On to the field of the battle of prices we go, and upon entering we see drawn up in endless vista gipsy vans, and if one were a painter one probably would not wish to go beyond the first group, for more beautiful children and women can hardly be imagined than members of the Boswell family that are sitting at breakfast round their camp fire. It is breakfast time for the whole assembly of potters and gipsies, and every group has some individual picturesqueness which makes one pause. The vans themselves are gaily painted, the brass ornaments shine in the windows, the dogs sleep beneath, the cats sit on the driving board, the canaries sing in their cages, and children in inexhaustible supply toddle down the steps from the tiny sleeping rooms to be bathed or take their seats round the improvised breakfast table. What lovers of oriental colour these dark-eyed gipsy folk are! There is hardly a bit of crockery that they use for their breakfast that is not more gaily painted than any that we in the West are used to. The bacon sputters in the boiling fat, the tea is hissing hot, and the eggs are boiled to a turn. There is not a gipsy or potter to-day but has a breakfast fit for a king. (pp. 197-8)
Here is a group round the breakfast table—the grandmother, father, mother, uncles, and children. They do not resent that you should stop and gaze. On the contrary, in the cheeriest way they greet you, and if only another stool could be found, would ask you to take a seat. The grandmother smokes her pipe, but the younger women do not intend to do that until they become grandmothers in turn. What strikes one is their evident care for appearances. Here is a boy carefully washing down the van wheels; there is another polishing the harness. A mother here is washing her boy’s face with splendid care and earnestness. All of them seem bent on blacking their shoes. (p. 199)
We went forward and found the common or fair field was in reality a large strip of open ground, about 100 yards wide at its widest and three-quarters of a mile long, that ran between the hedge and a steep bank that dipped towards the road. The potters’ vans were drawn up by the hedge, then came the booths for refreshment, interspersed with knots of horses or ponies ready for sale. Nearer the road a second series of booths for refreshment ran along the course, leaving an intervening grassy street, which seemed to be filled with horses and men. Another intervening grassy street ran parallel, and beyond it, on the edge of the bank that sloped to the road, were some booths, so that the common at its widest part had really been divided into two grassy thoroughfares, in which the main sales of the day would go forward. (pp. 199-200)….
Indeed, for horse fair folk [Brough Hill] was the centre of the world, and fortunate the man who could enter into the life of the day as an idle spectator. Not so fortunate the droves of ponies, or the men who had to toil and sweat in the process of selling. If ever pandemonium let loose was heard by mortal ears it was heard by mine at Brough Hill Fair. (p. 201)
Imagine half a dozen knots of wild, unbroken ponies only kept together by the shouting of their owners. Then imagine a dash at one in the middle of the drove, who lifts his fore feet into the air, and, before they come to the ground, is seized by the nostrils and wrestled with till with a great yell he emerges dragged from the drove by two boys at his neck and one at his tail, and is sent scampering apparently into a crowd of men, who scatter right and left of him, put their hats on their whips, and add to the hubbub. They strike at him with their sticks, and send him frightened and almost mad with alarm right down the grassy avenue, till, with more shouting and bellowings unutterable, the frightened creature is turned back, meets a friend from another drove flying in the opposite direction, cannons against him, knocks the boy over, and dashes wildly into a group of men who are taking their glass of beer in an adjacent booth. The creature is unhaltered, the boys are hanging on its neck and haunches, it rears, turns back, feels that a hundred whips are waved in its face, hears the rattle of twenty hats, and the shouts of a hundred wild Indians in its ears, and does not pause until it makes a dash into the middle of its drove, and finds temporary shelter among its restless brotherhood. Shouts of “Sold again” rise above the din, and buyer and seller go off to the booth to settle accounts. How it comes that men escape with their lives on the Brough Hill Fair field I cannot tell, for as one gazes from a distance it looks as if a wild football match were being played—the ball of which is a maddened pony. (pp. 201-3)….
Homeward to the train the road was still thronged with multitudes still going to the Fair, and as one looked upon their faces one felt that it was worth while going all the distance, if there had been no booths, or potters, or gipsies, or ponies, or sheep, just to see the manly forms and the blue grey eyes and the bronzed cheeks of these sons of the Norsemen, who met at Brough Hill Fair. (p. 209)
(Round the Lake Country, pp. 192-209)