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Basingstoke Down Fair

Until 1671  the right to hold Basingstoke fairs had been granted by King Henry VI and were held on the Holy Ghost meadows.

(Charter) Wed to Fri in Whit week (Easter dep); gr 16 May 1449, by K Hen VI to men of Basingstoke. To be held at the chapel of the Holy Ghost, from mid day on Wed to mid day on Fri (CChR, 1427–1516, p. 107).

On June 24th in 1671 Charles II granted a charter for two fairs a year to be held on Basingstoke Down in the area known as Down Grange and Beech Down. These fairs were to be held on a Tuesday and Wednesday in Easter week and the 10th and 11th day of September.

The Basingstoke Down Fairs were not minor events. For what was a small market town at the time, the Basingstoke fairs were significant events in the Hampshire calendar.
The site on Basingstoke Down was probably chosen because it was a large area of common land and lay between the old drovers’ road, now called Pack Lane, and the Winchester Road. The fairs likely consisted of lines of canvas stalls, probably similar to Blackbush market today. Other areas were allocated for the sale of livestock and sale of bulk produce such as wheat and other consumables, of which cheese was a prominent feature.

A map of Basingstoke Down in 1762 drawn for the Duke of Bolton. The site of the fair is marked in the centre of the map about one quarter in from the right edge.  HRO M/23/M72/P1/1


The map above shows the buildings to the south of Pack Lane where the Fair equipment was housed. It seems highly desirable that a cattle fair would have access to water for the animals and there is indeed a well, (Dredges Well), just to the south west of the Fair Buildings.

The charter from Charles II granted the right to a fair to the town council but they were not the fairs' organisers. These rights to organise were leased out to individuals known as Toll Men.  The Toll Men had the responsibility for running the fairs and maintaining the equipment used in exchange for the opportunity to turn a profit from the tolls levied.


The first lease now remaining extant in the Hampshire Record Office (HRO) is from 1691. The lease was a hand written legal document which begins…


‘This indenture made the 20th day of August Anno Domini 1691 and in the third year of the reign of our sovereign lord and lady, William and Mary, by the grace of God, King and Queen of England, Holland, France and Ireland, keepers of the faith, between the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgers of the town of Basingstoke in the county of Southampton and John Walker …


The later lease to Richard Warrell in 1712 gives us an insight into the nature of these agreements and the roll of the Toll men.


‘Indenture dated 22nd September 1712 between the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgers of Basingstoke and Richard Warrell, Glazier, giving a farm lett/lease to run the Down Fair for a period of three years.

The Down Fair - all those thereto granted unto them and their successors forever by his most gracious Majesty Kind Charles II late King by his hand at Easter and September.

The rent to be £20 per year and to be paid in equal portions on Lady Day (25th March) and Michaelmas Day each year. The rent to be aid within 10 days. If Richard Warrell defaults then the grant of the lease cease.

The Buildings and House to be maintained by Richard Warrell.  He is also to maintain boards, trestles, standings, stuff, hurdles and all their materials and things belonging to and  to be used in and about the fair in all needful and necessary reparations. Renewing, amending whatsoever as and when required and shall also at the end of every fair layup and store such boards, trestles etc.

At the ends of the lease all buildings, house, boards, etc. will be well repaired and may be leased back to the Mayor etc. of Basingstoke for £6 1s 6d

Not to hinder the fair but to promote it even after the lease ends.

Five indifferent men appointed by the Mayor etc. shall judge at the end of the lease if the buildings, house etc. have been properly maintained….’


From this document it can be concluded that the Toll man took on the right to charge all those who came to sell at the fair or to take a share of the proceeds from each vendor. Against this he had to pay for the lease and all outgoings to maintain the assets of the fair. If these assets were judged to be in good condition at the end of the lease he could claim the £6 1s 6d as part of the compensation for cost incurred.


The house and other buildings referred to were sited on the south side of Pack lane where the three houses 40 - 44 Pack Lane now stand.


The extant records of the leases to Toll Men are listed at the end of this article. In addition there is a record in HRO in Chamberlain’s Vouchers of a receipt referring to the advertising of the fair:

 ‘August 23rd 1755 Received of Mr Robert Ricketts the sum of 12s for advertising the fair on the Down’


Notices of Basingstoke Down fair appear in the Hampshire Advertiser from 1770 onwards.

