Last year was one of only a handful of times Hull Fair has not gone ahead in its 700-year history which means we could not add to the many quirky stories, memorable characters and bizarre attractions during that time.

Covid put pay to the hugely popular and much-anticipated event but it is back on this year.

Much has changed over the years with technological advances and cultural shifts.

For the latest on Hull Fair click here.

In the modern era, the fair is all about the high-octane rides and diverse food stalls but some of the past attractions were often bizarre and simply not appropriate in this day and age.

The first Hull Fair began in 1278 when Edward I granted a charter to the town to hold an annual fair. By the 16th century, the festivities had become a 16-day fair, with September 20 as the start of the annual feast after an additional Charter was granted by Charles II.

Local historian Mike Covell has searched through the archives to find some of the quirkier stories about the fair over the years.

The Hull Fair riots

The pride and passion for Hull Fair is not new. In fact, when the powers-that-be messed around with the calendar back in 1751, it led Hull residents to riot. They were particularly unhappy at the loss of 11 days.

A busy Hull Fair in 1935
A busy Hull Fair in 1935

Locals were seen to march through the streets of Hull demanding “give us back our eleven days,” and became enraged when the fair might be lost.

Fortunately, the fair was saved but moved from September to October 11th, or the nearest Friday to that date which has remained the same ever since.

The ever-moving Hull Fair

The fair was moved around the town from one place to another throughout its life. In the early 1800s it was held at Market Place, but then moved to Brown Cow Field, which stood outside the town.

In 1865 it moved to Corporation Field, but locals argued against the light and noise caused by the fair and a decision was made to move it again.

The fair moved to its current site at Walton Street 130 years ago.

Charles Frederick Peace was a well-known thief and murderer, who was responsible for killing Constable Cock, and a civil engineer named Dyson. He was eventually hanged on February 25, 1879 for his crimes and he later became the subject of two silent movies released in 1905.

The Life of Charles Peace, in which William Hagger took the title role, and The Life of Charles Peace, starring Frank Mottershaw, were very popular and it did not take long for the showman at Hull Fair to catch on to this.

These movies, along with others of a similar nature, were shown at Hull Fair for all to see.

The original Gypsy Lee

Today palmistry, crystal balls, and fortune telling are a big part of the attraction at Hull Fair with numerous caravans dotted along Walton Street offering to tell the future.

However, the act of palm reading did not come to Hull at the fair until October 1921, when it was announced that “The Original Gypsy Lee” was to be at the fair opposite the Drill Hall on Walton Street.

An advert for the original Gypsy Lee at Hull Fair
An advert for the original Gypsy Lee at Hull Fair

So confident was Gypsy Lee that she took out an advertisement in the Hull Daily Mail in which she made it clear she was the granddaughter of Gypsy Sarah, of Blackpool, and that she was not connected to any other gypsy at the fair!

Her run ended in May 1924 when she was fined for claiming to be able to tell fortunes and pretending to carry out psychometry. A court in Hove fined her £15 and it was revealed in court that she claimed to be a survivor of the Titanic disaster.

The Greatest Showman

Hull Fair attracted some of the biggest names in the industry and one of those was James Anthony Bailey, who was one half of the Barnum and Bailey travelling circus which was the basis for the movie The Greatest Showman.

The circus was popular in the 1920s and was billed as “The Greatest Travelling Show.”

When Mrs Doubtfire came to Hull Fair

I know you are probably thinking of the comedy starring the late Robin Williams in which he dressed up as a Scottish nanny to look after his own children, but we are referring to a lady billed as one of the greatest travelling show women to ever grace the fair.

Mrs Doubtfire who had a number of attractions at Hull Fair
Mrs Doubtfire who had a number of attractions at Hull Fair

Mrs Doubtfire turned up at Hull Fair in 1931 and it was said that she showed huge enthusiasm for the fair.

Her stalls and sideshows initially included darts, but soon her empire would expand and for many years she was a firm favourite at the fair.

Chicken Joe – the man you all know

Chicken Joe was known as “The Man You all Know.” His stall included poultry, meat, groceries, dolls, and hardware and he was known for being decked in a large white coat.

Chicken Joe was well known at Hull Fair
Chicken Joe was well known at Hull Fair

He was well known for his locally-sourced, freshly killed Yorkshire chicken and every year he carried out his annual custom of donating 20 parcels to the “Mother Humber Fund.”

The fascinating and forgotten lost suburbs of Hull that shows the city's remarkable history

Water circus

One of the strangest sideshows was that of Birch’s International Water Circus, which toured the world offering £100 to anyone who could swim across a tank of water while eating four sweets.

The show made international headlines before it arrived in Hull in 1936, when a man in Dacca, Bengal, took on the offer.

He swam across the tank with no problem, put the sweets in his mouth, dived under water, and began his return journey, where he slowly floated to the surface, it was revealed that he had died from suffocation!

When the Loch Ness Monster came to Hull Fair

During the 1930s the story of the Loch Ness Monster was one of the most popular stories in British newspapers, so it makes sense that the denizen of the deep would make an appearance at Hull Fair.

A photograph allegedly showing the Loch Ness monster later revealed to be a fake
A photograph allegedly showing the Loch Ness monster later revealed to be a fake

The Hull Daily Mail proudly announced the visit in October 1937, however, it transpired that the creature of the loch was staying in Scotland and sending his own fairground ride bearing the name.

The ride, which was run by Mrs Doubtfire, was a simple merry-go-round, and took delighted children round a central pole.

The Pickpocket Gang

In December 1945 it was revealed that a pickpocket gang had been arrested in Hull. And what made it all the more shocking was it was revealed that the gang was made up of eleven children aged between 11 and 15 years.

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They had been pick pocketing at Hull Fair and were rounded up and arrested. It was revealed that they used the youngest and smallest boy to do the actual stealing, then he would pass it off to others along a network of boys down Walton Street.

They stole property worth £50, £34 of which was in cash.

It was said that the children would receive either time in the remand home, or be birched for their actions.

A death at Hull Fair

A shocking incident took place in October 1905 when a man died as a result of a visit to Hull Fair. John Edward Holder, a 46 year old ship’s rigger, was visiting the fair with friends.

While watching a Cinematograph show, he fell from his seat and banged his head. He fell unconscious and was removed to the ambulance station, then taken home where he died. A later post-mortem revealed that he had died from a brain haemorrhage as a result of the fall.

Tragedy at the Wall of Death

With a name like “The Wall of Death,” one might expect the occasional incident, but the motorcycle riders train so hard that incidents are usually few and far between.

Old image of a Wall of Death ride
Old image of a Wall of Death ride

But one such incident took place at Hull Fair in 1947, when 27-year-old Kenneth Harland was riding around the wall. He hit a loose wire which sent him flying off his bike into the wall, narrowly missing five other riders and in front of a crowd of 200 fairgoers.

Fortunately, his condition was not considered life threatening, but St. John Ambulance men removed him to Hull Royal Infirmary in Prospect Street with minor cuts and bruises.