Altrincham Fair Court

Scope and Content

The records of the fair court consist of two series of material: suit rolls, 1683-1822 (EGR2/7/1), and other records, c.1852 (EGR2/7/2).

[A court roll for the portmote or borough court of Altrincham (EGR2/6/1/1 above) also contains records of proceedings at the fair court in 1450 and 1452. There are two estreats for the fair court, dated 1764 and 1781, within a bundle of estreats for Altrincham court leet (EGR2/6/4/1 above). There are lists of amercements at the fair court in 1785 and 1787 within a bundle of estreats for the court leet and view of frankpledge for the barony of Dunham Massey (EGR2/1/11/3).]

Administrative / Biographical History

Hamo de Massey was granted the liberty of holding a fair in Altrincham on the eve, feast day and morrow of the feast of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, by a royal charter of Edward I in 1290 (see Public Record Office, Calendar of the Charter Rolls, vol. 2, Henry III - Edward I, 1257-1300 (London: 1906), p. 370). The date of the annual fair was amended to the eve, feast day and morrow of the feast of St James (24-26 July) by a charter of 1319 (EGR1/1/1/1). With the adoption of the new-style calendar in 1752, the date of the fair changed to 4-6 August. Popularly known as Sanjam fair, it survived until it was abolished by order of the Home Secretary in 1895. Another fair was held in November, and a Spring fair was instituted in 1734.

On each fair day a fair court met to dispense summary justice in cases concerning prices, the quality of goods, contracts and other matters arising at the fair. The court, also known as the court of pie powder (from pieds poudreux, dusty-footed, i.e. the court of travellers) and in Latin curia nundinarum, was held before the mayor of the borough and the lord's steward. None of the freeholders attended, but the leasehold tenants of the lord of Dunham Massey, their subtenants, and rack tenants all did suit and service. It was reported in 1834 that the fair court had been wholly discontinued, though within living memory the ceremony of walking the fairs had been maintained by the mayor. For information on Sanjam fair and the pie powder court see First report of the municipal corporations commissioners (1835), vol. 4, pp. 2575; Ingham, Altrincham and Bowdon, pp. 60-3; Nickson, Bygone Altrincham, pp. 56-60.