9 months ago


130 EVERGREEN Autumn

130 EVERGREEN Autumn Woodburytide Magic PHILLIP HALLING It was believed that the story began more than 2,000 years ago, when an Iron Age fort was built on Woodbury Hill in Dorset. A chapel was later built there beside a deep well, from which it was said came healing water. According to legend, somewhere beneath its depths was a cache of gold and it became a place of pilgrimage. MARK BENNETT About 700 years ago, a traveller sheltering after a storm hung some of his belongings out to dry on bushes beside the well. People passing by noticed what he had done, and asked if any of the cloth was for sale. The traveller, much surprised, said he would be glad of the offer, and consequently sold all that he had. The following year he came again to the same place, and repeated the sale of more goods. People soon got to hear of him. As the news spread, so others joined in, until the event became a meeting place of some renown. The hill is situated close to the village of Bere Regis, and at Woodburytide each September hundreds of people flocked there from all over the country. From such humble beginnings Woodbury Fair was born.

2017 EVERGREEN 131 Opposite page: Looking north from Woodbury Hill and (below) goods for sale at the fair in bygone days. MICHAEL EASTMAN Left and below: People came from miles around to enjoy this annual event. The fair was held here from the time of Henry III, and it was once the most important in the south of England. It lasted for five days from 18th to 22nd September. The days were allocated to special occasions: the first being Wholesalers’ Day; the second was Gentlefolk’s Day; the third was All Folk’s Day; the fourth was Sheep Fair Day, and the last day was Pack and Penny Day. I wish I could recall the talk of all those who gathered on that ancient site. I have seen Victorian prints of folk trailing up the hill with their belongings; some carrying their provisions or leading their livestock; some walking or on horseback. There were tinkers, weavers, millers, shepherds, and herdsmen by the score. They came from cities, towns and villages; and they came not only to buy and sell, but to exchange news, and to gossip. It was a “one day a year” outing for all the family. There were not only traders, but entertainers. The entertainers would include jesters, mummers, and craftsmen. Rich folk came as well as poor. For five days they would feast on such luxuries as pork and oysters. This has been proved by the remains of bones and oyster shells unearthed on the site. Cattle would be sold, along with pigs and sheep, and at the end of the festivities any goods still left unsold would be auctioned off cheaply as “pack and penny” fun. Woodburytide is now forgotten — and yet whenever I venture close to that place I still imagine I can hear the cries of animals; the crowds; the chant of some ancient words floating on the air. There’s nothing now left to see, just the quiet beauty of the Dorset countryside. But if you happen to travel to that part of England, just stand there and close your eyes for a moment, and you’ll understand — there’s magic still upon that ground. DAWN LAWRENCE HERMANN LEA

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