Greenwich Fair Detail

Greenwich Fair

The Greenwich Fair was held over 3 days in the Park and town at Easter and Whitsun from the 18th century until it was suppressed in 1857.  Greenwich Park was a popular day out for people living in London seeking fresh air and fun.  They came in their thousands by road and river, and later by rail, visiting the Park for picnics, dancing and the notorious sport of ‘tumbling’.  This consisted of couples running and then tumbling down Observatory Hill and the steep slope below One Tree Hill – or ‘Holiday Hill’ as it was nicknamed - often ending in broken limbs and serious head injuries.  Dances such as ‘Kissing in the Ring’ allowed the opposite sexes a chance of some closer contact not normally allowed in Victorian society. 


The Fair began with just a few stalls selling gingerbread outside the Park gates to catch the holidaying crowds, but gradually began to expand down the modern-day King William Walk to the Pier where the boats disembarked their passengers.   By the 1820s the Fair had spread into Creek Road with the arrival of the big shows and fairground rides.  Soon, crowds of up to 100,000 riotous revellers were arriving each day, as famously described by Charles Dickens in his 1835 publication 'Sketches by Boz'.

By the 1850s, the notoriety of the Fair, with police struggling to deal with the pickpockets, gambling, drunken behaviour and alleged prostitution, led to the Park Ranger, Lord Haddo and some of the townspeople to call for its suppression.   Magistrates eventually ordered the Fair to close in 1857, declaring that, as it had never been granted a charter, it was illegal.


A more detailed history of Greenwich Fair by Ronald Longhurst can be found here in the Transactions of the Greenwich & Lewisham Antiquarian Society Vol. VII No. 4 (1970).