Tottenham Court Fair

This fair, held on the outskirts of London, started each year on August 4th and finished on August 18th, so it preceeded Bartholomew Fair and Southwark Fair. If the exact date of origin remains unknown, we nevertheless know, thanks to an advertisement which appeared in the Daily Courant of the 5th August 1717, that the Leigh and Jubilee Dicky Norris Theatre Company from the Royal Theatre put on a farce that particular year “in their great Theatrical Booth at Tottenham Court during the Time of the Fair” entitled The History of Jane Shore. With the Pleasant and Comical Adventures of Sir Anthony Noodle and his little man Weazle. The piece was a great success and had Londoners flocking to Tottenham Court. Unfortunately, a warrant issued against the actors put an end to the performances rather brutally. The shows were banned again in 1718, 1724, and 1727, but they continued to be performed illegally and the public were able to attend plays, puppet shows and conjuring tricks without the police daring to intervene.

1732 was a particularly rich year for quality shows. The Lee and Harper troupe, made up of numerous London theatre players performed The True and Ancient History of Whittington enlivened with dancing and singing during the interludes. The Dey of Algiers’ Minister Plenipotentiary, accompanied by Prince William and the young Royal Princesses, was amongst the spectators. The distinguished envoy also attended a performance of A Wife Well Manag’d; or Cuckoldom Prevented; with Harlequin Doctor Faustus“a new ballad opera at the great Booth in the Cherry-Tree Garden, the first Entrance of the Fair from Bloomsbury Fields” (Daily Post, 17 August 1732).
From 1735, the players were again the object of police harassment, but they nonetheless continued to perform right under the nose of the law, with such audacity that they even had advertisements published in reviews.

In 1739, one show caused a stir at Tottenham Court Fair. Defying the bans, the famous actor Phillips, alias Harlequin (so-called because of his numerous interpretations of the role of Harlequin at Drury Lane) put on a show including dances, songs, a sprightly scene between Columbine and Punch, and a play called The Drunken Peasant, acted by himself. Particular attention was paid to the scenery, the production, and the selection of the orchestra musicians. This quality show attracted a crowd of spectators and ensured the success of the fair that year.

However, from 1740, under more and more police pressure, the theatre troupes became rarer at Tottenham and eventually stopped performing completely. The fair lost its importance. In April of 1748 an attempt to abolish the fair failed and it was not until 1827 that the Tottenham Court Fair ceased to exist.