commons of today have evolved from the mediaeval system of agriculture
whereby land was divided into common fields for arable, meadow and
pasture. Many common fields were used for crop rotation, followed
by a fallow period to allow the land to recover. These fields normally
surrounded a village and beyond them was often wasteland or forest.
Rights existed on waste land and in forests, and these could include
the right for local people to take wood and for pannage and herbage
- the right for pigs to be taken into woods to feed on mast or for
animals to graze.
there were various types of common lands and different rights
and conditions relating to their use Most common fields disappeared
in the enclosure movement, particularly in the 18th and 19th century
- although many commons survived because there were regarded as
Common was one of nine commons in Caerleon listed in a survey
of the town undertaken in 1622 for the Earl of Pembroke
and other owners.
is a common called Gould Craft containing 3 acres lying within
the town and borough of Carlion, and also these other commons:
The Broad Way, 3 acres ; Com'in Nant couch, ½ acre ; Comyn
dan yr veline vach, ½ acre ; a common adjoining to Morva
Geviley, 1 acre ; Comyn y velin ban, ½ acre ; another common
lying beyond the bridge called the Ward Vach, ¼ acre ;
a common beyond the bridge between the great elm and pont Midow,
½ acre ; all which said commons do lie within the town
and borough of Carlion and do belong to the tenants and inhabitants
of the said town and borough and are commonable at all times of
are six cottages, dwelling house and six gardens lying in the
Gould Craft late in the tenure of William Watkin Griffith, Howell
Price, cobbler, John Thomas, boatman, Robert William & Alexander
Lewis, and which one Walter Rumsey esqr., holdeth by lease dated
25 Maij of 6 Jac. for 99 years or for the life of himself, Matthew
his son, or Sicill his daughter."
survey also states:
find three fairs in Carlion and the market on the Thursday."(1)
The first known reference to a fair in Caerleon is in an inquisition
dated 27th January 1296 into the lands of Gilbert de Clare,
made after his death (and whose lordships included Caerleon).
is described as:
Castle, two carucates of land, 50 acres meadow, two mills, 102s.
rent of the borough and of cottars, 10s. rent of free foreign
tenants, 40s. prise of ale in the borough, 5s. toll of the market
and fair and a fishery and weir, held of the king in chief, service
unknown, and charged with £10 7s 4d. yearly to the abbot
of Neth [i.e. Neath]." (2)
Fair appears to have been a 'prescriptive' fair - that is one
held by custom but not by charter.
inquisitions refer to fairs. One dated 1370 mentions the
castle and town had a market every Thursday, and two fairs a year,
on All Saints Day (November 1st) and on the Tuesday after Holy
Trinity (which was fixed to the first Sunday after Whit Sunday
in 1334). (3) These fairs were confirmed in
an inquisition after the death of Edmund Mortimer, Earl of March,
who died in 1381. (4)
is no reference as to where the fairs were held, or if more than
one site was involved or whether or not there were fixed sites.
However the fairs are likely to have been held on common land
or close to the castle (the probable administrative centre of
the medieval town).
site of the market is known, as the 1622 survey mentions that:
Hughes of Carlion, merchant, holdeth by lease all that slip or
landing place in Carlion adjoining his house [now the Hanbury
Arms] between high and low water mark and
. all profits,
pitchings, landings and toll of corn and cattle at fairs and markets
.and land near the Cross of Caerleon for building a hansume
and convenient market house where the said Philip Hughes shall
maps (1752 & 1800)
show the market house standing in the centre of Cross Street,
close to the present Bull Hotel, and a
drawing in Newport Museum and Art Gallery also shows it standing
there. In 1801 Archdeacon Coxe states "the four columns
of freestone which support the market-house, probably belonged
to some Roman structure". (5) The
building was still standing in 1847 but was demolished by 1850.
The stone columns were used to support the floor of the new Museum
of Antiquities (now rebuilt as the National Roman Legion Museum)
(6) . The columns remain in sections in the
Museum garden. Whether they are Roman is debateable.
Universal Directory for 1791 mentions that Caerleon
had a weekly market on Thursday and a small market on a Saturday
for butchers' meat. The town had three fairs a year, on May 1st,
July 21st, and September 20th. It also had a cattle and pig market
on the second Monday in every month. The markets would have been
held in and around the market house in Cross Street where the
road widens out.
Directory for 1844 shows a partial variation in these
arrangements. "The weekly market is on Thursday, and another
is held every alternate Monday, for cattle, sheep, horses, pigs
etc., Fairs, the second Monday in February, May 1st, July 20th,
and September 21st."
