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The Glasgow Fair

You may be surprised to learn that this local holiday actually dates back to the 12th Century when it was granted by the King of Scotland, William the Lyon after the Bishop at the time asked for permission to hold festivities within the boundaries of Glasgow Cathedral.

By the 1800s the Fair moved to the North Bank of the River Clyde to what we now know as Glasgow Green.

Initially the fair was a time for buying & selling wares & for trading Livestock but as time went on the ‘Fair’ gradually became a place for travelling showmen to entertain audiences with Amusements later being added to the show. In light of this can understand now why we associate the word ‘Fair’ with the Amusements, theatre & circus performances & the excitement that goes along with them.

Caledonian Mercury 23rd July 1818

I would become a custom for Businesses in the Glasgow Area to close on ‘Fair Friday’ to allow workers & their families time off to attend the festivities & as the years went on Glasgow Green became the prime site for many Circuses, Amusement & Shows.

The coming of the Railways & the Clyde Steamers provided families the opportunity to take holidays to places such as Ayrshire, Dunoon, Rothesay or Portobello. It was estimated that in the mid 1800s as many as 40,000 people would leave the city during this period in search of a break.

The Working conditions in Scotland were improving by the late 1800s & this allowed people more public holidays & less hours which ultimately meant more leisure time. An increase in Sporting events, Theatre shows & Music halls allowed the working family to enjoy some well-deserved time off.

This tradition would later see businesses close for the last 2 weeks in July & with workers now receiving holiday pay many would make the trip ‘Doon the Water’ for a well-earned holiday. In effect Glasgow would go into shut down, industry would halt & the employers & employees alike would take their much-needed break.

Glasgow Steamboats on the River Clyde circa 1903 - Wikicommons

This holiday would also drive-up tourism in some of the coastal towns with many renting out rooms & local shops stocking up on goods with an aim to make the most of the tourist boom. Visits to these seaside towns would have been so different to the smog & grime of the big city of Glasgow, now holidaymakers had the chance to dip their toes in the water, take picnics & inhale as much fresh air as their lungs could cope with. The old Tradition of ‘Taps aff’ or ‘Tops off’ meaning the removal of your shirt would be observed as soon as the sun appeared from behind the clouds, a tradition that many men in Scotland still observe today.

These holidays seems to evoke happy memories for local people as they associate it with trips to the seaside, ice cream, fairgrounds, popup photographic studios & happy time spent with family.

Later years would see the Glaswegians travel further afield to places such as Blackpool or Whitley Bay in England.

Many businesses nowadays prefer to work through this local holiday & space out employee holidays throughout the year. But there are still some that continue to close for the 2 weeks & this was the case with the first company I worked with after leaving school in the 1980s. Fair Monday (the 3rd Monday of the month) is still a Public Holiday in Glasgow & outlying areas today, although the Fairs, Amusements & Theatres which took place in the past are also no more. The city now sees festivals, craft markets & music events, you could say that the Scots still like to enjoy themselves!

Portobello Beach circa 1895 - Wikicommons

There has always been a bit of an ongoing joke about the weather during the July Fair Fortnight, in that if it rains at the start of the holiday it will continue for the whole time….I can vouch that this has been the case for some holidays I have taken during this time & that I now try not to take holidays during this time just in case!

Over the years people have plumped for holidays to Spain, France & further afield, the result has been that many of the Holiday towns have died out. Perhaps the events of the last couple of years will help to boost this tourism industry so that happy memories can again be created on our own shores.


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