Stories from the Barn
A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands
The Goose Fair
The Goose Fair
Advent Day 18
In times gone past, Goose fairs were an important part of the agricultural calendar. They were frequently held on Michaelmas Day. Michaelmas marks the end of harvest and many of the goose fairs were also hiring fairs. Labourers released after the harvest would seek employment for the Winter months. Geese hatched in the spring were ready for the table by Michaelmas. It was customary, for those who had enough money to cook a goose to celebrate the end of harvest. In Britain, Michaelmas is a quarter day when rents are due. Sometimes tenants would present their landlords with a brace of geese in part payment of rent. And of course goose was eaten at Christmas, the now customary turkey introduced in the C16th was too rare and expensive to grace the ordinary table.
Raising the geese for the goose fair.
Geese have been raised in Britain for at least 800 years. The goose provided a number of very important products, nutritious meat, eggs, fats for preserving food and medicinal use. Goose feathers were used for the flights on arrows, they were used for writing and of course the down was used to fill pillows and quilts. However the art of raising geese to sell at the goose fairs was a complicated one. Like swans geese mate for life so you need just about as many male geese as female, only the ganders don’t lay eggs so are less productive. Geese feed from pastures and then after harvest, they move onto the stubble. This all takes management and careful herding. The herd of adults and goslings would be taken to the common lands or the ‘greens’. Here a goose herder would look after the village herd.
Driving the geese to market.
Thousands of geese were driven to the goose fair. They would be herded just like cattle down the drove roads. First their feet were tarred to protect them and they would join the throng of animals coming from all over the country. Many towns had a goose fair but only three remain in Britain still called goose fairs. They are Tavistock, Nottingham and Colyford in Devon. They no longer have any geese to sell and are now fun fairs but still the name persists. There are also a number of place names that allude to the annual goose fair. Goose Greens and Gander Lanes all remind us of times when the goose was an important addition to the family.
The goose in literature.
Geese pop up in all sorts of tales and nursery rhymes. The Brothers Grimm wrote the story of the Goose Girl, a goose herder who is really a princess. Mother Goose in all her variations still pops up in pantomime and the nursery rhyme ‘Goosey, Goosey Gander’ dates to the C16th.