Town prepares to mark 800th anniversary of its royal recognition
- Credit: Honiton Museum
This July marks the 800th anniversary of Honiton being granted a Royal Charter and acquiring ‘market town’ status.
There was an old legend that Honiton Fair always started with a thunderstorm followed by the temperature rising to over 90 degrees in the shade. This was the time to plant cabbage seeds and shops closed for a half day.
Honiton Fair was the largest fair in the county. Dealers and farmers came from as far away as London, Bristol, Plymouth and Ireland. For decades the railway company issued half price tickets for passengers to come to the two Honiton Fair days.
The annual hot penny custom began at noon when the Town Crier declared ‘The fair is begun’. Children were allowed to come out of school to scramble for the oven heated, red hot pennies (or nuts) that were thrown from pub windows.
In 1927, a 102 year old lady recalled that in her childhood Hot Pennies went on until six in the evening.
The scramble money could be spent at the pleasure fair held in the Fair Field or later Streamers Meadows. It was bursting with stalls offering all manner of goods including sweets, fruit, books and shellfish. There were races, trade stalls, shooting galleries, swing boats, boxing rings, side shows, merry go rounds and organ grinders to entertain the crowds. In the Jingling Match, the first blindfolded boy under 15 to catch the Town Crier won 2s 6d.
The Town Crier’s garlanded pole with the golden glove (some years the glove was white) was raised at the balcony of the Kings Arms on the first day of the fair. This marked the centre of the cattle and sheep market.
On the second day the glove was taken to the White Lion – the halfway point of the horse fair which was held on both sides of the road between Dowell Street and the Old Rectory. In 1903, when the glove was taken to the White Lion there were no horses on offer so someone tied a wooden toy horse to the rail. It was checked by a vet and provided with food. By the end of the day it was unsold, so it had to be returned to the owner.