History of Benington Fair

John de Benstede came to be regarded as one of the finest Lords Benington Manor ever had, for it was he who, in 1305 applied for and was granted permission to hold a yearly fair on the feast of St Peter and St Paul. At the same time, permission was also given to hold a weekly market. Until 20 years before the grant was made, fairs of a similar nature were sometimes held in the churchyard, but with the grant, they were moved to the village green. The market and fair were confirmed by Richard II in 1380 and by Henry VIII in 1531, continuing on the same spot year after year for more than 600 occasions.

Benington was then a market town, and as a greater number of people were collected together then than at any other time, both for business and religious purposes, so the arrangement provided a profitable income for the Manor, Lord and priest alike.

They were rumbustious events in medieval times, primarily a centre for trading, with merchants gathering from surrounding districts and as far away as London, selling all manner of articles. A town crier opened the fairs with a careful protestation on behalf of the Lord of the Manor of his loyalty to the current reigning monarch.

There were sideshows such as tightrope walkers, puppet shows, downs, wrestling, performing bears, tumblers and marvellously faked spectacles, such as 'a man with one head and two bodies', probably two hirelings walking in unison with a wax headpiece crowning their efforts - all the fun of the fair!

There were stocks to keep the local youths in order and on the spot trials of vagabonds were held by magistrates.

Historian Cussens wrote, in the middle of the last century, that Benington Fair was one of the few that had not been suppressed during the previous 20 years, adding:

"A more picturesque scene than Benington Fair as it now exists, cannot be imagined... the entertainment is not, it must be admitted, of a very intellectual nature, but it thoroughly comes up to the expectations and desires of those for whom it is designed and is certainly far less debasing than many of the exhibitions presented at the London theatres with the adjuncts of brilliant lights and half-nude women, patronised by the same 'respectable' people who would suppress all innocent, though perhaps unrefined, country amusements in which they take no pleasure themselves."

It is recorded in the school records that Reverend Mills, son of Canon Mills, gave the children of Benington School one penny each to spend at the fair.

Although St Peter's day is on 29 June, the fair was always held on 10 July. This was because when 11 days were lost in 1750 due to the revision of the calendar, it was decided to ignore this revision and the village continued to hold the fair on 10 July.

The fair continues to be held to this day on or around the second Saturday in July.

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This text is taken from the book: "BENINGTON - a collection of historical anecdotes of a Hertfordshire village"
by Eve Duncan and is available from St Peter's Church, Benington



Benington Village Fair