Goose Fair – The Golden Age of Ticklers and Emmas

A description of Goose Fair in the Old Market Square in 1896, taken from the memoirs of Mr G. C. A. Austin, Nottingham’s Clerk of the Markets from 1907 to 1944.

My strongest impression is of surging crowds moving ceaselessly round the fair.  It was impossible to change one’s direction once one was in the stream.

Gangs of young people, and some older ones, formed crocodiles.  Linked together by arms on the shoulders, or round the waist of the person in front, they forced a passage through the crowd.

Goose Fair 1907 by Harry Haslam
Goose Fair 1907 by Harry Haslam

All but the most vigorous shunned the narrow avenues of the fair knowing they would most likely be lifted off their feet and be carried along bodily by the throng.   Many found this thrilling but it could be alarming.  Big policemen stood here and there checking the exuberance of boys and girls when things became too rough.Little brushes, known as “ticklers”, and rubber balls which squirted water, added to the excitement, until they became so much of a nuisance that they were banned.

Games of skill were popular and there was keen competition at the coconut shies.

Rows of Grotesque figures, known as “Emmas”, could be knocked backwards by a well directed blow from a wooden ball.  On the show fronts dancing girls, clowns and jugglers gave a free entertainment to crowds which presently surged into the show eager to see the performance.

How the older people, who lived within hearing, endured three days of blaring organs, shrieking whistles and cries and laughter of thousands of excited merry‑makers is a puzzle.  They just had to put up with it, and did so usually with remarkably good grace.

With dramatic suddenness the Fair came to an end.  At the stroke of midnight on Saturday everything stopped, and a moment of thrilling silence followed the din.  It was my job to go round the outskirts of the Fair, with a police whistle, and to stop any riding machine which had not pulled up on the stroke of the Exchange clock.

The lights went out and the last ride was finished in darkness.  The crowds melted away and the tired show people retired to their living vans for a meal and a very short rest.

Then, in the darkness, relieved only by a few flare lamps, they began to dismantle their tackle.

Right through the night they worked, as it was an inflexible rule that the market square should be completely cleared and cleansed by Sunday morning. When the showmen moved off, an army of scavengers turned out to cart away the enormous amount of rubbish.

I recall a later year, when fifty cartloads of confetti were swept up and taken away. By that time, it had become such a nuisance that it was forbidden. The sweepers always made a little haul of coins, dropped among the rubbish ‑ mostly copper, sometimes silver, and, on rare and refreshing occasions, gold.

When ladies in Sunday apparel, accompanied by silk‑hatted gentlemen, set out for morning service, all traces of the Fair had vanished; the Market Place was empty; the side streets nearby were cleared of the scores of living vans which had been standing there: but on the site of the menagerie, there lingered the unmistakeable odour of animals.

Back to ‘Nottingham’s Goose Fair’ main page

Further Information (click the title to go to the page)

The Origins of Goose Fair

A brief history of the fair from an old Nottingham City Council ‘Nottingham Goose Fair’ leaflet, written around 1988 by Carl Piggins of the Public Relations Office.

Some Historical Goose Fair Events and Dates

These dates are all taken from my ‘Events and dates in Nottingham’s history’ pages.

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For other information about Nottingham click here

If you want to know more about Nottingham’s past there is further information in ‘Events and dates in Nottingham’s history’ and through these websites:

The Nottinghamshire Heritage Gateway

The Thoroton Society of Nottinghamshire

Nottingham Local Studies Library

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