One of the primary purposes was to clarify the dates of the Basingstoke fair in relation to other fairs in the region, notably Wherwell (or Horrill) Fair.

Wherwell Fair was established in 1206 by charter of King John. This was an annual event in September.

The  Basingstoke fair was held the day before Wherwell fair unless that fell on a Monday in which case the Basingstoke fair was held on the preceding Saturday .


There is further evidence of the impact of local competition from other fairs in the introduction of prizes to shepherds bringing good quantities of sheep for sale at the fair, and the reduction in tolls to some commodity vendors. The reduction of the rent payable on the Toll man’s lease from 1778 may also indicate that the fair was experiencing stiff competition.


The Hampshire Advertiser notices are as follows;



Notice is hereby given, that the  fair for sheep, horses, cheese, and other  commodities which has been usually kept on Basingstoke Down, in the county of Southampton, on the 18th day of September , will, this year, be kept on the said Down on Thursday the 23rd  of the said month, being the day before Wherwell (commonly called Horrill) Fair, and for the future will always be kept on the day immediately before HORRILL Fair, except when the said fair shall be kept on Monday, and then it will be kept on the Saturday before.



The Fair usually kept on Basingstoke Down on 18th September will be kept on 23rd September, being the day before Horrill Fair.



Notice is hereby given ,  that at Basingstoke Down Fair, which will be held on Monday the 23rd inst., being the day before Wherwell Fair, otherwise Horrill Fair, for the encouragement of Shepherds, will be given, a Silver Laced Hat of 1 guinea value, t such a shepherd who shall  bring to the fair and sell forty of the best Weather sheep; and also a hat of the same value to such a Shepherd who  shall bring and sell fifty of the best  lambs, by George Taylor, Toll man of the said fair.



The same notice appears but will an interesting footnote:

‘NB No toll will be taken for cheese sold at the fair.’


Later a note appeared in  the Advertiser ‘ At Basingstoke Fair on Easter Tuesday, new made cheese sold at the exorbitant price of 44s per cwt.’



The fact is reported that ‘William Jeffrey has been granted the fair lease on 3rd August 1779 for the 3 years 1780 – 1782 to apply tolls for the Easter and September Down Fairs and the Markets at £38 per annum.


The 1779 reference is the last that can be found for the fair on Basingstoke Down.

With the preparation for land enclosure from 1786 onwards and the passing of the Enclosure Act in 1788 the downs were privatised. With insufficient space being allowed for the fairs by the new landowners the council stepped in and the Down Fair was allocated an area nearer the town. This we now know as Fairfields.

Apart from the comments in the Hampshire Advertiser, I have found no reports of prices at the fairs for the 18th century but in the middle of the 19th century – at a time just before railway transportation of livestock and  commodities became common - the scale of  the  Basingstoke Fair can be judged;





Basingstoke Down Fair on Saturday 23rd September

Was well supplied with horses, cows etc. which met with a ready sale.

Between 3000 and 4000 sheep were penned and met a brisk sale at the following prices:

Weathers – 38s to 41s       Ewes 21s to 38s     Lambs 14s to 26s.




Basingstoke Annual Cheese Fair was held on 22nd May.

About 200 tons were pitched, which met with a brisk sale.

Skim 24s per cwt.

Half coward, 42s to 48s

North Wilts 54s  to  58s

Somerset, 60s to 66s per cwt.



Date of Lease

Toll man

Period of lease


20 Aug 1691

John Walker ( Clothier)

1692 -1698

£10 p.a.






Richard Warrell (Glazier)

1716 -1718

£20 p.a.

20 Jan 1721

Richard Warrell (Glazier)

1721 -1723

£20 p.a.





2  March  1728

Daniel Budd (Victualler)

1728 - 1731

£100 p.a.





24n Jan 1770

George Taylor (Wheelwright)

1770 - 1772

£50 p.a.

29 Oct  1771

George Taylor ( Wheelwright) & Spencer Attwood (Carpenter)

1773 - 1775

£50 p.a.


George Taylor ( Wheelwright)

1776 - 1778

Known to be Toll man – no date of lease or lease extension or annual rent





3 Aug  1779

William Jeffrey

1780 - 1782

£38 p.a.


By Barry Dale 25 March 2015