Dumfries Rood Fairs

Twice a year, in March and September, Dumfries hosts one of the oldest street fairs in the world. The 'Rood Fair' has adapted to modern tastes, containing fair ground rides such as carousels, ferris-wheels, helter-skelters, as well as a 1953 Coronation Waltzer (which was built and maintained by several generations of showpeople who work the fairs of the UK). There are also food and competition stalls, an arcade, and other entertainments.


The earliest record of the fair is from a charter dated 30th November 1592. The charter stipulated that Dumfries should have two annual fairs, one at Candlemas (2 February) and one in early July. The latter fell into disuse before 1790, whilst the Candlemas Fair is now celebrated as the March Rood Fair. A September fair was also established (possibly before the 1592 Charter). Its origins may be explained by the name 'Rood', which refers to the Holy Rood or Holy Cross. It is probable that this Rood Fair was a medieval festival occurring around the time of Rood Day which in the Catholic calendar always falls on the 14th of September. It was a period of prayer and the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. For this purpose, Rood Screens or Rood Lofts were erected in churches displaying large crucifixes flanked with images of the Virgin Mary and St. John the Baptist. The Rood Fair probably coincided with this holy feast day, and provided an opportunity for pilgrims and locals to trade, eat, drink and be merry. It is possible that the Rood Fair relocated to the Whitesands area as it became increasingly secular following the Reformation, but more research is required to determine this. It is clear that the Candlemas Fair in February became associated with a large horse and cattle fair from the 1700s onwards.

As well as the annual horse market, the Rood Fair was also a time when the Incorporated Trades of the Town held their festivities and processions. We’re not sure what these processions looked like, but it was clear that they involved a public procession and drinking using a communal punch-bowl, now in the collection of Dumfries Museum (see links below).



More information about the lives of travelling showpeople who work at fairs at Dumfries and elsewhere across Scotland and the UK can be found below.


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