This was the day when all of London seemed to flock here. It was a great leveller – toffs would rub shoulders (and heaven knows what else) with their servants, tradesmen with their customers, dockers with muckers, sailors with soldiers, and, of course, the criminal fraternity with practically anyone who didn’t have their eye (and one hand) firmly on their valuables.
For the duration of the Fair, anything went. The place teemed with life – and the inhabitants, for the most part, took advantage of it. Houses would open up their front rooms as ‘tea shops,’ locals would hawk whatever they could to the hoardes of visitors and even the Greenwich Pensioners got in on the act by hiring out their telescopes so that people could ‘look at St Paul’s Cathedral.’ They were, frankly, more interested in ogling the pirates hanging from the gibbets down at Blackwall.
Hawkers, sideshows, wax works, lurid theatrical entertainments – there were booths for anything the partying cockney could want, and as the years went on, the upper classes left them to it more and more.
* There was a fair at Easter and also in October. AD Webster reckons it was on 12th, 13th and 14th May and 11th, 12th and 13th Oct – but I find it hard to imagine that it would have always been on those exact dates.