Monday, 3 September 2018

A Medieval Fair

Beside the busy Newmarket Road leading out of Cambridge, just past the Retail Park, over the railway bridge, near to the scrapyard and Cambridge United's football ground, stands a little Norman chapel. It's known locally as the Leper Chapel and was once part of a leper hospital, which explains why it was built away from the town. I've always wanted to look inside the chapel.

And Saturday provided the perfect opportunity as Cambridge Past Present And Future, who look after the little building, held their celebration of the old Stourbridge Fair.

Important persons from the town and the university were on hand, as they would have been in days of yore, to open the fair and make sure that events proceeded in an orderly manner.

Around the back of the chapel Cambridge Storytellers soon gathered an enthusiastic audience of all ages.

Things got quite dramatic!

After the stories some of us gathered in the chapel for an entertaining talk about the history of the chapel and the fair by Honor Ridout. Amazingly this gathering of traders on a piece of rough ground, over a mile from Cambridge was at one time the largest and most important fair in the country and possibly in Europe.

It was fantastic to sit and hear about the chapel while sitting directly beneath the wonderfully carved Norman arch which has stood for around 900 years.

I may one day write about Stourbridge Fair but those who want to learn about it now could not do better than read "The 800-year-old Story of Stourbidge Fair" by Honor Ridout. Lets go out into the sunshine again to see what medieval revelry is afoot.

A band had assembled by the chapel wall. For those not familiar with the instruments of merrie musicke, that contraption on the left is a hurdy-gurdy. It's played by means of a handle which turns a wheel which makes contact with strings when the keys are depressed - like a sort of mechanical violin. It also has drone strings which make a sustained low note. An interesting sound.

Not only music but dancers too, the Capriol Mediaeval Dancers from Cambridge.

Then the audience were invited to join in for a final Farandole....

A friendly and informative sunny afternoon - and much better than slogging around the retail park.

Take care.


  1. I am sure it was a fine day out and the weather was obviously beautiful. It always looks a little odd to see people dressed in period garb wearing modern eyeglasses!

    1. Funny you should mention that. While the dancers were preparing I overheard the following, "I'm afraid I shall have to wear my medieval glasses as I've left my medieval contact lenses at home".

  2. Thanks so much for sharing such a wonderful event. I would have loved hearing the talk in the chapel...and seeing the dancing, and hearing the music! Great fun!

  3. Wonderful! Everything about it! Lucky you!

  4. Looks fun! I like the old costumes.

  5. Hi John- gosh that looks to have been such an interesting day - and yes way better than 'shopping' ... delightful post you've given us - the storytelling looks to have been entertaining and engrossing - cheers Hilary

  6. What a great interesting day, sounds like a fun event to attend.

  7. I'm not really a peoply person but I would love to visit this sort of fair!

  8. Oh my gosh! Could you even get more Ye Old English than this John, j'adore ☺

  9. Beats a retail park any time (most things do!) - Looks like a lot of fun.

  10. Love this history! a 900 year old arch is mind boggling to me, nothing that old exists here.


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