Nottingham Goose Fair

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An aerial view of Goose Fair from the ferris wheel in 2007
Goose Fair's spinning swing carousel, illuminated at night in 2012

The Nottingham Goose Fair is an annual travelling funfair held at the Forest Recreation Ground in Nottingham, England, during the first week of October.[1] Largely provided by travelling showmen, it is one of three established fairs in the United Kingdom to carry the name, the others being the smaller Goosey Fair in Tavistock, Devon, and the even smaller Michaelmas Goose Fayre in Colyford, East Devon.

Although it is now known for its fairground rides and attractions,[2] the fair started as a livestock and trade event, with a reputation for its excellent cheese.[3] The name "Goose Fair" is derived from the thousands of geese that were driven from the Lincolnshire fens in the East of England to be sold in Nottingham at the fair each year.[3]

In 1284, a charter was granted by King Edward I which referred to city fairs in Nottingham,[4] although it is thought that a fair was already established in the city before then.[3] Goose Fair was originally held for eight days starting on 21 September, but was moved to early October in 1752, when the Gregorian calendar was first adopted in Britain.[4] The fair was cancelled in 1646 due to an outbreak of the bubonic plague, and again during the two World Wars of the 20th century.[2]

For centuries, Goose Fair was held in Nottingham's Old Market Square in the city centre, until it was moved to the Forest Recreation Ground in 1928, due to space limitations and planned redevelopment of the market square.[5]


Early history[edit]

It is not known exactly how long a fair has existed in Nottingham, but it has certainly been around for many centuries and may date back more than a thousand years. The earliest reference to a "St. Mathew’s Fair" in Nottingham, held on 21 September, comes from Saxon times.[6] It is also known that the Danes had a settlement in Nottingham and they most likely established a market which may well have included a primitive fair.[5]

The creation of commercial fairs by royal charter was widespread in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries.[3] In 1164, a charter was granted by King Henry II to Lenton Priory, near Nottingham, to hold an annual Martinmas Fair starting on 11 November.[6] The royal charter meant that this fair took priority over any other fairs in the Nottingham district, which were forbidden for the duration of the Lenton fair. Then in 1284, King Edward I granted a charter for a separate fair to be held in Nottingham on St. Matthew’s Day, although it is clear that a fair had already been established in Nottingham by the time the charter was granted.[3] Nottingham's fair flourished in Tudor times, because the 1284 charter released it from the restrictions and competition of the nearby Lenton fair.[6]

Hundreds of geese were driven from the Lincolnshire fens to be sold in Nottingham's Old Market Square

The first reference to the name "Goose Fair" can be found in the Nottingham Borough Records of 1541, where 21 September is referred to as "Goose Fair Day".[3][5] The name comes from the hundreds of geese that were driven on foot from Lincolnshire, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk to be sold in Nottingham. The birds' feet were coated with a mixture of tar and sand to protect them on the long journey of fifty miles or more.[5] It is recorded that anything up to 20,000 geese were driven up through Hockley and along "Goose Gate" into Nottingham's Old Market Square where the fair was held annually for hundreds of years.[3][4] The geese were sold in Nottingham to provide the traditional Michaelmas dish of roast goose;[2] geese that had hatched in the spring were ready for the table by the end of September.[4] Michaelmas was celebrated on 29 September to mark the end of the harvest season.[5]

In 1752, the fair was moved back from St Matthew’s Day (21 September) to the first week in October because of a revision to the British calendar.[4][5] On that year, eleven days (3–13 September) were omitted altogether from the calendar, so that Britain could finally adopt the Gregorian calendar (following the Calendar Act of 1750) to align with the rest of western Europe. Hence, the start of Goose Fair was shifted to 2 October and has remained on or around that date ever since.

