After his conquest of England in 1066, Duke William of Normandy was speedily crowned King of England. much of the land and rights which had belonged to the Englich nobility were taken from them and given to his favourites who had supported him throughout the invasion.
One such holding, the Manor of Wye, was given, with all its appurtenances, to a very important man - the Abbot of the Church of St Martin of Battle (1). Wye Manor included not only the town of Wye but also the hundred of Wye, an area which covered, amongst other settlements, the more southerly part of the parish of Challock. Parishes were defined as ecclesiastical divisions based on one church; hundreds were secular administrative divisions embracing several parishes, parts of parishes and settlements. The two were rarely coterminous and this gave rise to the confusion which can still confound the historian today. One of the benefits accorded to Challock was the right to hold an annual fair in that part of the parish which was in the hundred of Wye (2) and accordingly it was held on 27th September being the saints day of St Cosmos and Damian to whom the church was dedicated.
In 1312, King Edward II, concerned about the loss of revenue to the crown, asked the then Abbot of Battle "by what warrant" he held the hundred of Wye and the fair at Challock and the Abbot replied that "from time out of mind he and his predecessors had, without interruption, held the manor and the fair granted to Battle Abbey by King William". This was confirmed by a jury and recorded. (Such fairs, without original documentation, were called prescriptive fairs) (3).
So, it would appear that Challock Fair was most probably held at that time on land in Wye Hundred somewhere between the south side of Challock churchyard and the southernmost parish boundary which is north of the Pilgrims Way on what is now Eastwell Park.
King Henry VIII's dissolution and sale of the monasteries and their lands had created attractive prospects for wealthy would-be landowners and in 1589 the owner of the estate of Eastwell, Sir Moyle Finch, was granted permission by Elizabeth I to clear his land to create a prk and close the road from Challock to Ashford which ran through it (4). Was it then that the fair moved, along with the villagers, to Challock Lees a mile to the North? Hasted writes that George Finch Hatton, the owner of Eastwell in 1798 was still the proprieter of the fair which was "accounted a great fair for the sale of cattle of all sorts" (5) and Owens Book of Fairs confirms the sale of horses, cattle, and pediary but not the fairs situation (6).
However, fairs were not always wholesome. In May 1871 the Home Secretary introduced "The Fairs Act" which effectively abolished many of the fairs in the country, including Challock Fair, saying - "they are unneccessary, are the cause of grievous immorality and are very injurious to the towns in which such fairs are held" (7) The Vestry minutes of Challock Church confirm this, temporarily halting a practice that had continued from the Norman Conquest (8).
Over 100 years later, in the mid 1980's a small group of enterprising Challock villagers revived the fair with a new name, "Challock Goose Fair", to raise money for village causes and today all Challock village clubs, societies, the schools, the village churches and village hall benefit from funds raised - indirectly as a result of a grant to hold a fair by King William nearly 1000 years ago, that’s history!
(1) Domesday Book, Kent - Land of Battle Church(2) Which covered Eastwell, other settlements and the southern part of Challock
(2) Which covered eastwell, other settlements and the southern part of Challock
(3) Gazeteer of Markets and Fairs to 1516 - Challock. Centre for Metropolitain History Creator - Dr. S Letters (University of London, Institute of Historical Research)
(4) Centre for Kentish Studies - Ref QM/SB.741 "Highways stopped"
(5) Edward Hasted - History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent. Vol VII
(6) Owens Book of Fairs 1793 - Templeman Library, Special Collections, University of Kent
(7) The Fairs Act 1871 - UK Statute Law Database8) Vestry minutes for Challock 1872 - Canterbury Cathedral Archives
(8) Vestry minutes for Challock. 1872 - Canterbury Cathedral Archives