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Village Fetes

A brief history of the village fete

What are your favourite stalls, games, elements, etc. of a village fête?

Village fêtes are most popular during the summer, especially during May to herald spring. The popularity and the style of these fairs have changed throughout British history, but what we’re most familiar with today is what our novel heroes and heroines of the Georgian era would have known.

A fête is a social fair intended to raise money for charity through the sell of local goods, typically homemade, be it crafts, produce, or baked goods. But it’s so much more than that! It’s a celebration of village life, a time to play and make merry. From one fête to another, the games, stalls, and competitions are familiar, from cake stalls to coconut shies, from vegetable contests to dog shows.

The fête originates from the humble marketplace fairs of the medieval era. Far from the fair we know of today, it was little more than a market day to sell or trade livestock, produce, and other farm goods.

Village fêtes as we think of them now trace to the 17th c, gaining popularity in the 18th century and becoming more recognisable to the fairs of today. By the Regency era, the village fête involving charity and community fun was a mainstay. Most of the stalls we see today are much the same as what our heroes and heroines of our beloved novels would have seen, but there are a few differences, such as the coconut shy of the 19th century would have been, instead, Aunt Sally—tracing back as far as the 17th c.

During the Georgian era, these fairs were not exclusive to outdoors, as they are now. They could be outside on the village green or perhaps hosted in the long gallery of a stately home with a more exclusive guest list.

Fêtes weren’t just for villagers in the Georgian era, though. The first action the Prince of Wales took after being declared Regent on Feb 5, 1811, was to host the grandest fête of all time. Two thousand people were invited. According to reports, there were 98 earls, 39 viscounts, 107 lords, and too many barons, admirals, etc. to count.


Common sale stalls:

  • Bric-a-brac

  • Second-hand books

  • Flowers and plants

  • Homemade crafts (embroidered handkerchiefs, knitted shawls, bird houses, etc.)

  • Homemade cakes and jams

  • Farm goods from produce to eggs

Common games:

  • Coconut shy

  • Aunt Sally

  • Crockery smashing

  • Welly wanging

  • Wet sponge throwing

  • Hoopla

  • Tombola

Common entertainment:

  • Morris dancing

  • Punch and Judy show

  • Live music

Common contests:

  • Egg-and-spoon race

  • Three-legged race

  • Sack races

  • Tug of war

  • Dog show (various, from waggiest tale to best coat)

  • Auctions

  • Weight guessing games

  • Best/largest vegetable


A few fun blog pages to explore:


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