The Glasgow Fair: Everything You Need To Know

The Glasgow Fair is a famous holiday in Scotland that dates back all the way to the 12th century.

Still to this day Glasgow Fair is a public holiday, falling on a Monday in the middle of July each year, and although it doesn’t have the same events and attractions around it as it has in the past, or indeed is as long as it used to be, it is certainly still a well cherished public holiday in this part of the world.

In 2019 the Glasgow Fair public holiday fell on Monday 15th July, but in the past it was a much longer holiday for all concerned.

These days the Glasgow Fair holiday weekend is one where there are plenty of events and attractions to explore and enjoy on your time off.

Many Scots take this long weekend to take time away and take a short break with the family, or to explore the city and make the most of the weekend.

The History of Glasgow Fair

Evidence of the Glasgow Fair can be found all the way back in the 12th century, with the very first Fair held in 1190 after Bishop Jocelin asked King William the Lion for permission to hold an annual fair for local traders to sell their wares.

This could see traders selling anything from livestock and goods, to even servants in those days. The idea was that they could sell free from tolls under protection of the King.

After agreement, the annual Fair became an important part of the Glaswegian calendar, taking place at Glasgow Cathedral.

Stinglehammer [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Fair Friday became an event like no other each year, where work would stop across the entire city.

What this would mean is people would take the Friday off work and head down to the pub in most cases!

As the Fair developed over the years it became a hub of entertainment, including a travelling fair, performers, circus acts, theatre shows, penny gaffs and melodramas, over the course of the weekend.

The Fair moved from Glasgow Cathedral over to Glasgow Green in the 19th century, which meant that the oldest park in the city (with views of the north bank of the River Clyde) could play host to a larger array of talents. The amusement park and travelling rides and performers supplemented the original idea of traders, and the trading market remained a staple part of proceedings.

CC BY-SA 3.0 File: AM St Andrews Suspension Bridge, Glasgow Green, at sunset.JPG Uploaded: 13 January 2005

Fair Friday quickly turned into Fair Fortnight, especially as industry ramped up in the 1800s onwards.

This was traditionally the time when families would take an extended break and leave the city in mass exodus to take summer holidays along the coast. The shipyards, factories, and all businesses would shut down completely during this period.

Families would head to the Firth of Clyde or Ayrshire coast for a couple of weeks before heading back into Glasgow to get back to work after Fair Fortnight was over.

The number of people leaving the city was huge, with 41 steamers taking an estimated 14,350 people out of the city along the river in 1855, and a further 26,000 people taking the train on the same day. It is hard to fathom that amount of people logistically getting out of the city on the same day.

Women would meet their husbands after work on Fair Friday to collect their pay and prevent them from spending their money on whisky and beer, and on the Friday evening and Saturday morning thousands upon thousands of Glaswegians would depart down the coast.

By the 1950s Fair Fortnight would see tens of thousands of Glaswegians and their families leaving the city, with extremely long queues witnessed at Central Station on the Friday afternoon as everyone attempted to leave at the same time.

Even though a huge number of people would leave the city during Glasgow Fair Fortnight, the festivities and funfair aspect of proceedings remained a very popular part of the holiday right through the 1800s, with the populations of towns just on the outskirts of Glasgow venturing the other way and coming in to make the most of the entertainment. Once the Fair had moved to Glasgow Green it remained a popular part of the holiday right up until the 1960s.

Why Did the Glasgow Fair End?

 Times change and as the manufacturing industry began to decline during the 1950s, so to did the popularity of the Glasgow Fair.

Many of the traditional industries began to falter after the war and with competition from other places of manufacturing in Eastern Europe and Asia it no longer made financial sense for the city to close down for two-weeks en mass.

People would take annual leave when it was convenient for the family, and with cheap package holidays becoming available in the 1970s and 1980s it suddenly became just as easy for Glaswegian families to travel abroad rather than just to head for the Scottish coast.

As these traditions began to die out, so to did the physical Glasgow Fair and the festivities surrounding it.

What Happens Today During Glasgow Fair?

Despite the decline in popularity Glasgow Fair is still a public holiday, but instead of two-weeks it only runs for one Monday in the middle of July.

The spirit of Glasgow Fair certainly lives on then, and there are many different events and activities to enjoy during this time of the year in this wonderful city.

Many businesses still close down to make for a long weekend and to allow staff to have a bit of relaxation in what can be a long year of work.

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Keep an eye out for special events and activities that take place during July, where many people try to keep the flame of the Glasgow Fair alive each year.

If you’re living with us in our student accommodation in Glasgow and are still in the city during July then you can still get involved in Glasgow Fair festivities, the Merchant City Festival in-particular is worth watching out for.

It takes place over the course of a few days (around the time when Glasgow Fair would have taken place back in the day) and is a celebration of all things creative.

A carnival atmosphere reaches the streets and artists, dancers, and musicians take part in events throughout venues across the city, with food stalls, and arts and crafts vendors selling their wares, much like the original traders would have during the first few years of the Glasgow Fair in the 12th century.

Other nods to Glasgow Fair during this time include Glasgow Fair Family Raceday at Ayr Racecourse, with treasure hunts, horse racing, entertainment, and fairground rides. Byres Road Makers Market on the last Saturday of every month hits the spot during July with a mix of designers, artists, crafters, and other local vendors selling in the spirit of the Glasgow Fair.

Glasgow Fair might not still exist in the same form that it once did, and there is certainly no scope for two weeks off for the entire city these days, but nevertheless it remains an important mark on Glasgow.

Expect to find some great markets and events at this time of the year in this fine city.