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Having been at Sturbridge-fair when it was in its Height in the Month of September, the Year before I was at Newmarket, I must say, that it is not only the greatest in the whole Nation, but I think in Europe ; nor are the Fair at Leipsick in Saxony, the Mart at Frankfort on the Main, or the Fairs at Nuremburg, or Augsburg, reputed any way comparable to this at Sturbridge.
It is kept in a large Corn-field, near Casterton, extending from the side of the River Cam, towards the Road, for about half a
If the Field be not cleared of the Corn before a certain Day in August, the Fairkeepers may trample it under-foot, to build their Booths' or Tents. On the other Hand, to balance that Severity, if the Fairkeepers have not cleared the field by another certain Day in September, the Ploughmen may re-enter with Plough and Cart, and overthrow all into the Dirt; and as for the Filth, Dung, Straw, &c. left behind by the Fairkeepers, which is very considerable, these become the Farmers Fees, and make them full Amends for the trampling, riding, carting upon, and hardening the Ground.
It is impossible to describe all the Parts and Circumstances of this Fair exactly; the Shops are placed in Rows like Streets, whereof one is called Cheapside ; and here, as in several other Streets, are all Sorts of Traders, who sell by Retale, and come chiefly from London. Here may be seen Goldsmiths, Toymen, Brasiers, Turners, Milaners, Haberdashers, Hatters, Mercers, Drapers, Pewterers, China-warehouses, and, in a word, all
1 This description of Sturbridge Fair was written by Daniel Defoe early in the eighteenth century. Tour of Great Britain, Vol. I, Letter II.
Trades that can be found in London ; with Coffee-houses, Taverns, and Eating-houses in great Numbers ; and all kept in Tents and Booths.
This great Street reaches from the Road, which, as I said, goes from Cambridge to Newmarket, turning short out of it to the Right towards the River, and holds in a Line near half a Mile quite down to the River-side. In another Street parallel with the Road are the like Rows of Booths, but somewhat larger, and more intermingled with Wholesale Dealers; and one Side, passing out of this last Street to the Left-hand, is a great Square, formed of the largest Booths, called the Duddery; but whence so called, I could not learn. The Area of this Square is from 80 to 100 Yards, where the Dealers have room before every Booth to take down and open their Packs, and to bring in Waggons to load and unload.
This Place being peculiar to the Wholesale Dealers in the Woolen Manufacture, the Booths or Tents are of a vast Extent, having different Apartments, and the Quantities of Goods they bring are so great, that the Insides of them look like so many Blackwell-halls, and are vast Warehouses piled up with Goods to the Top. In this Duddery, as I have been informed, have been sold 100,000 Pounds-worth of Woolen Manufactures in less than a Week's time ; besides the prodigious Trade carried on here by Wholesalemen from London, and all Parts of England, who transact their Business wholly in their Pocket-books; and, meeting their Chapmen from all Parts, make up their Accompts, receive Money chiefly in Bills, and take Orders. These, they say, exceed by far the Sales of Goods actually brought to the Fair, and delivered in Kind; it being frequent for the London Wholesalemen to carry back Orders from their Dealers, for 10,000 Pounds-worth of Goods a Man, and some much more. This especially respects those People, who deal in heavy Goods, as Wholesale Grocers, Salters, Brasiers, Ironmerchants, Wine-merchants, and the like; but does not exclude the Dealers in Woolen Manufactures, and especially in Mercerygoods of all sorts, who generally manage their Business in this Manner.
Here are Clothiers from Halifax, Leeds, Wakefield, and Iluthersfield, in Yorkshire, and from Rochdale, Bury, &c. in Lancashire, with vast Quantities of Yorkshire Cloths, Kerseys, Pennystons, Cottons, &c. with all sorts of Manchester Ware, Fustians, and Things made of Cotton Wool ; of which the
Quantity is so great, that they told me there were near 1000 ✓ Horse-packs of such Goods from that Side of the Country,
and these took up a Side and Half of the Duddery at least; also a Part of a Street of Booths were taken up with Uphol. sters Ware; such as Tickings, Sackings, Kidderminster Stuffs, Blankets, Rugs, Quilts, &c.
In the Duddery I saw one Warehouse, or Booth, consisting of six Apartments, all belonging to a Dealer in Norwich Stuffs only, who, they said, had there above 20,000 1. Value in those Goods.
Western Goods had their Share here also, and several Booths were filled with Serges, Duroys, Druggets, Shalloons, Cantaloons, Devonshire Kersies, &c. from Ereter, Taunton, Bristol, and other Parts West, and some from London, also.
