Monday, 11 December 2017

CENTENARY ARTICLE: Frank Bellamy and the Corby Pole Fair 1947


Kettering Leader and Guardian May 30 1947
Thanks to Tony Smith for the image above
I promised something new for the last of my Frank Bellamy Centenary articles, and this comes courtesy of Tom Bingham, a "Corby-based man, well known for his connection to the arts and his hand-made guitars" - it said in a recent local article!

For those of you who don't like Bellamy's older work, be patient, immerse yourself and enjoy a good laugh, appreciating the ink work, the use of blacks and above all the imagination.

Since the 13th century a "pole fair" has been held in the Northamptonshire town of Corby (the town's name derives from 'raven' as can be seen on the coat of arms). Why a 'pole' fair? Apparently men who were to be punished would "ride the stang" or pole - "no toll- you ride the pole".  Like many British traditions there are varying accounts. In recent years two poles have appeared - one a greasy pole with a ham to be won at the top, and the 'stang' on which men ride held in place by two strong men. How the village of Corbei - now Corby, was granted its Royal Charter (in 1568) is also debatable - but one romantic origin is that Queen Elizabeth I was riding in Rockingham Forest and either her horse got stuck in a boggy piece of ground or she fell off her horse and was helped by the good men of Corbei. Or it might have been granted as a favour to Sir Christopher Hatton (an alleged lover of the Virgin Queen!). How it happened was less important than the rights given under it to escape taxes of various sorts as well as avoid conscription. I can't find why the fair did not start back in Elizabethan times, but like many things we think are traditional, it began with the Victorians since 1862. *

According to Margaret Marshall's article   
Queen Elizabeth granted that the ‘men and tenants’ of Corby should be quit of the customary dues of ‘toll, pannage, murage, and passage’, and other exemptions enjoyed by ancient demesne manors.

Though largely symbolic, the charter was a significant element in Corby ’s developing sense of community, identity, and self-governance, and may have been issued to allay villagers’ concerns at the manor’s acquisition by a powerful courtier.
Likewise, it was probably no coincidence that Corby ’s tenants successfully petitioned Charles II to confirm the charter in 1670, when the manor passed from the Hatton’s to the equally powerful Brudenells

If the fair started in 1862, and happened every twenty years, I can't find any reference for the 1882 fair. There are photographs of the Fair in 1902 and 1922. Following the pattern the 1942 fair would have occurred in the War so it appears to have been moved to 1947 and amazingly footage exists on Youtube of the 1947 Corby Pole Fair.



The appearance in this video of a couple of gentlemen dressed in full Scottish regalia might make you wonder,  but the town attracted lots of Scots workers when the post-WWII demand for steel increased.

The fair returned to its normal pattern and was again held in 1962, (although 1968 was the 400th anniversary of the granting of the charter) and was next held in 1982 and 2002. Preparations are underway now for the next one in 2022 after a court case was settled in 2006 - a man was injured climbing the greasy pole in 2002!

Corby Pole Fair 1947 A5 booklet cover

The image at the top of this article shows Frank Bellamy's review of the Pole Fair that took place on May 26 1947 which was Whit Monday (or Spring Bank Holiday as we say now!). He also illustrated a 16 page A5 sized booklet, which contained many advertisers from the local area. I have included all the pictures cleaned up here (the cover above) - see below for access to the complete work.**


A self-explanatory cartoon of welcome and warning!

Step over the Corby boundary at your peril!
Note the chimneys of the steelworks

The enthusiastic men with the pole, or stang, race to an objector!
No toll, you ride the pole!

The Danes started it by raiding up the Nene and Welland rivers!
Anyone know what the "No B-U's" comment means? Is it "No Broken Ups" as in chaper bits of unbrunt cake? Or am I trying to be too clever?
A lovely cartoon of the Danish settlements!

A long and busy day with loads of sadism and fun!

"Unsavoury missiles" adding to the punishment

Good Queen Bess bored after no assassination attempts on her life for 2 years

The stocks teach a lesson in history!

A naughty husband suggests bringing back the ducking stool too!
I've always found Bellamy's 'big foot' style of cartooning fun and it's interesting how he didn't really return to it at all in his career. And I guess he was provided with some notes or guidance as to which topics to cover in creating this artwork, imagine if we found them after all these years!. 

If you wish to join in the next Pole Fair in 2022 join the Facebook group here

Lastly, many, many thanks to Tom Bingham for his generosity in sharing this.

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* "The Corby 'Pole Fair' is an ancient custom held every 20 years with the fifth Pole Fair attracting crowds of 30,000 in the summer of 2002" - History of Corby [Emphasis mine as I think there is evidence for at least 7]

**  If you want a copy of the raw scans and the full text of the booklet, download it from my website here

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