At the marvellous lecture given at the Pheasant last week, Geoff Lang highlighted the history of our wonderful Market Place. This naturally included the Salisbury Pleasure Fair.

Salisbury Fair is a chartered fair dating from 1227, and was of great importance to the city in the early days of its history. In Victorian days hundreds of strings of onions were disposed of at the fair but the agricultural community and the auctioneers probably regarded the annual fair as a hindrance to the normal trade of the Tuesday market.

In early Victorian times there had been suggestions that steps should be taken to remove the fair to some ground on the outskirts of the city, but the opposition had always been sufficiently strong to defeat any move in that direction.

Very few would have relished the conditions prevailing in the later years of Queen Victoria’s reign. The spacious square was then unpaved, and a wet fair brought mud ankle deep, heaps of foul-smelling litter, and the pungent odour of naphtha lamps added to the aroma of stalls with shell-fish atmosphere.

The amusements in those days would seem very drab to the young folk of today. A waxworks exhibition was a sure draw for Victorians and the more gruesome the better for the proprietor! Peep-shows were also very popular, especially if the proprietor had obtained some crude pictures of the latest crime.

The travelling showmen were the first to grasp the possibilities of the cinematograph. With the aid of spectacular performances from troupes of dancing girls on their outside platforms, they won a rich harvest with fake pictures of the war between Japan and Russia. For a few years the picture shows put all others out of business, but there came a time when they had the ground taken from them by the permanent theatres – The Palace Theatre in Endless Street being one such establishment.