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St. Boswells Scotland

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Information on the village of St. Boswells in Scotland.

The Fair

The Fair is held annually on July 18th. This date is not a matter of chance, it being the Saint's Day of Boisil in the Gregorian calendar, which came into effect in 1752. Formerly, under the Julian calendar, it was July 7th.

The earliest mention of the Fair may well be that "on 7th July 1621 the Earl of Melrose gave permission for the Fair, originally held in the kirkyaird to be held in Lessudden Lone". This Earl of Melrose was originally Sir Thomas Hamilton of Priestfield who obtained all the lands and baronies belonging to the Abbey of Melrose. He became Lord Binning in 1613 and in 1619 was created Earl of Melrose. It would seem that prior to 1621 the Fair was held somewhere near the old church of St Boisil.

For many years the Fair was held on Maxton Haugh below the heights where Boisil's church stood. In 1743 the Tweed rose rapidly on July 18th and covered the Haugh to a depth of 2 feet, flooding the Fair. After that date the Fair was transferred to the Green.

Originally a sheep fair, the fair expanded to include cattle and horses. In the early 1900's it was not uncommon for there to be 1000 horses offered for sale. Before the early 19th century the fair was also a big wool market, at which the price was fixed for the year's "clip".

Having been a seven day event, by the 1820's it had shrunk to a one day event. The Green had been free ground for the seven days and during the six days prior to the 18th July, muggers and gypsies from all over Southern Scotland and as far south as Yorkshire gathered here. These visitors did not mix with the English, Irish and Scots settling on different parts of the Green.

The formal, specialist, caravan is a modern innovation; a lorry with hoops and a canvas covering under which to live was the norm. The two-wheeled horse-drawn float with a tarpaulin which reached the ground was also common.

Every vehicle had its dog, usually a lurcher, which trotted along quietly. They were used to catch rabbits and hares for the pot, which sat beside the fire burning in front of every caravan or tent.

The occupants of the vans etc were, for the most part, muggers - dealers in crockery, who visited the houses exchanging their goods for rags etc. They also sold clothes pegs, paper flowers and haberdashery, much of which they had made themselves during the long winter evenings when they were back at their home base. The women tended to the door-to-door selling while the men concentrated on the dealing in horses.

On the Green, the stalls which were usually boards on trestles, were topped with bright canvas. They stood between the old inn, near the Smiddy, and the main road, and were stocked with sweets, gingerbread men and other sweetmeats. On either side of the road were the entertainments - hobby-horses, hoopla, "try-your-strength" machines, coconut shies, shooting galleries, boxing booths and swings. And of course, the fortune teller, with her tent right opposite "The Buccleuch".
Cheap jacks did a roaring trade with their sleight of hand, selling purses, supposedly full of half-crowns for two shillings.

The stocks were always in evidence, but there is no record of their being used after 1880.

James Hogg, the Ettrick Shepherd, and Border poet of great renown, was invited to the Coronation of King George IV in 1820. On discovering that his attendance would mean missing St Boswells Fair, he declined the invitation. St Boswells Fair was that important.

The Fair, today, has shrunk to but a poor shadow of its former self, with only a few horses, the fortune teller and some side shows for the children.

See also: Willie Alchin Remembers: St Boswells Fair


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