But all this is still outdone, at least in Appearance, by two Articles, which are the Peculiars of this Fair, and are not exhibited until the other Part of the Fair, for the Woolen Manufacture, begins to close up: these are the WOOL, and the HOPS. There is scarce any Price fixed for Hops in England, till they know how they sell at Sturbridge-fair. The Quantity that appears in the Fair is indeed prodigious, and they take up a large Part of the Field, on which the Fair is kept, to themselves : they are brought directly from Chelmsford in Essex, from Canterbury and Maidstone in Kent, and from Farnham in Surrey; besides what are brought from London, of the Growth of those and other places.
Inquiring why this Fair should be thus, of all other Places in England, the Centre of that Trade, and so great a Quantity of so bulky a Commodity be carried thither so far ; I was informed by one thoroughly acquainted with that Matter, That Hops for this Part of England grow principally in the two Counties of Surrey and Kent, with an Exception only to the
Town of Chelmsford in Essex ; and there are very few planted any-where else.
There are indeed in the West of England some Hops growing; as at Wilton near Salisbury, at Hereford and Broomsgrore, near Wales, and the like; but the Quantity is inconsiderable, and the Places so remote, that none of them come to London.
Formerly, in the North of England, few Hops were used, their Drink being chiefly pale smooth Ale, which required but little Hops ; and consequently they planted none North of Trent. But, as for some Years past, they not only brew great Quantities of Beer in the North, but also use Hops in the brewing their Ale, much more than they did before, they all come South of Trent to buy their Hops; and here being vast Quantities brought, it is great Part of the back Carriage into Yorkshire, Northamptonshire, Derbyshire, Lancashire, and all those Counties; nay, of late, since the Union, even so far as Scotland ; for I must not omit here also to mention, that the River Grant, or Cam, which runs close by the North-west Side of the Fair, in its Course from Cambridge to Ely, is navigable; and that by this means all heavy Goods are brought to the Fair-field, by Water-carriage from London, and other Parts ; first to the Port of Lynn, and then in Barges up the Ouse, from the Ouse into the Cam, and so to the very Edge of the Fair.
In like manner great Quantities of heavy Goods, and Hops among the rest, are sent from the Fair to Lynn by Water, and shipped there for the Humber, to Hull, York, &c. and for Neucastle upon Tyne, and by Newcastle, to Scotland. Now, as they do not yet plant Hops in the North, tho' the Consumption there is great, and increasing daily, this is one Reason why at Sturbridge-fair there is so great a Demand for them : besides there were very few Hops, if any worth naming, growing in all the Counties even on this Side Trent, above 40 Miles from London, those Counties depending on Sturbridge-fair for their Supply: so the Counties of Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridge, Huntingdon, Northampton, Lincoln, Leicester, Rutland, and even to Stafford, Warwick, and Worcestershire, bought most of, if not all, their Hops at Sturbridge-fair.
This is a Testimony of the prodigious Resort of the trading People of all Parts of England to this Fair; where surprising Quantities of Hops have formerly been sold.
The Article of Wool is of several Sorts ; but principally Fleece Wool, out of Lincolnshire, where the longest Staple is found, the Sheep of those Parts being of the largest Breed.
The Buyers are chiefly the Manufacturers of Norfolk, Suffolk, and Essex; and it is a prodigious Quantity they buy.
Here I saw what I had not observed in any other County of England, a Pocket of Wool; which seems to have been at first called so in Mockery, this Pocket being so big, that it loads a whole Waggon, and reaches beyond the most extreme Parts of it, hanging over both before and behind; and these ordinarily weigh a Ton or 2500 Pound Weight of Wool, all in one Bag.
The Quantity of Wool only, which has been sold at this Place at one Fair, has been said to amount to 50 or 60,000 1. in Value ; some say, a great deal more.
By these Articles a Stranger may take some Guess at the immense Trade which is carried on at this Place ; what prodigious Quantities of Goods are bought and sold, and what a vast Concourse of People are seen here from all Parts of England.
I might proceed to speak of several other Sorts of English Manufactures, which are brought hither to be sold; as all sorts of wrought Iron, and Brass Ware from Birmingham ; edged Tools, Knives, &c. from Sheffield ; Glass Wares, and Stockens, from Nottingham and Leicester; and unaccountable Quantities of other Things of similar Value every Morning.
To attend this Fair, and the prodigious Crouds of People which resort to it, there are sometimes no less than 50 Hackney Coaches, which come from London, and ply Night and Morning to carry the People to and from Cambridge ; for there the Gross of them lodge ; nay, which is still more strange, there are Wherries brought from London on Waggons, to ply upon the little River Cam, and to row People up and down, from the Town, and from the Fair, as Occasion presents.
It is not to be wondered at, if the Town of Cambridge cannot receive or entertain the Numbers of People that come to