Monday 14 December 2020

Belfast’s First Fair


333 Years Ago This Week (in 1937 that was)

Belfast’s First Fair Was Held

Belfast's first fair was held in the first week of August 1604, 333 years ago. It was not very much of a Fair Day. Belfast was only the germ of what it is to-day. There was a castle, a church, a few wooden houses clustered round the confluence of the Faraet and the Logan, and nothing else but countryside around.

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It was King James I. who granted the authority to hold a fair in Belfast. When the King gave so much land to James Hamilton In Clandeboye he mentioned "a Friday weekly market at Belfast "

Later, a further grant was given to a Mr. John Wakeman, of Belfast, who had liberty to "hold for ever a fair on every August 1 and the day following at Belfast."

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The Sovereign of Belfast, in addition to his other duties, was Clerk of the Market at Belfast's first fair.

What exactly his duties were it is hard to say, but the authorities took good care to see that all custom's duties payable on goods sold were to be settled "at the port of Cnrrickfergus."

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Business at the Belfast fair evidently had increased thirty years later. A town hall was actually mooted in 1639 which was to be used for municipal work as well as a market house. This town hall stood at the corner of High Street and Corn Market. In the "sellers" were benches for storing goods, while the upper floor was the council chamber of the corporation. The only relic of this old building — the foundation of Belfast's commerce — is a bell the property of the Belfast Harbour Commissioners, to whom it was presented by Lord Donegall.

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What did they buy and sell in the early Belfast fairs? It should be remembered that a considerable trade in wines had been in vogue for some time before the first Belfast fair. This wine came from Spain mostly, and paid — or did not pay — its duty at Carrickfergus Castle.

Then there were horses, fowl, cows, sheep pigs and goats, which made their first official appearance at a Belfast fair. There were the usual agricultural sales of vegetables, and, as the fairs became regular, articles of clothing.

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Readers should remember that it was under James I. that regular administration of justlce began to be established in Ulster. This naturally led to a growth of trade. Counties Antrim and Down were fairly well populated at this time, and in addition to Carrickfergus the ports of Connswater and Garmoyle only had official recognition from the Customs' officers.

Therefore, the recognition of Belfast as a suitable place to hold a weekly fair was timely.

And it is to be noted that in the succeeding reign of Charles I. it was reported that the Customs' revenue from Belfast had increased fourfold: shipping had increased a hundredfold, and the values of land around Belfast had increased greatly.

Did Belfast's first fair lay its foundations as a city? Did It put the little village on the high road of prosperity? It's history has proved at any rate it assisted its progress considerably.


Belfast Telegraph, 6 August 1937

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