Goose Fair began as a trade event and, besides the sale of geese and other livestock, it became particularly famous for its high quality cheese. In 1764, there was a cheese riot that was triggered by a sharp increase in the price of cheese compared with the previous year. The riot culminated in the mayor being toppled by a large cheese.[3][6]

From an early date, side shows were added to entertain the crowds, and eventually the trade element diminished as transport links improved and annual fairs were no longer essential for stocking up on items from travelling merchants. Fairground rides started to take over, and by the end of the 19th century Goose Fair included various gondola rides and gallopers, switchback horses, a tunnel railway, bikes, yachts, as well as animal side shows.[5] The fair gradually spread out into the streets surrounding the Old Market Square, which led to increased congestion, especially with the growth of traffic in the city. In 1928, the fair was relocated to the Forest Recreation Ground, having finally outgrown the city centre.[1][5] The move was highly controversial at the time but the concerns proved to be unfounded as the new site, which is more than twice the size of the market square, turned out to be an ideal alternative.[7]

Nottingham's Goose Fair has not run continuously throughout its history. It was cancelled in 1646 because of the Great Plague, and again during World War I (cancelled 1914–1918) and World War II (cancelled 1939–1944).[2][4] The length of the fair has also varied over the years; originally eight days long, the fair was shortened to three days in the late 1800s, but was increased again to four days after the turn of the 20th century.[4]

Recent history[edit]

A traditional carousel (or galloper) photographed at Goose Fair in 1983
The Wild Mouse roller coaster at Nottingham's Goose Fair in 2010
Spinning drum ride ("XLR8") photographed at Goose Fair in 2010
Crane games at Nottingham's Goose Fair in 2010
Goose Fair's spinning swing carousel, pictured in 2012

Goose Fair is now held at the Forest Recreation Ground, about a mile to the north of the city centre. It takes over all of the grass area as well as half of the car park. A large area adjacent to the fairground is also used as a temporary encampment for the travelling showmen to inhabit for the duration of the fair.

Special road systems take effect when the Goose Fair is active, to allow the additional traffic to flow more easily. Parking is restricted in the local area, and no loading is allowed on local streets. This is to prevent traffic congestion and to encourage the use of public transport. There are regular trams to the Forest Recreation Ground, and buses to the nearby Mansfield Road and Sherwood Rise.

The official countdown to Goose Fair is marked by the appearance of "Goosey", the fair's giant goose mascot. In the run up to the fair, the 2-metre-high fibreglass and timber statue is installed on a roundabout on the Mansfield Road, adjacent to the Forest Recreation Ground. This annual tradition started in the 1960s.[8]

In recent years, the date of the fair has created a problem, as it overlaps with the Hull Fair. Some of the top rides from the Goose Fair have therefore to travel directly from Nottingham to Hull, not opening at Hull until around the fourth day of the fair. This was avoided in 2013 by having Hull Fair start a week later than usual.

In 2006, Goose Fair increased from four to five days with the addition of limited opening hours on the Sunday afternoon. This was not repeated in 2007 as the Sunday opening proved to be unprofitable, but the fair has opened for five days again from 2009.[citation needed]

Goose Fair has seldom been affected by violence. However, in 2004, 14-year-old Danielle Beccan was fatally injured near her home in St. Ann's following a visit to the fair.[9]

21st century attractions[edit]

There are almost half a million visitors to Nottingham's Goose Fair annually.[6] Today, it is mostly famous for its fairground rides and games,[4] and boasts over five hundred attractions, some for thrill seekers and many that appeal to the whole family.[10]

Rides for the more adventurous fair-goers include: "Speed XXL", a 3g spinning pendulum ride; "XLR8", a 4g spinning drum ride; the "Wild Mouse" high speed roller coaster with spinning carts; the "Reverse Bungee", an elasticated vertical catapult; the "Giant Frisbee", a huge swinging/rotating disc ride, first introduced to Goose Fair in 2017; and "Magic", a suspended modern-day version of the "Waltzer", which also first appeared in 2017.[10]

The many family attractions include the giant ferris wheel that provides an aerial view of the fair, traditional bumper cars, helter skelters, and family stalls with games and prizes to be won.[10] Conventional fairground food, such as hot dogs and candy floss, and refreshments are also on sale throughout the fair.[1]

In art and popular culture[edit]

