With origins dating back to the 12th Century, the Glasgow Fair is an ancient tradition that many in the city still hold dear. There’s less likelihood in modern times to witness the mass Glaswegian exodus that used to befall the city during the fair but, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a spike in the number of families escaping the confines of city life via Glasgow and Prestwick Airport during the two weeks in July.
In 1190, Jocelin of Wells. The Bishop of Glasgow, requested permission from the reigning King John, for permission to hold a yearly fair in which traders could trade livestock, goods and even servants free from tolls and under the protection of the king. He was granted permission and the first Glasgow Fair was held in 1190 within Glasgow Cathedral.
Fast forward to the 1800’s and the Glasgow Fair had grown into a full fortnightly holiday, and it was in the 1900’s where it really became the tradition that Glaswegians embraced.
Literally everything would cease production, shipyards, retail (for the most part), Glasgow ground to a halt. In later years office workers would finish early on a Friday and go for a social beverage, it wouldn’t be out of character to see wives of workers waiting patiently outside the docks or depots, to ensure that their husbands didn’t escape their clutches and spend their fair fortnight wages, with a night out at the pub.
The age old Glasgow saying, of “going doon the watter” can actually trace its origins to the Glasgow Fair and the innumerable amount of families who would be heading along the Clyde to Largs, Ayr, Saltcoats etc, or generally away from Glasgow. Although it was most probably referred to as “going to the seaside”.
With almost all families of previous generations having never travelled abroad or even experienced the opportunity to travel abroad, a few miles along the Clyde or “doon the watter” was the order of the day.
Although it was almost guaranteed to be identical weather, very few, if any, had travelled abroad so a trip to Saltcoats or Largs on the Waverley was as Mediterranean getaway as any of them could expect. “Taps aff” was popular long before the Glasgow University students embraced it as a jovial motto.
Back in Glasgow, a holiday atmosphere was guaranteed during the Fair. Perhaps a modern representation of holiday atmosphere differed from holiday atmospheres of the past.
During WW1, in 1917 a travelling businessman during the Glasgow Fair, decided to replicate full scale Trenches, Dug Outs, Field Hospitals, Mortar Destroyed Buildings, generally recreate some of the most horrific aspects in human history.
Now imagine a war hero, returning home after being injured in the Somme or Flanders, hoping never to experience the horrors of war for the rest of his life, possibly mourning the death of his brothers in arms, trying to piece his life back together, the broken hero decides to take his dog a walk, along his typical Glasgow Green route. As he turns the corner, dog in tow, expecting nothing more than grass, water and possibly a few fair attractions. Instead what unfolds in front of him could only be described as hell on earth. Before PTSD was even diagnosed as an affliction, this man probably developed and suffered from it.
Glasgow Green developed into the site for the Fair, amusements, circus animals, shows and ride simulations would all be likely to feature during the two weeks holiday in Glasgow.
Visitors to Blackpool will not have failed to recognise the affinity Glasgow has with the small English seaside town, countless souvenir shops covered in Celtic, Rangers and Scotland memorabilia. There’s probably as many Scottish pubs as there are English. This all stems from the 1800’s the Glasgow Fair and the Industrial Revolution.
After the expansion of the railways the modern day “Vegas of the North” suddenly became within each reach of every Glaswegian and thus the Glasgow, Blackpool love affair was born. If there was one place in England where Scots would never struggle to have their currency accepted it would have to be Blackpool.
In recent years, due to the flexibility of modern living, cheap package holidays, and businesses having an international clientbase, it is vastly improbable that Glasgow could simply shut down all industry and disappear for a couple of weeks.
Fair Friday might be a fading tradition to a modern Glasgow, but the funny thing with traditions is they refuse to fade.
With annual celebrations planned in memory of an era of Glasgow’s forgotten past, Fair Holiday is something that will never be forgotten.