Glasgow Fair is a medieval holiday dating back to the 12th century that many in the city still hold dear. Although it’s not as popular today as it was a few centuries ago, it’s still a cherished tradition for Scots, whether they take time off to go away, or stay in the city and make the most of the long weekend. It’s held every year in July and the public holiday for Glasgow Fair 2016 falls on Monday 18th July this year.
Once a celebrated festive holiday, the Glasgow Fair weekend is the perfect time to explore all that this modern-day city has to offer. Here’s how it all came about…
A bit of history
Glasgow Fair can be traced back to the 12th century, and is the oldest of other similar holidays in Scotland. The very first Fair was held in 1190 when Bishop Jocelin asked permission from King William the Lion to hold an annual fair where traders could sell their wares (livestock, goods and even servants) free from tolls under protection of the King. The King agreed, and so the inaugural Glasgow Fair was held in the Glasgow Cathedral.
A mass exodus
As time went on, ‘Fair Friday’ became an event to look forward to on the calendar – all work across the city would stop for the day with everyone free to enjoy another beloved Scottish tradition: a few pints down at the local pub! From the 1800s onwards, the event had developed into ‘Fair Fortnight’, and was the time when many families took their annual summer holidays. The age-old saying ‘going doon the watter’ can also be traced back to the Glasgow Fair, as many would use these two weeks to get out of Glasgow and head down to the Firth of Clyde or Ayrshire coast. By the 1950s, tens of thousands of Glaswegians would get out of the city every year, often forming long queues at Central Station on Friday afternoons.
The Fair on the move
In the 19th century, the Fair found new grounds and moved from Glasgow Cathedral to Glasgow Green, the oldest park in the city sitting on the north bank of the River Clyde. The event had evolved from a trading market to an amusement park, with pop-up circus and theatre shows, family rides and travelling showmen.
What to do in Glasgow today
The Glasgow Fair is still regarded as a public holiday, but has shrunk back to just one day to create a long weekend in July. It’s no longer the high time for summer holidays, with families instead planning their vacations around the school semester and weather. However, the spirit of Glasgow Fair still lives on, and you’ll find the city to be a delightful place in summer. Glasgow has a variety of modern day events that take place as soon as the weather starts to warm up – there’s the Braw Wee Arts & Design Fair, the outdoor Glasgow Mela (Scotland’s biggest free multicultural festival), and the Merchant City Festival held over nine days at the end of July and beginning of August. Other than the seasonal events, you can also visit all the usual city attractions such as the world-class museums, the Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis cemetery, the Botanic Gardens and Kelvingrove Park, and of course, indulge in some much-needed retail therapy!