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Stourbridge Fair back at Leper Chapel for free community reenactment of medieval heyday





The re-enactment of the famous Stourbridge Fair at Cambridge’s oldest building, the Leper Chapel on Newmarket Road, takes place on September 2.

The site is also known as the Chapel of St Mary Magdalene, and dates back to the 12th century. In 1199, King John granted the Leper Chapel at ‘Steresbrigge’ in Cambridge dispensation to hold a three-day fair to raise money to support the lepers, who benefited from it as a place of sanctuary and isolation.

The Proclamation to open Stourbridge Medieval Fair at The Leper Chapel. Picture: Keith Heppell
The Proclamation to open Stourbridge Medieval Fair at The Leper Chapel. Picture: Keith Heppell

The first Stourbridge Fair took place in 1211. As it become the largest fair in Europe in the middle ages, the prosperity of the site seemed assured. The organisation of the fair also expanded –at its height it became a small town. The layout became fixed enough for street names to be used. Some – Garlic Row, Oyster Row, and Mercer's Row – are still with us.

When the leper colony closed in the late 13th century, the fair was handed over to the town and, two centuries later – having initially been a two-day affair - it had grown to become a five-week event.

Stourbridge Medieval Fair at The Leper Chapel: Flavio Marzo book binding. Picture: Keith Heppell
Stourbridge Medieval Fair at The Leper Chapel: Flavio Marzo book binding. Picture: Keith Heppell

Its success peaked in 1589, when the fair lasted from August 24 to September 29. Then: shops. As retail shifted to the High Street during the 1600s, the fair declined. By the 19th century it was mainly an entertainment vehicle. Midsummer Fair was more central, and Stourbridge Fair fell out of favour, though it continued until 1933, after which there followed a gap of 70 years before its revival in 2004.

The annual Stourbridge Fair at the Leper Chapel off Newmarket Road. Picture: Keith Heppell
The annual Stourbridge Fair at the Leper Chapel off Newmarket Road. Picture: Keith Heppell

Organised by CambridgePPF, today’s popular event for all the family “allows you to step back in time to a medieval age”. There is a traditional way of opening the fair at noon, with a crier and costumed dancers.

Stourbridge Fair at the Leper Chapel: Ione Evans and Richard Braun with some of their Tudor wares. Picture: Keith Heppell
Stourbridge Fair at the Leper Chapel: Ione Evans and Richard Braun with some of their Tudor wares. Picture: Keith Heppell

Stourbridge Fair takes place on September 2 at the Lepel Chapel, not far from Cambridge United’s ground, from noon to 4.30pm.



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