Fairs and Markets

There are not less than 200 fairs or races in the county of Ayr, every year, and, on average, there cannot be fewer than 1000 people at every fair or race...

...Great numbers of lads and lasses are collected at the fair, in the course of the afternoon, where they continue till about midnight. The country girls travel to the fair, (unless in the time of frost) without shoes or stockings, with their coats tucked up, and retire to the corner of some park, near the fair, where they put on their shoes, and perform the labours of the toilette; after which, they stalk into the fair, make sham calls at shops, or saunter among the crowd, till their rustic admirers, who are also on the look-out, invite them to the change house. This is done by tapping the fair one on the shoulder, treading on her foot, or by some pantomimic gesture which she understands, and readily obeys, unless a swain, more to her mind, shall then make similar signals.

Nothing is so galling to the lasses, as to be allowed to stand long idle, in the market place, without being invited to the change house by some young man. The place where groups of them stand, without being called upon is termed the “the pitiful market”.

A “sturdy fellow” having made his signals, struts off to the ale-house, his “clever hizzy” following at a short distance, proud of having gotten a “chance”, and envied by such as have none.

In the ale-house, the lad treats his lass, with ale, whisky, and sweet-meats, (called fairings) hugs her in her arms, tumbles her into a bed, if one can be found, though many persons be in the room, then, with one arm under her head, the other, and one of his legs over her, he enjoys a tete a tete conversation, longer or shorter, as the market happens to be brisk or slow. After a little time they adjourn to some long-room, mason lodge, or barn, to dance reels. If the hall is much crowded at the time, they are obliged to maintain a struggle for the floor, which is done by the lad laying hold of his partner by the sides, and pushing her forward to the front of the crowd.

Towards night, when John Barleycorn has obtained possession of the upper storey, these struggles for the floor often lead to blows. During the affray, the weak part of the company, with the fiddler, get upon the benches, or run into a corner, while the more heroic, or those who are most intoxicated, take the post of honour. Few blows are struck in these uproars,; they only pull and haul and make a hideous noise. A few minutes exhaust their rage; – new company arrives – the fiddler becomes arbiter; the tattered nymphs collect their shoes, and adjust their deranged dress; – the fiddler strikes up a reel; – the dance proceeds, and the affray ends as it began, no one can tell how.

If the lass has already been called for, the lad holds by her to the utmost; but if she has not been asked for, he soon becomes indifferent and ultimately leaves her. If she has many lovers, they press into the room, and even into the bed, where she is reclining; lay hold of her by the arm, leg, or any part of her dress which they can come at; and by dint of importunity, little short of compulsion, they obtain an audience. While one is pouring out his requests, in whispers into her ear, another fixes his talons on any part of her body, which he can reach; – she listens to him until others arrive; – they jostle each other, and all of them roar our her name, like so many auctioneers calling a roup. She continues, for a time, in a sort of passive uncertainty, yielding to the greatest force, sometimes getting upright, at other times, she is thrown upon the bed, till after enjoying several of these kind embraces, and hearing many supplications, one of the sturdiest of the chiels lays hold of her in his arms, whispers his prayer in her ear, and by main force, hurries her off, holding her by the wrist, with one hand, and his other arm either around her neck or back, as a constable would keep hold of a thief, till he lodges her in a bedside, in another ale-house; at all which “she is nothing loath”. – The disappointed lovers follow, and renew their applications; – a similar farce is gone through, till one of them hurries her to another ale-house, and to another bed, if one can be found.

This is what they call “holding the fair,” and it is continued till about midnight, when the lads and the lasses begin to pair off, and return to the fair one’s home, where they generally spend an hour or two by themselves, in the barn, byre or cart shade, talking over the events of the day.

"A General View of THE AGRICULTURE of the COUNTY OF AYR" (1811) by William Aiton

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