Future of Europe’s oldest street fair under threat

The Lammas Fair, held on Market Street in St Andrews. Picture: Neil Doig

The Lammas Fair, held on Market Street in St Andrews. Picture: Neil Doig

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EUROPE’S oldest surviving street fair is “under threat”, it was revealed yesterday.

The Lammas Market, which dates back to medieval times, takes place in St Andrews on the second Monday and Tuesday in August each year.

But Fife Council parks and community events officer Keith Jackson has warned that complaints from showmen about rising costs and high rents could throw the future of the popular event into doubt.

The president of the Showmen’s Guild of Great Britain has also warned about rising costs.

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In a memo to St Andrews Community Council, Mr Jackson said any profit from the Lammas Fair went to the Common Good Fund of St Andrews and historically it had been used to pay off the annual debt incurred by the town’s renowned Byre Theatre.

When he took over management of the fair in 2008, the event was making a profit of about £2,000.

By last year, that amount had soared to some £19,500. Rental for the showmen has been frozen for the past three years, but Mr Jackson said: “For the same period we have received numerous representations from the showmen complaining that their costs were increasing dramatically and that the rental was the highest in the country.

“The fact that their complaint can be evidenced by the gap sites created by non-attendance, particularly this year, has prompted a review in order to sustain the event, the future of which can now be considered to be under threat.”

Mr Jackson said he had met local councillors and highlighted the danger of the event folding in the future.

He said that during a “frank discussion” they had had no objections to a cut in income if it would help.

Mr Jackson said a proposed rental reduction for showmen should still give a profit of about £10,000.

He added that he would be looking for something in return from the showmen, perhaps in terms of labour or payment of advertising, or both.

The name Lammas dates from the pagan festival of the harvest.

Loaf-Mass Day as it later became known, was Christianised to become today’s Harvest Festival. It still featured a loaf baked to represent the corn sheaf at its centre.

In the UK, the festival is still celebrated by the act of killing John Barleycorn, often represented as a scarecrow dressed in sacks and straw, with “John” being killed in a field as a sacrifice to appease the taking of the crop.

As time progressed, Lammas became a one-day market holiday and it would be held as a local gathering to sell the crop and celebrate after the hard work of bringing in the harvest.

The annual fair – which fills two of the three largest streets in St Andrews – features traditional market stalls, food and drink, concerts, dances and other public functions.

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