Balloon seller

St Giles’ Fair deposited itself slap bang in the middle of a major road confluence in early September (for purists,  “the Monday and Tuesday following the first Sunday after St Giles’ Day”) as it has done, in various forms for over 800 years.

On the 8th of September, I walked through the fair, camera in hand, following a stay of execution at the dentist’s. This was in the morning, when the fair-goers were mainly white and older, with an occasional grandchild in tow (the peculiar timing of the fair means that it usually falls after the start of the Autumn term).

Bulldog guarding stuffed toy crocodiles

Returning in the early evening and staying until late, I was fascinated by the way in which the crowd changed, becoming younger and more ethnically mixed. There were a few obvious tourists, but the general impression was overwhelmingly local and working-class.

Crowd at St Giles' Fair, Oxford

In our rapidly changing world, events like this can reinforce the thread of continuity for those rare people who are native to the city – their annual visit echoing the experience of their parents, grandparents or even great-grandparents. For incomers, the very openness of the event can provide a route into the culture of the place.

It reminded me of Yvonne, one of the students who lodged with us in Derbyshire – she was the daughter of Polish refugees and had a strong Polish identity, but the annual pilgrimage to the Goose Fair in her native Nottingham was strictly non-negotiable.

2015 09 08 St Giles Fair173

In it’s favour, there was a distinct – and very relaxed -atmosphere, which became stronger as darkness fell – a marked contrast to the lack of atmosphere at this year’s Cowley Road Carnival. This may have been something to do with with the darkness drawing people into the area or the coherence of the event. What was missing was a sense of participation – most people seemed to be there to just wander around and look. Were people having fun? Again, it seemed not. I think people were enjoying soaking up the atmosphere and hanging out with their friends, but it all came across as a bit subdued.

Still, I managed to get some nice photos, which have now been processed and which are available for public viewing …

Link:  Fair photos on Flickr – slide show option (top right) recommended