Daily Archives: 10 May, 2010

Love Albert Road Day: a 19th Century parallel

Its sad to see that Love Albert Road Day is under threat of not taking place, due to spiralling costs. I guess its very much a victim of its own success – according to a lot of people’s its now turned into an excuse to ge drunk. I’ve never been myself, but I’ve been to plenty of gigs in the Wedgewood rooms and had curries in several of the many curry houses. Its a big shame, as the aims of the event are very noble indeed – if only more places had such a community spirit.

For me Albert Road is the most interesting street in modern Portsmouth – where else could you get a curry, a kebab or fish and chips, see a show or a gig, buy some antiques or books, and have a drink in one of several pubs? I think its more interesting than the Lanes in Brighton.

Funnily enough, there is an example in history of another similar event that started with good intentions but sadly got out of hand. One of the rights given to Portsmouth in its first charter was the right to hold an annual fair – something that many towns did. For several weeks a year traders could pitch up in the High Street and sell their wares. Money came into the town, as well as people. Once a gloved hand was hung over the door of the Town Hall, the festivities could commence.

However, over the years the Fair evolved into a different kind of beast. By the Nineteenth Century the stalls remained, but they also sprang up unoficially in the side streets, and the event turned into more of a show. Visitors could see Lions and Tigers, Elelphants, and what were described at the time as ‘freaks’, such as pygmys, giants and bearded ladies. Many people used to fair as an excuse to get drunk and behave riotously, until the point where the cost of putting on the fair and the impact that it had outweighted its benefits.

By the 1840’s many in Portsmouth were calling for the fair to be abolished. This was part of wider Victorian society’s desire to ‘clean-up’ the towns, and prevent what we now call anti-social behaviour. After much debating locally the Town Council petitioned the Government for an Act of Parliament to abolish the Fair – this was required as the right to hold a fair was enshrined in the town’s charter. The 1847 Free Mart Fair was the last.

I think the Free Mart Fair is a lesson that unfortunately, sometimes the well-meant aims of an event can get swamped by the lowest common denominator of people wanting to get pissed. But at the same time, maybe that is just a signal to go back to the drawing board?


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