Fair Day attractions in the 1940s

By Brendan Murray

Take a trip down the main street of a Cavan town on a Fair Day in the 1940's and enjoy the goings on, cattle bellowing, pigs squealing, horses neighing, famers and dealers and tanglers loudly praising or disparaging the animals for sale; and above the din and the hustle and bustle, hear the distinctive voice of a balladeer and his accompanying accordion as he sings “the Wild Colonial Boy”, or the “Boston Burglar”; and as you proceed further, hear the cant of the hawkers, street sellers, and a gamesmen; dally a while at some of their pitches and observe their sales strategy and psyhcology; it wasn’t learned in any school; no sir or madam! It had more to do with the school; no sir or madam! It had more to do with the school of life while trying to earn a crust.

The Money Man:
A man suddenly appears in the centre of the street shouting, “money from America, money from America, i’ve got money to give away.” £20 notes and £10 notes are pinned to his jacket andh e waves a fistful of banknotes. People stop and stare, their curiosity aroused; then like the piper of Hamlin, he backs towards the pavement enticing them to follow towards a big colourful chart of little squares, ech showing a number and an amount of money; loudly he addresses his assemblage of prospective clients, -- “If I tossed this money in hte air towards you, some of you would get hurt in the stampede to pick it up, and some f you would pick up more than others, and that would not be fair. Now, I have a system that’s fair and square for everyone, a very fair way of distributing this money among you so that nobody will get crushed in the rush. Look at this chart! See £50 marked beside the number 10 and £15 beside the number 20! Ladies and gentlemen, there are 100 numbers on the chart, many showing large amounts of money. For me to give you any of those amounts, all you have to do, is select a ticket from this box I hold in my hand; and you win the amount shown on the chart got yout ticket number. Ladies and gentlemen! lets start; now to cover my expenses for coming here today, I must charge you a “small” 6pence for each ticket.” He passes among the crowd with his box of tickets, all tightly machined rlled in paper coverings, pushing the box under the noses of gullible looking customers, encouraging hesitant ones with, “Have a go sir, it might be your lucky day;” or to a young fellow, “Have a go Joe, your mother won’t know and I won’t tell her,” and this draws laughter from the crowd which must be entertained to be detained; he moves quickly in an effort to sell as many tickets before the initial prchasers have time to unravel theirs and check the chart and discover their “lucky numbers” drew blanks. As some of the audience begin to drift away, a young fellow holds up a ticket and shouts, “I’ve a winner”. Our man rushes to him and taking the ticket, loudly shouts “another big pize won over here, £10 won over her, let me give you the money sir.” He then presses 6 pence into the palm of he confused winner who rechecks the chart which confirms that 6 pence is correct. Of course, the shout of a £10 win stops the dispersal of the crowd and brings a renewed rush of purchasers.

The Black Doctor
The black doctor’s pitch is in a more discerning upmarket spot,close to draperies and boot shops. The gentleman’s attire consists of an immaculate white “doctor’s coat” which complements his gleaming white teeth and contrasts very much with his ebony skin. His lordly dignified bearing and quiet cultured tone is in accord with qualified medical professionals of the day and immediately wins him the respect of his audiences. His props consist of a framed medical qualification “certificate” displayed ona small table beside a brown case full of “doctor’s “ bottles containing reddy liquid.. He commences his lecture by inviting the “good people of the area” to gather around to hear of the wonderful cure he has available for many ailments. As inquisitive people assemble, the vast majority haven’t seen a black man before, he delivers an address on the merits of his medicine, along the lines -

“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m a medical doctor nad i’m here today for those of you who might need my help. I have a medicine that will cure many aches and pains. It will give energy, renew appetite, and cure most ailments”.

As people continue to gather he continues, “I’m not going to take an advantage of you by charging an exorbitant price for this great remedy; I’m here to help you; my charge will hopefully cover my expences for attending here today; the price for a bottle of this marvellous medicine is only wo shillings. My stock is low so it’s a matter of first come first served. A few brave people purchase a bottle of the “marvellous remedy” and after some moments proceedings lull slightly; the good doctor, sensing that some of the crowd their curiosity satisfied are about to drift away leading to a mass dispersal of all his potential customers. Miraculously, at this juncture, a young lad of about 19 years of age shouts “I’ll take a bottle”. The good doctor, approaches him ostentatiously holding out a bottle as he says “here you are, my young man.” Just as the lad is about to take the bottle, the doctor loudly asks, “Are you married?.” The young man replies “No” and then the doctor for the benefit of his audience loudly says, “You are not married -- No sir, I cannot sell a bottle of this great medicine to you, you must be married before you can partake of this highly potent medicine.” Immediately some crotchety sceptical older men viewing proceedings from the outer periphery of the assemblage and about to drift away rush to purchase and the remaining sock of magic bottles is cleared away there and then.

The medicine may have been an appropriately coloured placebyo, but, no doubt, the partakers, convinced by the psychology and sales technique of hte Black Doctor felt the benefit of its curative qualities right down to their toes after each swig.

The Hawker
On the other side of the street, a hawker shouts bargain prices for his household wares, which among other things include, buckets, pongers, brushes, sets of plain white and stripped blue and white cups and saucers and packets of Mac Smile razor blades, all displayed on the ground or in the back of his open van; his marketing system is bargain prices for a number of items. Commencing by holding up a very large brown comb he shouts - - “here’s a large comb, cost you a shilling in any shop, and here’s a blue one cost you ten pence; and here’s a smaller yellow one, cost you 4 pence and here’s a handy one for your breast pocket, inside coat pocket, or arse pocket. He continues this procedure until he has six different coloured combs, in his left hand, total value at his price £1. He then shouts “I’m not going to charge you a pound; I’m going to charge you ten shillings;no, not even three half crowns; Look! My price today is, ---and don’t all rush at me at once, my price today for a set of these beautiful combs is only three shillings.” though the price seems good value, people are cautious and hesitate; then to ensure being heard by the hold fair he loudly shouts “Hold it, hold it; I’m in a very generous mood today; you lucky people, Look! I’ll throw in, free of charge this fine toothcomb that costs a tanner (6pence0 over there in the Medical Hall; right, three shillings for this beautiful set of combs.”

The strong man
A tall hardy looking man of about 33 years of age, wearing only a vest and pants is now in a busy part of the fair asking people for a donation to see him balance a heavy ten foot wooden ladder on his chin while his young son climbs to the top rung; his young son dressed in white satin long pants and shirt is standing beside the ladder lying at the pavement edge; the man points to both as he elicits a contribution (in advance for obvious reasons0 for his performance; when he has some funds collected, he picks up the ladder and with some difficulty placs one of its uprights on his chin and holds both arms outstretched; he then bends his right knee to allow the young lad climb onto his shoulder before ascending to the top rung where he outstetches both arms nd acknoledges the crowd’s applause.

Taken from Breffni Blue 2005