Continuing the theme of alternative cultures that were not directly linked to Dartington, this extract is about something which generates very fond memories in many people, Hood Faire. I only managed to interview a couple of people about the Faire and there are many more out there who were involved. Indeed, I was told that several people have considered writing the history of Hood Faire which would definitely be a worthwhile exercise. There must be more material out there somewhere in people’s attics and drawers, including some great photo’s I would have thought. Anyway, this extract just gives a little background on the history of the fair. As ever, I would be very interested in any recollections or thoughts.
Another aspect of alternative culture which had little to do directly with Dartington was the Hood Faire festival. The growth in free festivals led to the rise of a circuit of festivals, and people who travelled between them which in turn led to the Peace Convoy and the phenomenon of new age travellers. The first Hood Faire was held over the midsummer weekend on the 24-26th July in 1977 in Hood Meadows, just outside Dartington. The midsummer timing was deliberate and gave the event a certain significance to people who celebrate seasonal festivals as is common amongst some of the new spiritualities. Indeed, by choosing this timing, it contributed to developing a local culture of celebration around such events, although, as one organiser notes, it also meant that it clashed with the Glastonbury festival. The actual attendance at the first fair is not know, but reports suggest between two and seven thousand people. The following year fourteen thousand people attended, and in 1981 seventeen thousand. The fairs ran in 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1981, 1982 and 1985. In 1981 and 1985 it moved from Hood Meadows to the nearby Dart Country Park in Ashburton. The relocation in 1981 was caused by bad weather which also caused a significant financial loss in 1982.
Although primarily themed as a mediaeval fair, there was at the least an essence of the counterculture, not least a strong focus on crafts and a range of ‘alternative’ performers. Conker Shoe an artisan shoemaker, and one of the ‘alternative’ businesses that was established in the late 1970s in Totnes had a stall there in its early years as did other initiatives such as the Totnes Healthy Living Centre and, later, the South Devon Steiner School. There was a ‘market’ of stalls selling goods, food and ideas. The Totnes Times report on the 1980 Hood Faire pictures Detta Lange, one of the alternative health practitioners based in Totnes, giving a foot massage to a fairgoer. The fair also gave support to other alternative causes through the money that it raised. For example, after the first year, it purchased a typewriter for the Totnes community magazine, Sherrack. Although, it should be noted that the funds raised also supported a number of non-alternative groups and causes.
The instigator of the fair, Saskia Thomas moved to the Totnes area in the summer of 1976. Saskia had been part of the Friends Roadshow theatre group and had been touring all over Europe but her eldest daughter was 11 and she wanted to settle somewhere. By chance she met a teacher from Totnes in London at Kirkdale, a free school run on co-operative lines, and decided to visit the town on a wider tour of the south west. Within five minutes of arriving in Totnes she had decided that she wanted to stay in the area. The inspiration for Hood Faire came from the Barsham Fair in Suffolk which Saskia had previously visited on several occasions, and which she had revisited with the Friends Roadshow in the summer of 1976. The medieval theme was a direct connection to Barsham. Saskia was already surprised that there was no such fair in the Totnes area and felt that the area was suitable for such an event. At the time she described how she
“was moved by the immense beauty and underlying energy I felt from the surroundings and people of this area and maybe the two experiences materialised into the conviction that somewhere here, along the Dart, could should and would provide the space for ‘a faire felde of folke’”
She gradually gathered support from neighbours and friends, leading to the formation of a group of 12 people that organised the first event, including several fundraising events in Totnes and site preparation. However a much larger group of supporters were involved in the overall delivery of the event. By 1979 the fair organising group numbered around 20 who committed themselves to 8 months work, with the month or two before the fair being effectively full time. Large scale community arts events were part of the fair which included wider members of the public such as in 1978 when a production of the Hunchback of Notre Dame was put on with a cast of 100. Another participatory element was a procession from Totnes town centre to the site which occurred on some of the years. Hood Meadows, where the fair took place most years was owned by a local farmer called Jack Connabeer. Connabeer farmed at Hood Barton, opposite the site and his decision to rent the fields to the organisers was based primarily on his love of medieval music.