Fair (Lat. feria, a day of rest, a holiday), a . gathering for the purchase and sale of goods, or the hiring of servants, occasionally associated with religious festivals and popular entertainments. The ancient Greeks held fairs in conjunction with popular assemblies for political purposes. The Roman fora, though properly permanent market places, attracted great multitudes at times of festivity and important judicial and political gatherings, and on such occasions the special facilities for selling goods, as well as the special provisions for popular entertainment, must have given them somewhat of the character of fairs. In the 5th century fairs were established in several French and Italian cities. The fair of St. Denis was instituted by Dagobert in 629, and the fair of St. Lazare by Louis VI. Aix-la-Chapelle and Troyes trace their fairs to about the year 800. Alfred the Great introduced them into England in 886, and in 960 they were established in Flanders. Fairs for the sale of slaves were common throughout Germany and the north of Europe about the year 1000; and in 1071 they were encouraged in England by William the Conqueror. Slaves were sold also at St. Denis, and French children were taken in return to be bartered away in foreign countries; this trade was prohibited through the efforts of Bathilda, a wealthy freedwoman.
These institutions were of great value during the middle ages, and especially serviceable in rude and inland countries. The number of shops and the objects offered for sale in them were very limited, and consequently little frequented by dealers. These fairs had numerous privileges annexed to them, and they afforded special facilities for the disposal of goods. While commerce was burdened with every possible kind of taxes and tolls, and travel was not only difficult but frequently unsafe, the fairs had generally the advantage of being free from imposts, and the merchants who wished to be present at them enjoyed the protection of the government for their goods and persons. Many fairs were associated with religious festivals, perhaps to insure a large concourse of people. In many places they are still held on the same day with the vigil or feast of the saint to whom the principal church of the town is dedicated. It was even customary in England and Germany to hold the fairs in the churches and churchyards. Fairs for cattle, agricultural products, and staple manufactures have been found entirely unnecessary in countries enjoying a free and flourishing trade, and they dwindle accordingly into insignificance.
On the other hand, fairs offer special opportunities for comparing different qualities of home manufactures and produce, and thus are valuable as a means of instruction. Another advantage attached to them is that they bring communities which are but slowly reached by the progress of civilization into regular contact with it. The most celebrated fairs of large cities in former times accordingly manifest the greatest decrease of attendance, while the genuine country fairs still retain much of their importance,-To the priory of St. Bartholomew in London, founded early in the 12th century, Henry I. granted in 1133 the privilege of holding a fair on St. Bartholomew's day. The original grant was for three days, but it was gradually extended to fifteen. An order of the common council in 1708 limited its duration again to three days. It was at first a great place of resort for traders and pleasure seekers, but it declined in importance until it was only attended by itinerant showmen and the owners of a few stalls.
In 1850 the lord mayor made proclamation of the fair for the last time, and it has not been held since 1855. (See Morley'sMemoirs of Bartholomew's Fair," London, 1859.) Weyhill fair in Hampshire (Oct. 10) has probably the greatest display of sheep of any fair in Great Britain. St. Faith's, near Norwich (Oct. 17), is the principal English fair for Scotch cattle, but large numbers are also disposed of at Market Har-borough, Carlisle, and Ormskirk. Ipswich has two considerable fairs, one in August for lambs, of which about 100,000 are sold, and one in September for butter and cheese. The August fair of Horncastle, Lincolnshire, is the largest horse fair, and is resorted to by dealers not only from Great Britain, but also from the continent and the United States. Howden in Yorkshire has also a large horse fair, particularly for Yorkshire hunters. Suffolk horses are exhibited at the celebrated Woodbridge Lady-day fair. Bristol, Exeter, and many other English cities, towns, and hamlets, have their fairs.
A great cheese fair is held in April at Gloucester. Fairs were held at Greenwich at Easter and Whitsuntide, which attracted large crowds of visitors from London to partake in the many amusements, as well as to enjoy the fresh air and the fine scenery from the park and its neighborhood; but Greenwich fair was suppressed in 1857 by the police, the inhabitants having complained of it as a nuisance. Walworth, Camberwell, and Peckham fairs have also been suppressed. The most important mart in Scotland for cattle and sheep is Falkirk fair or tryst. The largest fair in Ireland for the sale of cattle and sheep is held from Oct. 5 to 9 at Ballinasloe, in the counties of Gal way and Roscommon. About 25,000 head of cattle and 75,000 sheep, most of which are raised in Connaught, are annually brought to this fair. Donnybrook fair, celebrated for its noisy mirth and pugnacity, is now abolished. -In France the St. Denis fair, near Paris, both commercial and religious, was continued till 1789. It was customary to exhibit there a piece of wood alleged to have belonged to the cross on which Jesus was crucified, and the whole of Paris went to see it.
The St. Lazare, St. Laurent, St. Germain, and St. Ovid fairs in Paris were also suppressed in 1789. Permanent markets have taken their place as far as the sale of goods is concerned, and the popular shows and entertainments that used to attend them are now confined to the celebration of national holidays .and church festivals. In the departments a few fairs are still in existence and enjoy a good trade. The most important is the fair of Beaucaire, which is held July 22-28, and rivals the great fairs of Germany and Russia. The counts of Toulouse granted this fair some privileges in the 13th century, and Charles VIII. decreed its time and duration. In the very heart of the town an extensive square is appropriated for it, and while it lasts thousands of stalls are erected on it, in which is offered for sale everything that forms an article of commerce. It is believed that often as many as 200,000 traders from all parts of the world assemble here. After dark the whole town is given up to gayety, and the numerous show and concert and dancing saloons turn it into a pandemonium. A tribunal of commerce, consisting of 12 members, exercises during this season absolute judicial power over all mercantile differences.