Abingdon is a place which relishes its civic traditions, like no other small town for miles around, possibly even in all of England. On Sunday night, the robed and hatted members of the town council preceded by a civic Macebearer climbed onto the carousel in the Market Place, for the annual open-air service for the blessing of the Michaelmas Fair.
In his introduction, the presiding minister said "this service is a bit different and a bit quirky" and spoke of the importance of tradition in a changing world.
There are a few more recent traditions which take place online, like the annual facebook discussion about how to calculate the correct date of Abingdon Fair. Abingdon Town Council says on its web site “By law, the fair must take place annually on the Monday and Tuesday falling first before the 11 October in the centre of Abingdon.”
Tradition in and of itself, however, is surely not a reason to keep an event going, especially when that tradition originates in and commemorates a form of quasi-indentured agricultural labour, long since consigned to history. Tradition not for the sake of it, because 'We've always done things this way', but tradition which has a continuing relevance, rooted in the past and relevant to the present, even the future.
Although the Runaway Fair which takes place a week later, also causes traffic disruption, it is much less significant than the Michaelmas Fair, because it is operating on a smaller area: Market Place and High Street. Perhaps it is time to similarly restrict the operating area of the Michaelmas Fair. In reality though, it is bound to carry on, for as long as it continues to make money for the town council who hold the rights to fairs and markets in Abingdon.
Closing such an extensive area of Abingdon for three days, creating oppressive traffic queues, has a cost to the community. Especially this year, when Oxfordshire County Council has also closed Clifton Hampden Bridge for works at the same time as the fair, forcing traffic in the area over the next nearest Thames crossing at Sutton Bridge, on the border between Culham and Sutton Courtenay.
As if all of this were not enough, on Monday there was also an overnight closure of the A34 between Milton and Marcham, meaning lorries and other large goods vehicles were driving through Steventon and Drayton, navigating the narrow double roundabouts at the end of Abingdon Fair on Ock Street.
And Oxfordshire County Council’s letter to local residents again makes no reference to alternative provision for taxi ranks, as a result of the road closures. If you are in need of a taxi in the centre of Abingdon during this time, you can usually find some taxis waiting on Stratton Way, although you would not know, from the council's circular.
So much in Abingdon is assumed to be known. Rather than 'Faith and Industry', Abingdon Town Council's motto could be 'We've always done things this way'.
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 11 October 2017
- Abingdon Town Council, Fairs, web site, retrieved 10 October 2017
- Oxfordshire County Council, roadworks.org, retrieved 10 October 2017
- Oxfordshire County Council, Abingdon-on-Thames Michaelmas Street Fair 2017 Residents Letter (Word file), 08 September 2017, as consulted 10 October 2017