diamond geezer

 Friday, July 04, 2008

Fairlop Fair
Come, come, my boys, with a hearty glee,
To Fairlop fair, bear chorus with me;
At Hainault forest is known very well,
This famous oak has long bore the bell.

Let music sound as the boat goes round,
If we tumble on the ground, we'll be merry, I'll be bound;
We will booze it away, dull care we will defy,
And be happy on the first Friday in July.
New Fairlop Oak, Fulwell CrossBack in the mid 18th century, every first Friday in July, much of east London decamped to the Essex countryside for a drunken knees-up. They headed to Fairlop, near Hainault, to feast and be merry under a great tree - the Fairlop Oak. Its branches were said to cast a midday shadow 300 feet in circumference, covering roughly an acre of land, and a seething mass of booths and stalls were laid out beneath its mighty span. This was Fairlop Fair, and over the decades it grew from a simple annual picnic into a tumultuous alcoholic riot. I'm not going to tell you the fair's full fascinating story, because you can read about that elsewhere. But it all began with a man buying bacon and beans for his friends.
      Mr. Day, a shipbuilder, wishing to have a day's outing in the forest with his friends and employees, fitted up a vessel on wheels, fully rigged, in which he conveyed his picnic party to Hainault Forest, on the outskirts of which, some distance from Ilford, stood the famous Fairlop Oak. The holiday became an annual custom, and gradually changed its character from the simple gathering of a master and his men into regular saturnalia; during which, each year, from the first Friday in July, over the ensuing Saturday and Sunday, riot and debauchery reigned supreme in the glades of the forest and the eastern districts of London.

      The example begat by Mr. Day was followed by other ship, boat, and barge builders, but of late years, more particularly by the mast and block makers, riggers, shipwrights, and shipyard labourers; and more recently still by the licensed victuallers. These ship and boat cars attract immense multitudes along the Mile End, Bow, and Whitechapel Roads, down as far as Aldgate; the crowd assemble in the morning to see the holiday people start on their expedition. The most remarkable sight, however, is at night, when the "boats" return lighted with coloured lanterns, red and green fires, &c.
The Fairlop Oak no longer stands. It was an extremely old tree even in the 1700s, and gradual decay set in as further years passed by. Huge branches broke free, the hollow trunk was burnt out by irresponsible picknickers, and gales in 1820 brought the remaining wood toppling to the ground. The fair continued nearby but it was never quite the same, and events dribbled to a close at the turn of the 20th century.

Fairlop WatersVisit the site of Fairlop Fair today, just off Forest Road in the borough of Redbridge, and you'll find a very different place of entertainment. A flooded landfill site has become a centre for watersports, on which brave boarders sail and in which silent anglers dangle. The water's edge is surrounded by a very suburban golf course, and the Fairlop Waters bar and restaurant serves up beer and spicy food to keen clubbers. Peer through the large glass windows and you can see the golf widows beached on the bright red sofas, waiting patiently for their beloveds to return from a lengthy 18-hole round. And not just on the first Friday in July, but every day of the week. Alas the tin hut hosting Al's Adventure House has closed down due to lack of investment, and visiting children no longer run beneath the waving alligator to enjoy two hours of playtime fun. No longer is this a debauched hotbed of annual East End revelry, more a conservative sport and steakhouse hideaway.

new Fairlop OakBut the past hasn't been completely forgotten. Walk west instead of east from Fairlop station and you'll reach the roundabout at Fulwell Cross. The most impressive sight here is the copper blancmange library, but look instead to the grass circle at the heart of the fiveways junction. Here, in 1951, a replacement Fairlop Oak was planted to commemmorate the festival of Britain. A plaque on the wall of the local oak-themed Wetherspoons remembers the old tree as well as the new. This replacement Quercus robur has grown quite a bit in the last 50 years, and now stands proud and tall amidst the traffic at the top of Barkingside High Road. I doubt very much that any East End revellers will journey to Fairlop today and cross to the central reservation to merrymake beneath its branches. But do raise a First Friday glass tonight for London's drunken heritage, for the right to party, and for Fairlop Fair.
So we'll dance round the tree, and merry we will be,
Every year we'll agree the fair for to see;
And we'll booze it away, dull care we'll defy,
And be happy on the first Friday in July.
(hic)


<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>


click to return to the main page


...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream