Barsham - the once and future faire

"And this" said the Old Man, pausing as though everything he'd already said that afternoon had been leading to this moment - "this .... is a Tree of Heaven."

The small blonde girl, who'd stood attentively at her grandfather's side as he gave a name to every tree on the Rectory Paddock, decided at once that this was the most beautiful name for a tree she'd ever heard.

"It's a lovely name isn't it grandad?"... "Ay child, it is that. For a fine tree too."

The girl could tell at once that, for some reason or other, there was something a little bit special about this tree, and not just for its bright, billowing summer leaves and the way it stood, in the centre of this slope in front of the Church, slightly apart from all the other trees. The old man gazed into the leaves for quite a long time, tapped at the smooth trunk with his stick, and then shifted his gaze to the sunlit paddock, his face gone very still and perfect. It was almost as though he was seeing something vast which spread down from the leaves on the rise and all across the bright expanse of grass.

Anne was only 10 years old but she wasn't silly; and she'd spent enough time with grandad to know that there were odd moments when it was sensible not to say anything....

"Yes my lass, a fine tree. You must watch this one.... "How old is it grandad?"

"Oo, `bout thirty years I reckon, p'r'aps a bit more; I remember `em planting it, after the fair one year."

"After the fair grandad? What fair?"

"Barsham Faire o'course. You've heard me speak o'that before..."

"Yes, a bit. And I've heard you and grandma laughing about it sometimes."

"Ay lass, I 'spect you have... your mum was darn near born at Barsham Faire. Gran got that excited over the fireworks they used to have that... well, we had to hurry on home. That was when we lived in the little old house I showed you over in Barsham City. And your mother was born two days after the fair that year! Oh ay lass, I could tell you a thing or two... this here paddock all covered with little stalls an' tents flags, streamers, kites flying, and the people... all dressed up like it was the time of old Henry the Eight.”

β€œIt sounds a bit strange grandad. What sort of fair was it?"

"Hmmm - difficult t'say exactly what sort of a fair it was; a special sort of fair I reckon. Used t'be held here every August holiday, lasted three days. Old Farmer Meen would drive his cows off and the people who organised the whole thing - right crew they were! - would start building their tents and sitting round their camp fires... some o' them lived here a whole month, just building the thing 'an then taking it all down again.

"What do you mean grandad - building it?"
"Well, that was one o' the special things about Barsham you see lass. It had to be built. Because it was a bit like one o' your pretend games y' see... these organising people called it a medieval fair, which meant you couldn't have anything that was modern, no cars, no electricity, none o'that. And all the stall people sellin' their pots an' leather an' stuff, they all had to build their own stalls too. The last time - I think it was the last time - there was these darn great painted towers all down the roadway there. And hundreds o' flags. That was a sight lass I tell you...”

"It was a funny do, Barsham Faire. Started off quite small and the idea caught on so t'speak until everybody wanted t'be a part of it. Ay..."

"And what did you used to do grandad? Did you dress up too?"

"Oh yes. Not at first but, well - in the end everybody was a'dressin' up for Barsham. I used t'be over on the car park. That's what we village people did y'see, we ran the car park. Wouldn't be over there all day though - no fear! Used to do my stint parking cars an' then me and your gran would be over here, just wandering, looking at everything... there were fire-eaters, jugglers, beggars, actors, clowns, musicians everywhere, dancers - and the biggest Maypole you ever saw! Use t'get bigger every year I reckon... an' old Mrs. Glannie from over Ringsfield, she use t'have a dancing school in those days and her little lasses would all do the Maypole dance in long dresses with little matching bonnets. That was lovely - must have watched that a score o'times. Every time we heard that fiddle strike up, your Bran and I would be over t'the Maypole."

"Where did all the people come from Grandad?"

"Mostly from around here but from all over England in the end I think... that was the trouble really. Got too big so the organising people said. So they stopped it, almost as suddenly as they started it."

"That's a shame isn't it grandad? I mean - it sounds so marvellous, so unlike anything that happens these days."

"Well yes - in a way it was a shame it stopped. Everyone said so at the time. But the best things are like that lass - they come and they go. And they leave you with memories that'll always make you smile a bit. And a Tree of Heaven too..."

"Your gran's got an old book about it I think, with photographs of the fair. We'll get her to ferret it out when we get home. Sort of a souvenir it was I think. I came across it when I was clearing out that cupboard a couple o'weeks ago - it's called - let me think now - what is it called? Oh yes... Build Another Barsham... don't know if anyone ever did though..."

A.B. 1976