Roll up, roll up for all the fun of Ilkeston’s historic street fair

COLOUR AND EXCITEMENT -- Ilkeston Charter Fair.
COLOUR AND EXCITEMENT -- Ilkeston Charter Fair.

Roll up, roll up, roll up! It’s that time of year again when Ilkeston proudly stages one of the oldest and largest street fairs in Europe.

Not many events can claim to have successfully spanned SEVEN centuries. But that is the case with Ilkeston Charter Fair, which dates all the way back to 1252 when King Henry 111 granted a charter to townsfolk and the lord of the manor. And next week, for the 764th time, the fair will bring the streets of the town centre to life once more.

In the old days, the ancient market place and churchyard played host to a bizarre mix of entertainment that ranged from agricultural trading to the gruesome spectacles of bear baiting, dog and cock fighting, and even the occasional public punishment of a local felon or two.

The fair is a bit more sophisticated and family-oriented these days, but it retains all the colour and excitement that has always tempted thousands of visitors every October.

It is summed up by Coun Mike Wallis, Erewash Borough Council’s lead member for culture and leisure, when he says: “Generations of families from across the borough have enjoyed the fair. It is a spectacular sight as it stretches out across the town centre, bringing fun for everyone -- from the traditional stalls and family attractions to the white-knuckle rides for all the daredevils.”

The four-day event, which is even older than Nottingham’s Goose Fair, gets under way next Wednesday (October 19) from 6 pm to 11 pm and continues next Thursday from 12 noon until 11 pm and next Friday and Saturday from 10 am to 11 pm. The traditional opening ceremony, which includes the reading of the 1252 charter, takes place in front of the Town Hall at 12 noon on the Thursday when the Mayor of Erewash, Coun Abey Stevenson, will ring the bell to signal the start of the fun. Guests will include schoolchildren from Hallam Fields Junior in Ilkeston and St Andrew’s Church Of England Primary in Stanley.

Almost overnight, Market Place and its surrounding streets will be rapidly turned into a vast fairground, which will attract Ilkestonians, past and present, travelling from far and wide, to taste the sounds, sights, smells and thrills that make up more than 700 years of history.

That history will also be reflected in a ‘Fairgrounds Of the Past’ exhibition taking place at Erewash Museum in the town centre on Saturday October 22 between 11 am and 3 pm. The free event will feature a showman’s engine, an original fairground organ and a fairground model display.

The exhibition is partly organised by the showmen themselves, who admit they look forward to flocking to Ilkeston every year. In their own ‘Fairground Guidebook’, they give Ilkeston Charter Fair ten out of ten for importance and significance and describe it as “a classic example of a vibrant, sprawling street fair that transforms the everyday environment of the town”. This is thanks, they say, to “a strong local sense of value and of the historical links between town and fair”.

One downside to the fair is that several roads and car parks in the town centre need to be closed for its duration, while some residents’ parking schemes need to be suspended. But most accept that is a small price to pay in support of an iconic event that helps to give Ilkeston an identity many larger towns and cities can only dream of.

THESE roads will be closed from 6 am next Tuesday (October 19) to 12 noon on Sunday, October 23:

South Street (from its junction with Derby Road on Market Place), Wharncliffe Road (from Albert Street to Market Place), Queen Street (in its entirety), Market Place (in its entirety), East Street (from the car park to Market Place), Bath Street (from Wilmot Street to Market Place) and Pimlico (from its junction with New Lawn Road to Burns Street).

A one-way system will be in place along Wharncliffe Road, Albert Street and Queen’s Drive to the junction with Oakwell Drive. Diversions, which will be signposted, will also be in place.

Streets belonging to two parking schemes that will be temporarily suspended during the week of the fair, are: St Mary Street area, Burns Street, Fullwood Street, Fullwood Avenue, Gregory Street, Jackson Avenue, New Lawn Road, St Mary Street, Wilmot Street, Queen’s Drive area, Albert Street, Cedar Park, Darwin Avenue, Queen’s Drive, Lissett Avenue and Moss Road.