Nottingham and Hull: The entwined ancient fairs

Nottingham Goose Fair 2023

Both about a millennia in age, the giant fairs of Nottingham and Hull were officially recognised more than 700 years ago.

Interlocked in a span extending across the first half of October each year, both events are a highlight of any ride enthusiast’s calendar.

But the fairs’ history goes way beyond the modern and colourful rides which now dominate.

Nottingham Goose Fair’s roots are traditionally in animal trade – particularly of course, geese.

There is also a tradition of eating goose at the feast of Michaelmas (29 September), which fell at the end of the then-eight days of Nottingham’s fair.

That might also explain the origin of Nottingham fair’s famous name.

Nottingham Goose Fair
The feast of Michaelmas falls on 29 September each year, when goose is traditionally eaten

But like Hull, Nottingham’s fairs were initially disorderly uncontrolled events that needed to be formalised via official recognition.

King Edward I awarded royal charters for fairs at Hull in 1279 and later at Nottingham, in 1284.

But both events have hardly been uneventful since then.


In 1646, fears from the bubonic plague led to the Goose Fair’s cancellation.

And in 1766, a riot broke out at Nottingham over the sale of cheese. Disturbances lasted for several days, amidst food shortages at the time.

In Hull, antisocial behaviour and other disturbances saw the fair moved from the city centre to its current Walton Street site in 1888.

It was around this time that the influence of American carnivals began to take hold, with steam powered rides appearing at both fairs.

Hull Fair
Hull Fair today, with its modern versions of classic attractions

In 1928, an overnight watchman of Hull’s site reportedly dropped a paraffin lamp, starting a fire which caused over £500,000 of damage in today’s money.

By the mid-1930s, Hull’s showpeople included the meat prize-awarding Chicken Joe and, unbelievably, Mrs Doubtfire and her sideshows.

Last year, Nottingham Goose Fair was extended to 10 days in a storming return from COVID-imposed closure.

This year’s event closes on Sunday, but Hull started on Friday last week – meaning there have been a couple of days of overlap.

Showmen often move straight onto Hull from Nottingham in their busiest time of the year.

Today, both fairs have lively but largely safe environments throughout. They are free-entry experiences that remain an integral part of British history.