This is a little bit of trivia with a slightly tenuous Broadland link which was born out of a recent search for information relating to Albion Fairs which were held at various locations throughout Norfolk and Suffolk during the 1970s and 1980s.
Visitors to the Locks Inn at Geldeston will probably have noticed the fine array of old posters behind the bar which advertised the Barsham Faires of the 1970s (see left) and a few may possibly have wondered what on earth the Barsham Faire was. In the early 1970s a group of friends living in the Waveney Valley area got together and, with the hippy ideals of the late 1960s still flourishing, decided to try to re-create a medieval craft fair which would include music, theatre and circus acts along with the traditional craft stalls and would run over a three day, bank holiday weekend. A suitable site was found at Barsham, near Beccles, and in 1972 the first faire was held. The second faire in 1973 attracted around 22,00 visitors and Barsham went on to become an annual event for the next four years but seemingly became a victim of its own success – as word spread the numbers attending the weekend faires continued to increase until it was felt that it had probably outgrown the site beside the church in the village and the last Barsham Faire was held in 1976. Such was the interest generated by these events, the idea evolved into a desire to create a travelling version which became the Albion Fairs that were organised at various locations between 1978 and 1986. As a 15 year old, I was dragged along to the Alby Fair in North Norfolk by my older brother in 1981 and subsequently remember attending several others over the next few years at Rougham, Bungay, Brome and Thornham Magna!
The memories have become a bit hazy over the years, but the best way I can describe these events is to liken them to sort of mini Glastonbury festival where an eclectic mix of hippies, bikers, punks and the general public gathered to live an “alternative” lifestyle for the weekend. Camping facilities were always somewhat basic (ask anyone who attended an Albion Fair about the infamous “long drop” toilets!), the music was sometimes dodgy, there were often far more naked people than a 15/16 year old girl really wanted to encounter at the water standpipes in the morning, but the real ale was always plentiful and in an era when Mrs Thatcher was teaching us all to think of “me, me, me” and where riots had become a common occurrence in the major cities, there was something quite special in being part of several thousand people gathering together in our little corner of rural England to live for a weekend in peace, love and harmony …… yeah man!
A search for more information on the Albion Fairs led me to the fairsarchive.org website which gathers together a fabulous collection of artwork and history the East Anglian fairs. This site is no longer being updated, but the mantle seems to have passed to the From Albion to Barsham fairs archive blog which is appealing for further posters, memorabilia and memories from those who performed at or attended either the Barsham or Albion Fairs. An exhibition celebrating the fairs is being held in South Norfolk at the Corn Hall in Diss from 4th August-26th August 2011 (more details of that here) and a one day event is planned at the same venue on Saturday 10th September.
Discovering the Fairs Archive website also brought enlightenment to another vague memory I had from the dim and distant past about a publication I remembered being produced in the Waveney area in the early 1980s which featured a cartoon strip about coypus. It turns out that the publication in question was called the Waveney Clarion, a monthly newspaper which evolved after the first Barsham Faire, funded by proceeds from that event. The cartoon was called Coypu Comix and was the work of the late Mick Sparksman. More on that can also be found on the Fairs Archive website link above. And to bring this post back round to its Broadland link, the photograph on the left shows a fabulous piece of artwork which hangs on the wall to the right of the bar at Geldeston Locks Inn and obviously commemorates the 1975 Barsham Faire and the Waveney Clarion/Coypu Comix connection.