This section will attempt to record what is known of the fair including a selection of news items and historical references and things you might have seen or done at earlier Cheam Charter Fairs.
It is a living page and it will be updated as information becomes available.
There are lots of gaps in our knowledge of the fair so your input is very welcome. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any information or photographs.
The history of Cheam Charter Fair is a tricky subject. It is said that the fair dates back to 1259 when Henry III granted Cheam a charter making it a town but so far my research has shown that nobody can actually lay their hands on a copy of the charter, or even find references to the fair before the 19th century. So, did the fair start in Henry III’s time, was it a Victorian invention or does the true origin lie in a period between the two?
Despite this lack of evidence one of the key drivers of the fair is that it must happen each May 15th. “If the fair does not happen on this day then the right to hold it is lost forever! Other than this the only way to stop it is by Act of Parliament.”
We do not have any information about the fair in the early 2010s, or the intervening period since the 1970s, but in late 2011 it was said “the fair has few stalls and is in a state of decline”.
In December 2011 Cheam Ward Councillor Mary Burstow asked Richard Marston to take on the task of rejuvenating the fair. Part of the brief was to move the fair to a Saturday. This was contrary to holding the fair on the traditional date of 15th May but it was felt more stallholders and visitors would attend a fair on a Saturday. The change of date caused some complaints but the majority seemed to agree with the benefits of a Saturday fair.
December 2011 was also when this website was born and the fair moved into the 21st Century by making full use of the Internet and Social Media.
In 2012 the fair took place on the Saturday following the 15th May, token stalls appeared on the 15th to “maintain the terms of the Charter” and other events were organised in Cheam on the intervening days.
A Steering Group formed from local groups and individuals was formed to run the 2013 fair and Cheam Charter Week was created to provide a fixed period for community events that would include both the traditional and actual dates of the fair.
Nobody’s got a hope in hell of finding it This news item appeared when Mr Derek W. James, a book shop owner in Carshalton Road, Sutton wrote to a newspaper offering to donate 10 guineas to charity if anyone could produce conclusive evidence of the Charter’s existence. County Post, Times-Herald 12 June 1969
Drank his beer – at six seconds a pint! That was the headline of an article recording the (then) traditional Yard of Ale competition being held outside the Harrow Inn in Cheam Village. The competition was won at the last minute by Eric Price of Worcester Park when he lopped nine seconds off the record and downed two and a half pints in fifteen seconds – an average speed of six seconds a pint. The Advertiser, 17 May 1962
Interesting to note that a year later The Advertiser mentioned Eric’s feat again but this time quoted 45 seconds. So much for the accuracy of our history as recorded by the press. ‘The Mail’ also recorded a time of 15 seconds in its edition of 17 May 1962 so we assume this is the correct figure. Whatever the correct time, in the words of the TV shows, “Don’t try this at home folks”!
Showmen’s Guild It was commented that the arrangements for the fair were mainly being left to members of the Showmen’s Guild ‘who nowadays monopolise most of the stalls’. The Advertiser, 17 May 1962
I wonder when they stopped ‘monopolising’ and the fair changed to its current form?
Abandon the fair In 1956 Sutton and Cheam Council asked the Home Office to abolish the fair, but local support was so great that the Home Office took no action. The Advertiser, 17 May 1962
Thankfully the current fair is supported by Sutton Council and its future looks safe.
Extra long Fair in 1953 “I recall that in 1953 the Fair lasted for a week in honour of the Coronation!” – A 2014 recollection from Juliet Chaplin, Cheam.
Post Second World War revival A copy of the Souvenir Brochure (price 6d) produced in 1951 says “there could be no finer contribution to the Festival of Britain than the Cheam Charter Fair” and that “it is Cheam and Worcester Park Residents’ Association to whom the credit must go”.
The 1952 Souvenir Brochure records that the 1951 event was an ‘unqualified success’ and that it “has been decided to continue the fair this year on the same basis”. 1951 & 1952 Souvenir Brochures
1952 Programme and Stalls
- Decorated vehicles in procession from Worcester Park
- Queen of the Fair
- Fancy Stall and Cinema Unit (North Cheam Methodist Church)
- Model Railway (Sutton Round Table)
- Plants (Cheam Horticultural Society)
- Dancing Bear (Miss Owston)
1951 Programme and Stalls
- Stage Coach tour around Borough
- Maypole Dancing
- Mumming Play
- Folk Dancing
- Ex-Servicemen’s Articles (Cheam British Legion)
- Toilet Requisites (Girl Guides)
- Cut Flowers and Garden Requisites (Nonsuch Girls’ School)
- Demonstration and Exhibition by Women’s Carpentry Class
- Goldfish Exhibition
- Cavalcade of Arms
“I remember Cheam charter fair back in the 1950’s. It was a good fair then with swing boats, merry go rounds and coconut shies and candy floss, toffee apples, gun target stalls, it was a proper fair.” PS, Jan 2012
The Second World War Rumour has it the fair was kept going during the war years with only an ice cream stall and a dart board. The Advertiser, 17 May 1962.
“We must also thank the Showmen’s Guild, who by sending a representative each year since the last fair was held, have prevented the Charter from lapsing”. 1951 Souvenir Brochure
“The right to hold the Fair has however in recent years only been kept alive by the sale of ice cream from a stall on the appointed day’. 1952 Souvenir Brochure
Unfortunately none of these references give us a clue as to when the Fair was last fully operational prior to the Second World War.
1906 – May
The newspaper report of the first fair following its escape from closure.
Note the use of the old name of Red Lion Street for what is now Park Road in this article and the one below.
1906 – Feb
Fair or no Fair? The inhabitants of Cheam are very much divided in opinion as to the utility of continuing the Cheam Fair.
Schools Out ‘We certainly know that the fair existed in the 19th century. The records show that at this time schools in Cheam closed on May 15 for the fair’. County Post, Times-Herald 12 June 1969
Probably not a good idea to put the idea of a day off into the minds of our current scholars.
Saving the Fair The text below was provided by local resident Natalie Nagle in early 2013 who received it from relative Brenda Bench (nee Barr).
Mary Sloper was my Gt Gt grandmother, her mother was Elizabeth Sloper and she was known as ‘Granny Sloper’.
Between the 1800’s and 1900’s and I don’t know the date, the Fair was in danger of being closed down. However,this particular year the Fair did not have any visiting side shows etc and it was said that unless there were stalls out on the day of the Fair, then Cheam Fair would cease to exist. Brenda Barr’s grandfather told her that on the day, Granny Sloper (Elizabeth Sloper – nee Mills) erected a table out the front of her cottage and set out produce etc to sell and things for the children to do and Cheam Fair was saved!!
I understand that Granny Sloper and the family moved from the cottage in Park Lane and moved to a lodge cottage on the edge of Cheam Park at the bottom of Park Lane on the other side of the main road. She died in 1904.
What the papers say – or don’t The Sutton Journal newspapers of May 1864 and 1865 don’t seem to mention the Fair and looking at the level of other news items this leads me to suspect there was no Fair in those years. Items that WERE published included reports of an explosion at Ewell Gun Powder Mill, a meeting of Carshalton & Sutton Teetotal Society and a case of a Cheam young man hitting his brother upon the head with a poker such that ‘he had not, up to the time we last heard, even spoken again since, and his life was despaired of’.
Thanks to the Local Studies and Archives Centre of Sutton Central Library and David Rymill for their help in unearthing information about the fair.