St Giles Fair
Since the nineteenth century, St Giles’ Fair has been held on the Monday and Tuesday following the first Sunday after St Giles’ Day (1 September). This means that when 1 September is a Saturday, the fair is held at the earliest possible time (3 & 4 September); but when 1 September is a Sunday, the fair is held at the latest possible time (9 & 10 September).
In 2012 the Fair will be held on 3 & 4 September.
Left: The martyrs look down on the roundabout in 2003
Below: View from a third-floor room of the Randolph Hotel of the Sunday service / blessing at the Galloping Horses in 2004
The Fair evolved from the St Giles’ parish wake of the early seventeenth century, which later became known as St Giles’ Feast.
In the 1780s it was a “toy” fair (selling miscellaneous cheap and useful wares), and by 1800 it had become a general fair to entertain children.
From the 1830s there were amusements for adults as well. By the end of the nineteenth century there were several proposals to close it, as it had become too rowdy and licentious.
In 1930 the city corporation (now the city council) took over the control of the fair.
The following are contemporary accounts of the Fair from 1838 to the present day:
- 1838: G.V. Cox
- 1850s: W.E. Sherwood
- 1888: Beatrice Batty
- 1889: Report in Oxford Chronicle
- 1911: Rhyme by Henry Taunt
- 1926: Kenneth Grahame
- 1937: John Betjeman
- 1965: Jan Morris
- 1953–2003: Joan Williams
St Giles’ Fair in Edwardian times, looking north.
St Giles’ Church tower can be seen in the distance, to the left of the helter-skelter
Panoramas of St Giles’ Fair 2003
on the “Virtual Tour of Oxford” site
(click on the green circles and move around the Fair with your cursor buttons)
Old pictures of St Giles’ Fair
Pictures dating from the 1860s to 1914 on the English Heritage Viewfinder
St Giles’ Fair in Edwardian times, at the north end. St Giles’ Church is on the left, and Keble Road on the right (behind the lower building with the double gables). Click on above picture for a larger image