Monday, 27 May 2013
The Onion Fair
The Onion Fair has a long lineage, dating back to being held in Birmingham from about the 1500s. By the 1870s though it was becoming renowned for attracting the 'wrong sort', so was moved out of the centre of the city to the border of Aston and Witton, just behind Aston Church on the Serpentine ground. It was placed in the care of travelling fairman Pat Collins who kept the fair respectable and highly popular. The last fair was held in the late 1960s and many who lived or still live in the area around have some very happy memories of the event, including Fred Brookes who has given an oral history of his memories:
"It was a great big fair, it was the annual event of Witton actually, you know, the whole area was covered with rides, stalls, hoopla, everything that you could think of with the fair. Boxing stalls, fat men, fat lady, everything, and it was on for the weekend and it was called the Onion Fair. The Onion Fair because wherever you went there were bunches of onions hanging down, and it was all lit up; it was absolutely glorious, especially if the weather was good. But of course, with the cinders, or the serpentine- the surface, if it was wet then you’d come back with black shoes and black trousers and everything, what with the stuff coming up. But it was great, it was a real annual event".
And from another gentleman more memories .....
"It fascinated me as a child, and race down there, and I became a stooge, Charlie Hickman had a boxing booth and he would call me onto the front stage outside the booth and pretend to cut a potato in half with a great cutlass, which I held in my hand, of course the potato was already in two but stuck back and I had to put a terror-stricken face on but it was a free entrance. I was stooge to the magician the Great Maskelyn and found out how one was sawed in half.
The greatest thrill was when the lion escaped, all the fair hands rushed to help capture him so we enjoyed a few rides on the roundabouts. Incidentally, they didn't capture the lion, that went into the churchyard, it gave itself up, the poor beast was more frightened than the population, it had got no teeth anyway, and I can remember when the fair came the next year, the trainer's coat was hung up outside the big tent, ripped to ribbons, but it was well known that his claws had been cut and probably the oldest lion in captivity".