Kingsbridge Fair Week – how it all began

Kingsbridge has had a long association with the Abbots of Buckfast, who were originally lords of the manor of Churchstow when Kingsbridge parish formed part of the manor. The then Abbot obtained the right to hold a weekly market in Kingsbridge in 1219, and later the Abbot John Matthew applied for a royal charter to hold an annual fair in the town. This was confirmed in 1461.

Fairs used to be a much more important commercial event, when dues were collected by the landowners, debts were paid, and livestock was bought and sold, as well as the increased business for the town traders. The funfair element was a later addition, which continues to this day.

The quincentenary of Kingsbridge Fair was celebrated in 1961, but the fair had declined in importance over the years. In 1969 a committee was formed to revive the fair, with the first President being the late Bob Kerswell, who as a local farmer had taken part in the sheep and cattle fairs for many years. The fair became a full week of events and entertainment for townspeople and visitors alike, and this year’s Fair Week is the 39th since its relaunch.

The fair is still held ‘on the day of St. Margaret’, 20th July, but the dates of Fair Week vary according to the weekday the 20th falls on (see the section on future dates for more information). St. Margaret was a popular saint in the late middle ages, although she is thought to be mythical, and survived several tortures including being swallowed by the devil in the form of a dragon.

The link with the 1461 charter is continued at the glove hanging ceremony on the Wednesday evening of every Fair Week, when the charter is read by the town mayor and a stuffed and garlanded glove is hoisted on the Shambles in Fore Street, to show that the fair is in progress and to signify free trade and clemency for its duration.