New Wrexham Fairs

Beginners' Guide to the History of Wrexham

The northern side of Beast Market Street was still farmland when Norden made his survey in 1620. The town developed this way in the 17th and 18th centuries. The thatched building, with the dormer windows, was the Hat Inn, a pub dating back to the early 1600s, which still survives inside the opticians today.

The Elephant & Castle, recently reopened as a bar, dates from the 18th century, which is apparent in its architecture. According to tradition, the Infanta, Eleanor of Castile, on her first visit to meet her future husband, Prince Edward (later Edward I, nemesis of Llywelyn the Last, prince of Wales), set up camp to the south of London. A garbled pronunciation of her name attached that part of the English capital for ever more and from there spread across the country. These pubs relied heavily on the trade at the Beast Market, where we will be progressing next Thursday.

Image courtesy of Wrexham Archives.

Charles Street opens out into what was once known as the Beast Market – an area of land that once stretched out as far as Tesco’s and its car park. In the 1391 survey, Wrexham is described as a ‘villa mercatoria’ – a market town. A reference from 1464 says ‘mercatus averriorum’ – bird market, perhaps with chickens, geese and ducks on sale. John Norden in 1620 calls this area the ‘Forum Bestiale’

In medieval times, Wrexham is known to have held fairs to mark the Feasts of the Annunciation (March 25th), of St Giles (September 1st) and St Gregory (September 3rd). These settled down to three main annual fairs, starting on March 12th, June 5th and September 8th. With the calendar reform of 1752, the start dates shifted to March 23rd, June 16th and September 19th.

These fairs were important in late 13th and 14th centuries, with the Welsh barred from the planted boroughs of Edward I, Wrexham was the place to trade and do business. It could get lively, Edward III ordered the Steward of Bromfield and Yale to clamp down on the violence and disorder accompanying the fairs and markets of Wrexham.

Later in the late 18th century, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, used the fair to recruit for his voluntary militia prior to the campaign against the United Irishmen. During the 19th century, the fairs became more specialist focusing on cheese, honey and wool.

Image courtesy of Wrexham Museum

The March fair was not solely about business. There was a day for farmers and farmers’ wives, a day for farm labourers and servants (which doubled up as hiring day) and Dydd Llun Pawb (Everyone’s Monday), which was the town’s public holiday. With Winter giving way to Spring, it was time to celebrate and secure employment for the coming year.

The fair focused increasingly on pleasure following the arrival of the railways. The 1851 fair attracted a cosmopolitan crowd. Elizabeth Rowland’s boarding house facing the Beast Market welcomed an Italian artist, an Irish conjuror, a Yorkshire actor and a returning local singer. The census that year records the travelling shows and their staff – waxworks, mechanical exhibitions, an ‘Exhibition of Living Curiosities’ and the unfortunate John Murray, described for posterity and officialdom as ‘a servant without arms exhibit from Africa’.
The fair drew pedlars, hawkers, musicians and a good number of pickpockets against whom the local bobbies waged an annual campaign.

The stalls evolved with technology and the fair came to be dominated by one or two circus families. The amusement rides that appear from time to time in Waterworld car park are the descendants of the pleasure fairs of 19th century Wrexham.

Image: Layout of the 1931 fair. Courtesy of Wrexham Archives

The fairs were held on the Beast Market until the mid-1970s (1976?) when they and the Monday Markets were moved to Eagles’ Meadow. Meanwhile the Beast Market had been renamed St George’s Crescent in 1937 at the request of the local traders who found the old name too down market. The location change for the market led to a legal battle in the courts between the market traders and the Borough Council over whether the latter had the right to move the market.

The case required a thorough search of the archives and the court’s decision turned on the fact that in 1632 King Charles I had only granted away the market rights ‘within the town of Wrexham’ and since the Beast Market was ‘outwith’ the town at that time, the court decided the council had acted beyond its powers. The market rights in the town had passed down through the hands of the Edisbury and Yorke families, then to the Market Hall Co. and finally to the Borough Corporation in 1898. If anyone knows if this court decision had any impact, please do tell because the market is no longer held on the old Beast Market site, although its time on Eagles’ Meadow is remembered fondly by many locals.

Image: This sketch, by local artist, Ian Jones, is one of a number of drawings he donated to the museum, which together form a visual record of the Monday Market near its 20th century peak. Courtesy of Wrexham Museum.

Source: Wrexham Museums.

Also see Beyond the Beast Market.