Nottingham Goose Fair has been held annually since the 13th century, only interrupted by plague, World Wars and the Covid pandemic. Originally held in Nottingham’s Old Market Square, it was moved in the 1920s to the Forest Recreation Ground north of the city, where once Sherwood Forest reached the edge of the town, and where some of my mother’s relatives are buried in nearby Rock Cemetary. Local artist Arthur Spooner painted the Fair just before it relocated to the Forest.
Whilst growing up in Nottingham, I’d walk to Goose Fair, held during the first week of October, where the atmosphere was thick with the smell of candyfloss, mushy peas, diesel and autumn fog. We were warned not to go, it could be a dangerous place apparently, but that only added to the thrill. I loved the bustle and noise, the brightly coloured vertiginous rides, but was also intrigued by what seemed to me at the time, the exoticism of its sideshows: the Crocodile Woman, the Flea Circus, George the Gentle Giant and the painted Boxing Booth.
In 2000 whilst visiting family in Nottingham, I was lucky enough to see one of the last of Ron Taylor’s boxing events. An MC with slicked back hair and a microphone asked for volunteers to fight the champ. A couple of young men offered but the MC was scathing: ‘Come back in a year or two my lads!’ I tried to persuade my companion but for some reason he was reluctant and annoyed. We saw the show, more carefully choreographed acrobatics than a boxing bout, and were relieved to see no one was actually hurt. Afterwards I went behind the painted backdrops to a caravan where a light was shining, and was told by a burly woman in its doorway, Ron’s daughter I think, that Ron was unwell, but she introduced me to Ron’s grandsons, shy and charming boys. Ron came from five generations of showpeople, including his grandmother who was a boxer, and regularly brought his Excelsior Booth to Goose Fair. Sadly I never got to meet him, and he died a few years later, aged 95.