The History of the Fayre
The Chapel Row Fayre has a very long and colourful history. In fact a fayre in the area was mentioned in the Domesday book.
The fayre used to take place every year on 26th July, St Anne's Day and reached national prominence in the 18th and 19th century when it hosted Backswording competitions. Backswording was a rather violent sport where two combatants would try and hit eachother over the head with cudgels in order to draw blood. The first to draw an inch of blood was declared the winner. Local competitors would compete at Chapel Row for a grand prize of 5 guineas against the likes of Blackford, regarded as the finest backsworder of his day and Uriah Wall, the champion of Somerset.
1812 - The Mercury
In July 1812 the Reading Mercury advertised the fayre as an opportunity for buying and selling cattle and for hiring of harvest men.
One of the most popular competitors to appear at Chapel Row was Corporal Shaw. As well as being a soldier in the Life Guards, Shaw was a famous prize fighter. A few years after appearing at the Chapel Row fayre Corporal Shaw fought and died at the Battle of Waterloo. His endeavours in the battle are commemorated in the words of Sir Walter Scott.
Backswording competitions were eventually outlawed in the 19th century and the Chapel Row fayre eventually disappeared off the Berkshire calendar.
1991 - The Resurrection of the Fayre
The re-launch of the fayre in 1991 is captured in these reports in the Blade Bone News:
In 1991 Bucklebury Football Club decided to resurrect the Chapel Row Fayre as a charity event.
Lots of people from the local community got involved and the first fayre was a big success. A feature of the early fayres were the anarchic 'It's a Knockout' Competitions that took place in the central arena.
2001 - The Non-Runners
In 2001 the foot and mouth restrictions meant that the sheep racing could not take place. Instead races were held for pantomime horses with Jenny Pitman providing expert commentary.
On a hot day a few competitors spent too long in the beer tent and unfortunately race performances suffered as the day progressed!
With each year that passed the fayre grew with more and more stalls being added.
2006 was a record year and £12,000 was raised for the principal charities Macmillan Nurses and Daisy's Dream.
Today the fayre is firmly established as a great day out on the August Bank holiday with visitors descending on Chapel Row from far and wide to enjoy the many stalls, see the vintage cars, enjoy one of Graham's famous Hog Roasts or to bet on the chaotic sheep and duck racing.
2007 - Jonny Saunders
The 2007 fayre was doubly blessed. As well as having our very own MC Mark Wallace commentating on events, we also had Radio 2's Jonny Saunders guesting on the mic. This resulted in the Chapel Row Fayre getting national radio coverage on the Chris Evans show....
Every year the fayre, with the help of the many volunteers, local businesses and of course the many visitors, raises a load of money for local charities. So this year why not come along enjoy a great (free) family day out, help raise money for charity and be a part of the historic Chapel Row Fayre.
Acknowledgement and thanks go to the following:
David Nash Ford's excellent Royal Berkshire History website and its account of the Chapel Row Revel.
Cecilia Millson - Author of "Bucklesbury's Heritage"