An extraordinary custom

1922 Pole Fair toll ticket [North Northamptonshire Council archive]

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An extraordinary custom

By Helen Watts, guest blog for Made With Many

This year’s Pole Fair is almost upon us, the culmination of four years planning and organisation by the Corby Pole Fair steering group, of which I am a member. Part of that planning has included gathering together the history of past Pole Fairs, which I have been involved with, along with other Corby Heritage Centre volunteers.

Anyone familiar with the history of the Pole Fair will be aware that it has been asserted that there is no written evidence earlier than 1862. Spencer Percival in his booklet written in 1922 confirmed this assertion, as have more recent writings. However, with the advent of new technology, we have recently unearthed a newspaper article published on the British Newspaper Archive from the Northampton Mercury dated Saturday, 3rd December 1825.

This article relayed information from a publication entitled The Rutland Appendix to Almanacks for 1826, where the writer spoke of an extraordinary custom, which took place in Corby every 21 years on Whit Monday. They went on to describe the demands for tolls from every person who passed through Corby that day with non-payers being made to ride through the town to jeers and shouts from the locals as penance, followed by a period of time spent in the stocks.

The writer described having seen a document kept within the parish written on parchment in a strange Latin script said to be the charter authorising the event, going on to say that the last time the event had been celebrated had been on 11th June 1821, which is the oldest written record of Corby Pole Fair discovered thus far.

The Mercury Herald in November 6th 1936 ran an article about Corby’s then oldest resident, Miss Collier who had memories of living in the tiny hamlet of about 100 people and of attending five Pole Fairs, the earliest being 1842, 21 years later. Seemingly the change to 20 years occurred with the following Pole Fair being held in 1862.

If you, like me, have a passion to raise the awareness of Corby’s local history call 01536 267895, email info@madewithmany.org or visit www.corbypolefair.com to find out more about volunteering at Pole Fair on Friday 3rd June.

Helen Watts, Corby Heritage Centre Volunteer and member of the Corby Pole Fair steering group

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