Pinner is famous for its village fair
where once a year, St John the Baptist's Day,
shows all the climbing high street filled with stalls.
It is the feast day of the parish saint.
A mediaeval fair in Metroland. [John Betjeman, Metroland, 1973]
They don't hold Pinner Fair on June 24th any more, they hold it on the Wednesday after the late May bank holiday when all Harrow's kids are off school.
But it really is just one day, and it really does fill the streets, and it really is medieval, King Edward III having granted the fair a royal charter in 1336. And it's not just one road it's three, a full half mile of one-off revelry, a funfair on a surprisingly epic scale. It sets up Tuesday afternoon, wows the local population for a day and by Thursday it's a memory and the buses are running normally again.
Pick your ride and spend your money,
bouncy castle, mini planes,
Climb the stairs and pay your fiver,
Belt up, spin and jolt and scream,
Join your posse on the dodgems,
hurlers, swirlers, queues for all.
The nexus of the fair is the mini-roundabout by Red Lion Parade. On any normal day it's busy with traffic and turning buses but on Whit Wednesday the tarmac is invaded by multiple fairground rides and food stalls. The largest contraption is overseen by a fibreglass Jiminy Cricket and rotates forwards and backwards with bursts of air, while other machines rock from side to side or twirl in 3D. Teenagers queue with glee for the chance to be hurled around like the last aerial contingent they watched, or turn up on spec because you can't let your mates down can you. The biggest bottleneck is the stretch past WH Smith where even trying to duck behind the rides doesn't get you through any faster, and how great is it that a dead ordinary high street gets this massive transformation once a year.
Saint John oversees all from the head of the high street
A squat-towered guardian in robes of flint, but locked today,
Best watch the fete from the bench by the war memorial,
A gift from the Townswomen's Guild when hats were commonplace,
A historic tumble of stalls between half-timbered shopfronts,
Bequeathed from the past to the youth of today.
TheHighStreet is the quieter option, the safest place to bring small children with all the rides they like. Here are the small cars that rotate on a minimal track, the teacups that pretend to be waltzers and the extra-safe trampolines hanging from springy straps. Best not risk any damage to Pinner's Tudor shopfronts. The Queen's Head is doing a decent trade in alfresco plastic pints, the Turquoise Kitchen is doling out Turkish snacks from trays and tupperware, and Starbucks is catering for the dullards who'd rather not get involved. The uppermost ride is playing all the tracks on Michael Jackson's Thriller album on repeat, attracting nobody, while the mirror labyrinth has successfully enticed the less adventurous with nothing more than angled glass.
Summer sweethearts clutching prizes,
cuddly leopard, giant squid,
Kids with booty broadly beaming,
plastic dagger, tub of slime,
Throw a ball to win a minion,
Hook a tigger, hook a duck.
Bridge Street is heaving and it's only mid-afternoon, so imagine what it'll be like by the middle of the evening. Queue here to rise into the sky and spin above Boots the Chemist, queue here to cling to the rail of a rotating sofa with all your classmates outside Wenzels and queue here to whoosh in a loop past the Oddfellows Arms. The actual genuine Gypsy Maria Lee has arrived in her caravan and will tell your fortune like she did Princess Diana's. Round the back of the rides a multitude of cables snakes off towards anywhere they could plug them in, the Nationwide cashpoint is doing a roaring trade and bus stop D lies flat behind the Love Lane shelter waiting to be screwed back in tomorrow morning. Oxfam haven't bothered opening up today, there being far too many distractions, whereas at Ellement & Son the consultations go on because the business of funeral directing doesn't stop just because everyone else is having fun.
Feed the brood with fat and sugar,
cups of cheesy chips with sauce,
Burger bap with token salad,
candyfloss and bright blue slush,
Queue here for Miss Millie's churros,
candy strings and pic'n'mix.
The fair continues along Marsh Road above the hidden ripples of the river Pinn, then beneath and beyond the Metropolitan railway bridge. Here are the helium balloons and the games of alleged skill, like scoring a goal to win a football scarf or knocking down cans to win a giant loveheart bear. Here the air smells of dusted treats, fried potatoes and spitting pork because the streetfood revolution has yet reach zone 5. Here the uniform is Hoodrich, Hollister and Underarmour, or ribbed jackets and hair in ribbons, the crowd a complete cross-section of Harrow's modern demographic. And here are the final rides, the ghost train, the whirly water balls and the dodgems, and ultimately the barriers keeping the traffic and the problems of the world at bay.
Sir John never came to Pinner Fair when making his documentary, he left that to his film crew and only did the voiceover. Even today it's more a young person's event than a muse for pensioner poets, but I'm sure he'd love to have witnessed this great Middlesex tradition still filling the streets on a grand scale. By the time you read this the fair will have vanished for another year, its brief annual flowering extinguished overnight. But if you fancy a flutter of fun and can get time off midweek then stick Wednesday 29th May 2024 in your diary, because every London suburb deserves a charter fair but only Pinner is lucky enough to have one.