6th August: Goldsithney Charter Fair

Goldsithney Charter Fair takes place in early August every year. In his classic book on CornishFolklore 'Popular Romances of the West of England’ published in 1865 Robert Hunt says...

‘On the 5th of August, St James's day, a fayre is held here, which was originally held in the Church-town of Sithney near Helston. In olden time, the good St Perran the Little gave to the wrestlers in his parish a glove as the prize, and the winner of the glove was permitted to collect the market toll on the day of the feast, and to appropriate the money to his own use. The winner of the glove lived in the Church-town of Sithney, and for long years the right of holding the fair remained undisputed. At length the miners of Goldsithney resolved to contest the prize, and they won it, since which time the fair has been held in that village, they paying to the poor of the parish of Sithney one shilling as compensation.'

Here's the glove on the Trevelyan Coat of Arms outside the pub in the village.

The fair at Goldsithney is indeed very ancient, the Domesday Book refers to the village as 'Plen-Goyl-Sithney', the ‘Field of the Fair of Sithney’, making the fair certainly pre-Norman. Fair Days were not just an opportunity for fun and meeting with friends and family, they were often when rents and other dues were paid and in the case of Goldsithney the fair also the day of a Leet Court when the Lord of the Manor ensured that all the obligations he could demand from the villagers had been carried out.

One of the primary activities at Goldsithney fair was and still is Cornish wrestling. In Cornish wrestling the combatants wear jackets and attempt throw each other by grapping their opponent’s coat. It has been a sport in the west of England since earliest times. The first written record is from 1590 and Richard Carew in his famous book about Cornwall said:

‘Wrastling is as full of manliness, more delightful and less dangerous (than hurling)... for you shall hardly find an assembly of boys in Devon and Cornwall, where the most untowardly amongst them will not as readily give you a muster of this exercise as you are prone to require it.’

You can picture the scene where the local lads are eager to show off their wrestling prowess and the local lasses are anxious to see them do it. Maybe when the match was over a pretty girl might expect a few freshly made fairings as a token of affection.

Goldsithney Charter Fair is one of those real community events organized by the village for the village, whilst still welcoming incomers from as far away even as Helston. There’s music and singing, a dog show, stalls selling lots of lovely things to eat, lots of drinking and lots of fun.

Fairings are sold all over Cornwall and are a favourite thing for visitors to take home, but they are really easy to make.

Cornish fairings (makes about 24)

225g plain flour

2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp baking powder

2 tsp ground mixed spice

3 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp cinnamon

½ tsp salt

110g butter

110g caster sugar

2 tablespoons of crystallized ginger cut into small pieces about the size of a small pea. (Some old recipes used candied peel instead which gives a nice citrusy hit)

4 tbsp golden syrup

Oven 200c

Sieve the dry ingredients together and then rub in the butter until the mixture is the colour and consistency of sand, there’s minimal effort here but you could use a food processor. Stir in the sugar and the candied ginger. Warm the syrup and then pour it in to the mixture and mix thoroughly stiffish paste.

Roll the mixture into walnut-sized balls in the palms of your hands – each one weighs ½ oz if you are looking for consistency. Place the balls on a greased baking sheet allowing them room to spread out. Bake for about 10 minutes, move the baking sheet from the top of the oven to the bottom after 5 minutes or as soon as the biscuits start to brown. The crackled top is how they are supposed to look!

If you have any left over (unlikely) chunk them into softened vanilla ice-cream then refreeze it. Completely decadent with clotted cream!

PS Apologies for the lack of poem and the fact this is late, I thought I'd set it up to post automatically - but the gremlins got in...


Karen S Booth said...

I used to love Cornish Fairings when I lived in Cornwall, I used to buy them from a small shop in Tintagel.....so, thanks for the recipe, I have several recipes in cookbooks, but I am going to try yours.....
Another wonderful post!

Gerry Snape said...

Well I shall hope to buy some next week when we all come down to Looe!

Eggs on the Roof said...

My Grandmother used to give me these for tea - if I was lucky and very well behaved. She bought them from the corner shop in Braunton, owned by a lovely, smiley man called Mr Moon. I haven't thought about them in decades - thank you.