A town’s annual charter fair has been cancelled for the first time in its 739-year history, but a token stall will be set up to ensure the event retains its Royal Charter.

The Comet: One of the steam-powered merry-go-rounds pictured in 1907One of the steam-powered merry-go-rounds pictured in 1907 (Image: Archant)

The Stevenage Charter Fair has been held every year since King Edward I granted the town Royal Charter in 1281, giving the right to hold a weekly market and yearly fair for all time.

The fair usually takes place on September 22 and 23 - although the charter does stipulate it cannot be held on a Sunday - and sees the Old Town’s High Street crammed with fairground stalls and rides.

The main purpose of the early fairs was trade, with cloth, wool and wine merchants stopping off to sell their wares.

The fair continued through both world wars and the Black Death, but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the organisers to cancel the historic event for the first time ever.

The Comet: The helter skelter at the fair in 1907The helter skelter at the fair in 1907 (Image: Archant)

A spokesman said: “It is with great sadness we have come to a decision to cancel the fair. This is a safety measure due to the ongoing outbreak of the coronavirus. John Manning and Sons Fun Fair Amusements take the safety and wellbeing of their customers extremely seriously and this decision was not taken lightly.

“We would like to thank you for your understanding at this time and rest assured the fair will be back in Stevenage in the near future.”

Historian Pat Clarke says the idea a Royal Charter is cancelled if a fair does not run for a year is a long-standing urban myth, but a token stall will be set up in Stevenage High Street for the avoidance of doubt.

Stevenage writer and historian Hugh Madgin said: “The fair, whose creation marked the transformation of Stevenage from an insignificant village on a hill to a thriving town on a main road, will consist of just one attraction - a hoopla stall - this year.

The Comet: Stevenage Charter Fair in more recent times, with fairground rides and stallsStevenage Charter Fair in more recent times, with fairground rides and stalls (Image: Archant)

“The stall will be provided by the chief steward of Stevenage fair, 79-year-old Victor Harris, who has attended Stevenage fair all his life.

“It was Victor’s grandmother, Annie Smith, who kept the fair going during the Second World War, ensuring the charter did not fail owing to the fair not taking place.

“Victor will be present with his stall for a short period from 8.30am on Tuesday, September 22.”