The St Ives Michaelmas Fair and the ceremony of "Throwing the Pennies"
Holding markets and fairs in the centre of St Ives has been going on since the town was called Slepe. Since the time of King John, St Ives has held a Royal Charter granting rights to hold a fair in the town at Michaelmas although doing so has not been without its problems and dissenters. However the fact that it is still going on today proves that the overall majority of the townsfolk are in favour of it continuing for a few more years.
So what happens now? Well first thing is to remove all but local traffic and ban parking for the duration any where within the confines of Market Hill, Crown Street and the Broadway. This is not an insignificant feat as we also need to take over much of the Cattle Market Car Park and of course the Bus Station (Users of public transport take note that the buses stop in Carlisle Terrace for the duration of the Fair).
The whole of the town centre is then filled up with the Fun Fair. The big rides in Market Hill, the Bus Station and Cattle Market Car Park;
The Mayor and Councillors on their way to declare the Fair open!
The Mayor contemplating having a go.
and the smaller rides, games and attractions densely packed into Crown Street and the Broadway
Attractions in the Broadway
So what's this about pennies? We've no idea when, but at sometime in the past, it became customary for the mayor and councillors to hand out small quantities of loose change to the local children so that they could have a go on something at the fair. This probably goes back to the days when most officials were quite "well off" in comparison to the general public, but hey, we don't mind them giving some of our money back and nor do our kids!
Being on the receiving end of someone giving money away is as popular to day as it as ever been.
Sure, closing the town centre to traffic for a few days causes a few problems but this has been going on for 800 years so we should be used to it by now. Anyway, as petrol gets any more expensive or we wake up to global warming and completely get rid of the private car closing the roads will not be an issue. No doubt the fair will still be going on in some form or other probably resembling what it used to look like right at its beginnings. It's strange how a community with a strong sense of belonging can persist.
Loads more pictures of the 2003 Michaelmas Fair and others are available in the News Archive section of this website. Maybe we'll get some new ones this year.