  • While living in London between 1908 and 1912, the writer D. H. Lawrence would return home to Nottingham every year to visit the Goose Fair. In 1910, he wrote a short story called Goose Fair which was published in 1914.[15][16]
  • In the novel, Goose Fair, Cecil Roberts presents a derisive portrayal of the fair: "Every first Thursday in October, following the custom of centuries, the good people of the city whose Sheriff was so soundly abused by Robin Hood, take leave of their senses."[17] Originally published in the United States in 1928, the novel was also published in England in the same year with the title David and Diana, the names of the book's main characters.[18]
  • English Journey by J. B. Priestley, published in 1934,[19] chronicles the author's travels around England the previous year. It contains a particularly scathing account of his visit to Goose Fair, which he describes as a "crushing mass of gaping and sweating humanity" ... "contrived to attract the largest number of pennies in the shortest possible time."[7]
  • The short story Noah's Ark, written by Alan Sillitoe in 1991, is set in Nottingham's Goose Fair.[22]
  • Goose Fair Night is a 2016 collection of poems written by Kathy Pimlott, which contains the author's reflections on places in and around Nottingham, including the annual Goose Fair.[23][24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c "Nottingham Fair". Archived from the original on 18 December 2015.
  2. ^ a b c d "History of Goose Fair". BBC News. 24 September 2014. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "History of Goose Fair – outdoor exhibition". Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Joe Earp (30 September 2013). "Origins of Nottingham's Goose Fair". Nottingham Hidden History Team. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "History of Goose Fair". Nottingham City Council. 12 April 2011. Archived from the original on 4 October 2010. Retrieved 5 October 2011.
  6. ^ a b c d e Chris Breese (3 October 2017). "Cheese riots and dragoons: The complete history of Nottingham Goose Fair". Notts TV. Retrieved 29 September 2018.
  7. ^ a b Mick Smith; Jonathan Coope (5 April 2016). "The 1928 move of Goose Fair from the Old Market Square (part 3)". The Social World of Nottingham's Green Spaces. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  8. ^ Rachel Gorman (17 September 2018). "Honk! A few fun facts about Nottingham's most famous bird... the Goose Fair Goosey". Nottingham Post. Retrieved 5 October 2018.
  9. ^ Helen Carter (11 October 2004). "A trip to the fair, then a shot rings out and Danielle, 14, is dead". The Guardian. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  10. ^ a b c Sam Blackie (5 October 2016). "The Goose Fair is here, but what are the best rides?". Notts TV. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  11. ^ "Nottingham Goose Fair by Noel Denholm Davis (1876–1950)". Art UK. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  12. ^ "The Goose Fair, Nottingham by Arthur Spooner (1873–1962)". Art UK. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  13. ^ "Notts treasures: Spooner's Goose Fair". Nottingham: Local History. BBC. May 2009. Retrieved 20 September 2011.
  14. ^ "Lot 44: Arthur Spooner (1873–1962) The Goose Fair, Nottingham". 9 June 2004. Retrieved 30 September 2018.
  15. ^ D. H. Lawrence (November 2015) [first published 7 August 1914]. Goose Fair (a short story). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 9781519276414.
  16. ^ "Goose Fair by D.H. Lawrence". The Literature Network. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  17. ^ John Baird (25 May 2018). "20th Century Notts: 1927–1929; Goose Fair by Cecil Roberts (1928)". Nottingham UNESCO City of Literature. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  18. ^ Cecil Roberts (January 2018) [first published 1928]. Goose Fair. Forgotten Books. ISBN 9780243431519.
  19. ^ J. B. Priestley (June 2012) [first published 1934 by Heinemann]. English Journey. Great Northern Books Ltd. ISBN 9781905080502.
  20. ^ Thirza Wakefield (11 January 2018). "10 great films at the funfair: Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960)". British Film Institute. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  21. ^ Mike Atkinson (4 November 2011). "Weekend: An arrestingly convincing exposition of human relationships, and a telling examination of contemporary gay life". LeftLion. Retrieved 5 October 2018. They meet Glen’s friends in another city centre bar, before heading for the Goose Fair and returning to Lenton.
  22. ^ Alan Sillitoe (1991). Noah's Ark and Other Stories. Association of Educational Publishers. ISBN 9781856930352.
  23. ^ Kathy Pimlott (March 2016). Goose Fair Night. Emma Press. ISBN 9781910139356.
  24. ^ Louise Essex (7 June 2016). "Poetry review: 'Goose Fair Night' by Kathy Pimlott". Retrieved 3 October 2018.

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 52°57′54″N 1°09′36″W / 52.965°N 1.16°W / 52.965; -1.16