Carnival of the bizarre: Arthur Seaton and the Goose Fair
The Goose Fair has been a prominent fixture in the local calendar for as far back as 1160, with only an outbreak of leprosy in 1346, the bubonic plague of 1646, and the great Wars of the 20th century bringing it to a temporary close. So there’s a fair bit of history surrounding this annual festival. However, it is a book reference that is the latest cause of celebration for Nottingham’s not-best kept secret as this is where a randy factory worker called Arthur Seaton received a good kicking from two Swaddies for having his end away with a married woman and her sister on a Saturday night in 1958.
To celebrate this important location (rather than adultery or violence) the Alan Sillitoe Committee has commissioned local historian and author Ann Featherstone to give a talk about the history of the fair. Ann will be sharing her love of the Victorian period when the fair included freak shows and menageries, performing seals and diving shows, fat ladies and skeleton men. The Balloon Headed Baby, Mary Anne Bevan the World’s Ugliest Woman and Leonine the Lion Faced Lady are just some of the acts managed by Tom ‘The Silver King’ Norman, the man who commissioned the silver bells that are still used today as part of the Lord Mayor’s ‘ringing in’ ceremony. Sadly these oddities are long gone from the fair but if you switch on C4 at 9pm any night in the week then you’ll find they’ve found a new home.
Ann’s talk will draw upon the diaries of Sydney Race, an obscure diarist who, writing in the 1890s, documented the last live shows of the Fair before it transformed into the gleaming chav magnet that we know and love today. One regular feature of the Fair then was the animal shows (and we don’t mean the GB Lions they failed to flog at the Olympics that you’ll be able to win on hook a duck). We’re talking proper animals: hyenas, wolves, and bears, all abused and mistreated for the pleasure of the paying public. The exhibition of animals was seen as both entertaining and educational. Perhaps the most bizarre act to feature an animal was the Globe of Death (or Wall of Death) where it was quite common for a lion to be taken on the wall in a side car while bears and monkeys would also get a go.
The Victorian Goose Fair was a bizarre, horrific and tragic experience, which explains why people loved it so much. Ann will be recounting some of these tales and illustrating her talk with visuals. She will be open to questions as well as encouraging the audience to share their own memories. If you are interested in local history, human oddities and want to escape the Fair for five minutes, then cross the road from the Forest Recreation Ground and join us in the New Art Exchange building across the road. They do some pretty nice nosh in there as well, should you crave more than cocks on sticks and mushy peas.
The Goose Fair is the fifth location on the Sillitoe Trail Mobile Phone App, which will be launched on 27th October at Sillitoe Day. For more info, please see Sillitoetrail.com or http://thespace.com/items/s00001nq
Saturday, 6th October, 4.30 – 5.30pm, ‘Victorian Goose Fair’ – Ann Featherstone. New Art Exchange, 39-41 Gregory Boulevard, Nottingham NG7 6BE. Nae.org. FREE