Ilkeston’s historic Charter Fair is just days away and will this year celebrate its 763rd gathering in the town centre.

The Charter was granted by King Henry III in 1252, making the fair older than Nottingham’s famous Goose Fair, and it remains one of the largest street fairs in Europe

The King’s Charter begins: ‘Know ye that we have granted and by this our charter confirmed to our beloved and faithful Hugh son of Ralph, that he and his heirs for ever shall have free warren in all their demesne lands of Elkesdon.’

Dated the 10th of April 1252, the Charter was granted by the King to Hugh de Muskham and gives the lord of the manor and the townsfolk of Ilkeston – written back then as Elkesdon – the right to hold a market on Thursdays and an annual fair on the Assumption of the blessed Virgin Mary in August.

Initially, the fair would have been mainly a trading event but amusements and festivities were also associated with fairs on holy days. The start of hiring fairs dates back to the 14th Century with the passing of the Statute of Labourers in 1351 by Edward III.

The agricultural calendar in Ilkeston meant the holding of a Statutes of Hiring Fair in October and this continued until 1888 when the original August ‘Assumption’ Fair and the Statute Fair were amalgamated and this Charter Fair has continued to be held during October’s Wakes Week since then.
Famous show families haven been a part of the fair’s history, including Samuel Taylor, the famous Ilkeston Giant, and John Albert Proctor. A strong relationship developed between the showmen and the local authorities and the event’s first civic opening was given in 1931. Following local government reorganisation in 1974, Erewash Borough Council has continued to develop the friendship and expand the fair.

The opening ceremony always begins at 11.45pm on the Thursday – this year on Thursday 22 October – in front of Ilkeston Town Hall as local people and the showmen gather round. The ceremony includes a version of the 1252 Charter which has evolved over the centuries and ends with the playing of the National Anthem and the ‘ringing of the bell’ by the Mayor of Erewash to signal that Ilkeston Charter Fair is underway.

• A copy of the original Charter and an early translation together with the current Charter wording as it has evolved over the centuries can be viewed on the Erewash Borough Council website within the Ilkeston Charter History article on Latest News.

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