Ovingham Goose Fair

Origins & History

The history of Ovingham Goose Fair stretches out over nine centuries. The fair began in the 13th, was reinstated in the 20th and continues into the 21st...

Ovingham in the 13th Century belonged to the Umfraville family and used to have a weekly market as well as an annual fair on St Andrew's Day (November 13th).

In 1471, the Earls (later Dukes) of Northumberland became Lords of the Manor and held the rights to the fair at this point in its history.

By 1826 the Fair was principally for the sale of cattle and business and was preceded by a procession which was called “Riding the Bounds”. Latterly and certainly by 1939, the bounds were walked not ridden, by the Duke's two pipers, agent, baliff and constable who were followed by the tenant farmers and householders. After the procession the rents were collected. This was followed by a dinner in the evening in the Adam and Eve at Low Prudhoe and at the Duke’s expense.

Historical references in the mid 19th century refer to the demise of the Cattle Fair and of it 'degenerating' into a mere amusement for children. But a fair selling geese was still being held on the Village Green in the 1840s. Charlie Boyd, who lived in South View (now known as Duke's Cottage) remembered his mother telling him about it.

The geese were walked - despite there being a train service in operation from Carlisle to Redheugh since 1838 - from the Carlisle area, probably for the Newcastle and Gateshead Christmas markets. Exactly when the Fair ceased is not yet known. Perhaps it was in 1939. Certainly by the early 1960s the Village Green and Vicarage Haugh had become a wilderness.

In 1969, Ovingham Reading Room Committee, headed by Gladys Mills, Alan Edgar and Douglas Mennear formally applied to the Duke of Northumberland to reinstate the Fair in order to raise money for improvements to the Reading Room including a large extension. Permission was granted. First of all it was held on the two Wellburn fields belonging to the Regional Hospital Board and tenanted by Professor Allen of Bleach Green Farm. After a few years, when the Village Green had been restored and the Fair had outgrown the two fields, it was transferred onto the green and then extended to the Vicarage Haugh as the number of stalls increased.

Restoration works on Ovingham Bridge prevented use of the Vicarage Haugh and the Village Green in 2014 and 2015 so the fair was moved to Ovingham Reading Room for these two years and was renamed "The Gosling Fair" for the daytime event and "Gooseberry Jam" for an evening live music event. The fair was rested beyond this until 2019 when it was re-established in all its glory for its 50th anniversary, and the committee made a real effort to take it back to its original form in 1969 and the early 70s, with a brass band and the involvement of Thomas Bewick's birthplace, Cherryburn. Ovi-Fun, the Ovingham village community group that promotes fun, exercise and healthy living organised children's activities for the first time. As a nod to the days of the earliest fairs in Ovingham, the oldest bell in St. Mary's, 'Cuthbert' (1350) as it is known was rung to start the fair. The very same bell would have rang out during the medieval fairs, 700 years earlier - a beautiful aural link to the past.

The Covid-19 pandemic put a stop to the fair in 2020, 2021 and 2022 but planning is now underway to bring it back in 2023. We hope to maintain the many traditions of the fair and ensure it remains a community event. Ovi-Fun once again will be joining us.

The modern fair has about 40 stalls, half for village organisations and groups, and half for local craftspeople selling their wares. The traditional procession through the village from the Village Cross was dropped in 2019 due to the sudden increase in the cost of closing the road. Festivities now begin at 11.45am with the procession starting on Pack Horse Green and coming over the Pack Horse Bridge. The procession features a person dressed as a goose, a jolly man in a top hat with a bell, the vicar of St. Mary's, Northumbrian Pipers, Morris Dancers and dance groups as well as children in fancy dress and representation from various village organisations and groups.

For the first two fairs a specially composed proclamation was used but then Ron Edgar discovered the old proclamation in village records. This original text has been used ever since. The Proclamation is made from the Village Green at 12:15pm now and the fair is usually officially opened by a mystery celebrity or a local noteworthy soul.

Starting in 2023 we will be having two stages for entertainment: a traditional one on the Village Green for the brass band, Northumbrian Pipers and Morris dancers; and a second one on Vicarage Haugh for local musicians.

Traditional Northumbrian fayre is served in the form of Singin’ Hinnies, and for 2023 we intend to reintroduce the Northern delicacies Carlin peas and Panhaggerty after their absence for many years.

Local geese often make an appearance.

Ovingham Goose Fair Proclamation
Ovingham Goose Fair Proclamation

Ovingham Goose Fair is organised by the OVINGHAM READING ROOM committee