The Theatre of the London Fairs in the 18th Century

The Theatre of the London Fairs in the 18th Century

The Theatre of the London Fairs in the 18th Century

The Theatre of the London Fairs in the 18th Century

Excerpt

The scope of this book is limited to fairs in what is now greater London though in the eighteenth century a few of those included were outside the city. Others abounded throughout the country at various seasons of the year. The most important of these was Stourbridge Fair near Cambridge, whose entertainments I have covered in an article in Studies in English Theatre History (Society for Theatre Research, 1952). Provincial fairs were usually visited by the local circuit company which arranged its itinerary so as to be at the towns at the time when they were held and to reap the benefit of the crowds they gathered. In most cases their dramatic history is part of the annals of the circuit company concerned.

Because the fairs had a continuous history, it has not been possible to adhere too strictly to the eighteenth century. In particular some seventeenth-century material has been incorporated in order to show how their drama developed. Bartholomew Fair and others which survived into the nineteenth century underwent a definite transition when travelling showmen such as Richardson, Saunders and Gyngell toured from fairground to fairground with their wagons, providing more elaborate but standardised programmes of melodrama, farce and pantomime. The start of their activities has been touched on but their story remains to be written.

This is in no sense a history of the fairs nor even of their many and varied entertainments. These have been dealt with in: George Daniel, Merrie England in the Olden Time (1842); Thomas Frost, The Old Showmen (1874); Samuel McKechnie, Popular Entertainments through the Ages (1931); Henry Morley, Memoirs of Bartholomew Fair (1892; 1st edition, 1857); R. W. L. Muncey , Our Old English Fairs [1936]; George Speaight, History of the English Puppet Theatre (1955); Cornelius Walford , Fairs, Past and Present (1883), and others. In the main I have confined myself to dramatic entertainments. Puppets, rope dancing, and music booths have been included only when . . .

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