Lelant market and fair

Maxwell Adams 2003

Version 2

Lelant was for some years in the middle ages the chief settlement of the bay. It had the mother church of the area, Saint Ives and Towednack being colony churches. Lelant had a market, two fairs, and was a port.

On 25 August 1296 at his Parliament in Berwick on Tweed Edward I, embroiled in a war against the Scots, granted to William de Botereaus and his heirs the right to hold a weekly market on Thursday at his manor, Lelant; and he also granted him the right to hold two fairs there each year (Calendar of the Charter Rolls 1257-1300, ii, 465). The first fair was on the day before, the day of, and the day after the Christian religious celebration called the Purification (1-3 February), and the other fair was on the same three days of the religious celebration called the Assumption (14-16 August). William de Botereaus was also permitted to keep and hunt rabbits in Lelant and on his other property In the calendar the village name is written La Nante. The Quo Warranto records show that the market and fairs were being held in 1302.

The market ceased at an unknown date, probably as sand caused Lelant to decline, and I imagine they soon worked out that February was not the best time of year to have a fair in Cornwall. However, an August fair appears to have continued well into the twentieth century. The medieval fair would have been an event of much excitement for villagers and people around about. As well as local produce and animals, they would have seen and bought goods not native to Lelant, cloths and spices for example, and suddenly for three days there would be colour all around, and there would be strangers, always seen as exciting, glamorous, or dangerous by villagers. There would be news and tales of other places, other people, other lives, real and imagined. Perhaps even those liaisons that people fall into. Lelanters would have a brief glimpse of a larger world. The fair was a market rather than the amusement of present days though amusement would have been had.

There is a long gap in our knowledge from the thirteenth to the eightenth century. We have only our imagination. The silence is broken by Boase who says briefly,"Lelant fair in 1792 on 15 August" (Boase, 1890, 1585). But nineteenth-century accounts are fuller.

There is an early nineteenth century account of it in the Royal Cornwall Gazette. It is unflattering but suggests a lively spirit in the village:

"A disgraceful scene of riot, we learn, took place last week at Lelant fair, where the standings were thrown down, windows broken, etc. The rioters were at length opposed and driven off, but some of them have been identified, and will be asked to answer for their conduct" (23 August 1823).

That "etc" is titillating. It could mean nothing, it could mean everything.

The fair is mentioned in the General survey of the county of Cornwall published in 1817. Also in the nineteenth century Cooke says that a fair is held at Lelant for cattle on 15 August each year (Cooke, 33). At the back of the Praed estate reference book of 1838 a note states that at the 15 August fair people sold cattle and pedlar's goods and Praed, the lord of the manor, got the tolls and dues (Rutger 1838).

A good description of it, which was in the middle of the nineteenth century largely an occasion to sell and buy farm animals, is given in the Royal Cornwall Gazette:

"Lelant Fair was held on Monday last. There was a good supply of fat and lean cattle which realised high prices, equal to any given for the summer; and there was a large number of horses, many of the best of which met with a ready sale at advanced prices, whilst the inferior ones hung heavily on the sellers' hands. A larger number of holiday folks attended than has been remembered for many years; it was a fine fair, and much business transacted. There appeared to be no lack of money" (20 August 1847).

There are annual fairs and largely annual accounts in the local newspapers throught this period.

The fair included amusements as well as the sale of animals; probably amusements had always been part of it. In 1881 it included "swing, steam roundabouts, a boxing saloon" and although there were no drinking booths "the inns had great takings" (Cornish Telegraph 25 August 1881, page 5). The Cornishman says there was "incessant rain" (18 August 1881, page 3). The reference to drinking and busy inns is interesting. The previous year Philip Kingwood-Allen of the Ship was charged with keeping late hours on fair day (West Briton 26 August 1880) which tells us much about life on the day and night of the fair. The fair was clearly a time for much merriment.

Where the fair was originally held is not known. In 1285, Edward I had declared in the Statute of Winchester that markets and fairs should not be held in church burial grounds. Lelant's were probably originally held near the church as that was then a centre of the settlement. Certainly in the nineteenth century the fair was at Lelant Cross, the crossroads around the Badger and the twentieth-century war memorial. At the beginning of the twentieth century the parish council decided to move the fair from The Cross to the green bank by St Uny's church because the road at The Cross was becoming too busy with traffic. Traffic and people endangered one another and the traffic was impeded (St Ives Weekly Summary 15 June 1901; Minutes of Lelant parish council 1 August 1901).

In 1903 the fair seemed poor but it was still seems primarily a market: "Lelant fair was held on Monday. There was a limited supply of animals and fruit was very scarce" (St Ives Weekly Summary 22 August 1903, page 7). However, in 1910 although there still seems to be sales there is a telling reference is to amusements: the fair was held near the church "but the roundabouts in Mr Friggens's field attracted a large number" (St Ives Weekly Summary 20 August 1910). The shift to largely amusements was underway.

Dorothy Meade (1972) captures the fair of the 1920s and 1930s, and there is now no mention of selling animals. It is an amusement not a market and still held on the grass bank in Church Road outside the church, sometimes stretching down to what is now called Stable Barn.

She recounts that there were stalls and prizes and twopenny " leaden tubes" from which you merrily squeezed water on people.

Meade says that in the 1930s the fair moved to a field next to Roach's garage, at the northwest end of the village on the main road to St Ives, what is now Oates.

After World War II there was a Lelant Carnival, basicallly a fancy dress competition, for a few years, held in that field on the western edge of the village. That ceased and around 1950 six hundred and fifty years of Lelant history ended silently and unnoticed.


Newspapers as cited in the text

BOASE George Clement (1890) Collectanea Cornubiensis Netherton and Worth, Truro page 1585).

Calendar of the Charter Rolls 1257-1300 (1906) HMSO, volume ii, page 465

COOKE GA (18..) Topographical and statistical description of the county of Cornwall Sherwood and Company, London

MEADE Dorothy (1972) Lelant that was: 1909 onwards CRO AD 1102/3

RUTGER I (1838) reference book of holdings: this relates to maps of the Praed estate which he copied from those made by Charles Moody in 1820, RIC HJ/5/4

Minute book of Lelant parish council, CRO B/St Ives 12
July 1901 "The chairman spoke of the removal of the fair from the Cross...and that it might be removed to the bank at the church..."
August 1901 Lelant parish council unanimously approved the removal of the fair to the church bank.