Nostalgia: Horse play on St Valentine's Day

PUBLISHED: 12:22 16 February 2006 | UPDATED: 09:40 06 May 2010

At the horse fair

At the horse fair

BIGGLESWADE HORSE FAIR The ancient horse fair held on St Valentine s Day each year was at least 400 years old when it ended in 1958. This was a big event in the town at a time when horses were the main form of motive power for local farmers and market g

BIGGLESWADE HORSE FAIR

The ancient horse fair held on St Valentine's Day each year was at least 400 years old when it ended in 1958.

This was a big event in the town at a time when horses were the main form of motive power for local farmers and market gardeners.

In its heyday horses and dealers started to arrive at least two days beforehand. Stabling at every inn and establishment in the town was full to overflowing. Vendors of small wares, cheapjacks, street musicians and performers were in abundance.

The Great Northern Railway put on special trains, as there was easy access from the railway station.

Trade at local hostelries was good and with some participants and visitors worse for wear, there were the inevitable fights and minor accidents with horse drawn vehicles and people in close proximity.

Schoolchildren had the day off. It was the date for farmers and market gardeners to settle their accounts with local traders.

I remember that the weather always seemed to be cold with hard frost, sometimes with snow and sleet. But there were fine days as well.

When I attended the junior school in Church Street in the 1930s it was the time of year when we played marbles in the playground.

They were mainly made of clay, but some could afford 'glarnies' (glass marbles) and if you were lucky could win some of these. Hoops and tops were also popular.

The horse fair was already taking place in 1631.

In The Torrington Diaries (1789) the Hon John Byng recorded when visiting that "there were many lean kine and some nags with several slight of hand men and a learned pig".

The supply of horses first declined during World War I when many were requisitioned for overseas service.

There was a resurgence in the 1930s and 40s but then trade gradually declined until the final horse fair in 1958 was a poor shadow of former glories, never to return.

Potton Market Square was another local venue for a large horse fair with ancient origins, but it had a variable date towards the end of January. The last fair there was recorded in 1931.

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