Portrait of George Borrow


In Lavo-lil George Borrow, relating a conversation, writes:

Them that wants to see Romany-chals should go to the Forest, especially to the Bald-faced Hind on the hill above Fairlop, on the day of Fairlop Fair.  It is their trysting-place, as you would say, and there they musters from all parts of England, and there they whoops, dances, and plays; keeping some order nevertheless, because the Rye of all the Romans is in the house, seated behind the door...

Although tenuous, from this it’s assumed that George Borrow had attended Fairlop Fair, probably to see the Gypsies he knew, and that he had drank at the Bald-faced Hind, “on the hill above Fairlop.”

It’s most likely that Borrow meant the Bald Hind, Chigwell, but as locals in 2016 all thought it would have been the Bald-faced Stag, Buckhurst hill, that has also been researched.

For background on the interesting origin and nature of Fairlop fair, see Fairlop Fair and Its Founder which is available from Project Gutenberg.

There’s very little information about Fairlop (there was no Fairlop village etc. and the modern day underground station named Fairlop is only so because it was near where the fair took place) so instead a timeline has been constructed by using old newspapers etc.  As there are a lot of extracts from the newspapers they have been grouped into separate pages, but can still read chronologically.  Note that no attempt at an exact transcription has been attempted, and the transcribed text has not been proof-read and so will contain errors.  The original newspapers articles are often littered with mis-prints, strange spellings etc., some of which have been modernised.  In each extract the newspaper and the date it was published is given, allowing all sources to be checked.

The first period (1683–1797) covers the birth of Daniel Day, his visits to Fairlop Oak with his friends, and the feasting on beans and bacon which gradually expanded until it had become a rural fair frequented by many of the East London people.

The second period (1798–1831) covers the further development of the area and fair, which was already being complained of at the start of this period.  In this period there’s the fire that partly destroyed the Fairlop Oak, the Oak’s felling, the development of boxing in the area, the rise of criminals targeting the fair-goers and the numerous accidents and congestion that the then annual event was causing.

The third period (1832–1852) covers the increasingly serious trouble the fair was creating (albeit still with many positive points), the efforts of the authorities to enforce law and order, the coming of the railway, the overspilling of the fair into Saturday and Sunday, and the gradual suppression of the real fair culminating with the enclosure of the forest.

The final period traced (1853–1874) covers the various remnants of the original fair, which could not longer be held in Hainault Forest (itself having been mainly sold for timber).  The decay and decline are evident in most of the reports.

Some random thoughts on the newspapers:

•  Few reporters seemed to visit the fair itself, and direct accounts are scarce.  It seems reporters either reprinted last year’s article, or only saw the exodus of Londoners to the fair at the Mile-end road;

•  Very few court cases resulted, although it seems that until the third period the authorities were incompetent to detect and prosecute such behaviour;

•  Whilst there are originally few references to gipsies at the fair (see 27 June 1818 for first indirect one), it’s clear that even at that date it was, as Borrow says, a “muster”.

•  Borrow’s reference to the Bald-faced Hind (and also that the main gipsy trips of Lavo-lil were in the 1860’s) probably means that Borrow attended the fair in the 1860’s.  Lavo-lil was published in 1874.