the subject of Cambridge and its history. She has recently published a book on the subject of Cambridge and Stourbridge fair. We asked if she would like to put an article on the web site about the book. The book is available in good bookshops and on line. This is what she wrote.

“Thanks for this kind offer. Back in 2005 I gave a talk to the Haslingfield WI about Stourbridge Fair, and I think then I was despairing of ever finishing writing my little book about it. Well, finally I did, as you saw.

Ever since I started reading up Cambridge history, the Fair fascinated me. It was always mentioned (‘possibly the biggest in Europe’), and the list of commodities sold  was quite amazing. The sums of money said to have changed hands were enormous – millions in today’s money – so it was obviously a major event in the Cambridge calendar. Despite this, other visitors to the town in those distant days said it was a pretty shabby place, very congested (what changes?) and lacking any redeeming features. Except the Colleges, of course. I decided to try to find out why there was this contrast, and what happened to the money that people should have been making hand over fist. So I started to burrow in the Cambridge Archives and the Cambridgeshire Collection in the Central Library but soon realised that the Fair was big because it drew people from across the country to buy and sell. I needed to spread my researches further afield. This took time, and then I realised I would never track down all the information that might be out there. So when 2011 came in sight, the 800th anniversary of the Fair’s original charter, I knew I had to publish what I had found, even if incomplete. There was no shortage of stuff for the little book. From those massive sales of wool, cloth, cheese, hops and horses drawing sellers from the Midlands, Lancashire and Yorkshire, to the kitchen equipment bought for a newly-married couple in the seventeenth century, there was lots of detail. I learnt about the barrels of oysters consumed at the Fair, and how the shells are still found in Stourbridge Common and Garlic Row. I could have filled the book with the lists of the theatre programmes from the Fair, but I made do with just one.

There is always more history to find out there, whether it’s the Fair, Cambridge  or Cambridgeshire in general. I hope others will be encouraged to go and look for it.

Honor Ridout

Chair, Cambridgeshire Association for Local History”

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