Directory of Monmouthshire in 1858 refers to "A
market held on the second Monday of each month and the fairs on
the second Monday in February, May 1st, July 20th, and September
directories for Caerleon cover the second half of the 19th
century and continue into the 20th century. Although they do not
mention the fairs it is interesting to note that the first reference
to the 'Drover's Arms' or the 'Goldcroft Inn' is in 1885.
These are therefore not early inns associated with historic drovers'
trails, but Victorian enterprises taken advantage of the traditional
Directory for 1901 refers to "Fairs held on
the third Wednesday in February and on May 1st, July 20th and
evolution of fairs from gatherings for the hiring of workers,
or from trade fairs with sideshows for entertainment, into the
modern funfairs was a gradual process. In the 19th century improvements
in travel with the new railways, and the mass production of many
goods with modern means of sale, led to a decline in the tradition
fairs. The introduction of steam power in the 19th century allowed
fairground rides to become larger and more spectacular until the
traditional fairs were replaced with the fairs we know today.
control of commons and of fairs would have been in the hands of
a manorial court or borough officers. Caerleon is known to have
had a reeve called Gilbert Huclet or Huclot in 1293-4. Amongst
other duties he was responsible for collecting manorial rents.
Simon Wyngham was reeve in 1410-1411, and was later referred to
as mayor. Other Caerleon mayors are known in the 15th and 16th
centuries. (7) These posts appear to have
lapsed and their duties transferred to other bodies, possibly
to the vestry (i.e. a meeting of the ratepayers of a parish).
Act of 1773 entrusted the management of common fields to a meeting
of proprietors, in which a three-fourths' majority in number and
monetary value was required to make decisions, but in practice
this Act was often ignored. (8)
Caerleon Local Board was established in 1872 and among its duties
took on the responsibility for the management of the fairs.
August 25th 1873 the Board resolved "that no stalls,
pews, shows, cattle or other obstruction be permitted to stand
in the public highways of the town, but that all Fairs be held
on Goldcroft Common."
April 27th 1874 the Board again resolved "that
the Fair be held on Goldcroft Common and that 100 handbills be
printed and posted about the district stating that no stalls,
pews, shows, cattle or other obstructions would be permitted to
stand in the Public Highways of the Town." They also
resolved "that the disposal of the ground for the erection
of the various stalls and booths be left to the Surveyor assisted
by Sergeant Povall."
On April 26th 1875 a similar resolution was made and the
Sergeant of Police and the Surveyor were requested "to
adopt the same rules as they did last May Fair for the disposal
of the ground for the erection of the various stalls and booths."
1880's saw a considerable amount of hostility across the country
towards the new entrepreneurial travelling showmen and in 1889
the United Kingdom Van Dwellers Protection Association was set
up. This was later re-constituted as the Showmen's Guild of Great
Britain. This was active in ensuring the continuation of travelling
fairs and in allocating pitches and organising the movement of
showmen from fair to fair.
Caerleon the Local Board was replaced by the Caerleon Urban District
Council in 1894. The Urban District Council had to deal with a
number of complaints regarding the May Fair.
September 3rd 1895 a letter was read out to the Council
from Mr.W.Gething complaining of the nuisance caused by fairs
being held on Goldcroft Common.
After a long discussion it was suggested that a field elsewhere
should be obtained for the fair. The question of whether the Council
had sufficient legal powers to arrange the transfer was deferred
to the next meeting and the Clerk was requested to check the position.
October 1st the Clerk reported that he had conferred with the
Clerk to the County Council with reference to the best means of
preventing the nuisance arising from shows on the Goldcroft Common
at fairtimes and the County Council had Byelaws relating to the
subject of which the following are copies.
A person shall not sound or play upon any musical or noisy
instrument or sing in any street within one hundred yards of any
dwelling house after being required by any constable or by an
inmate of such house, personally or by his servant to depart from
the neighbourhood of such house.
Galleries and Roundabouts
A person shall not to the annoyance or disturbance of the inhabitants
of the house in any street keep or manage a shooting gallery,
swing, booth, roundabout or any like thing in any street or on
land adjoining or near such street, provided always that this
byelaw shall not apply to any fair lawfully held.
Every person who shall offend against any of the foregoing
byelaws shall be liable for every such offence to a fine not exceeding
Council decided that "a notice of these byelaws should
be placed at each end of the common and that the matter should
remain in abeyance in order to see the effect of the same."
June 2nd 1903 the Council received a petition from the
inhabitants of Goldcroft Common calling attention "to
the nuisance arising through the holding of the May Fair on the
Common and asking the Council to take steps to prevent a repetition
of the nuisance complained of."
Council resolved that "immediate steps be taken by the
Council to prevent the Fair being held on Goldcroft Common or
on the public highways and that the Clerk report at the next meeting
as to what steps should be taken to carry this resolution into
also resolved "that the Clerk be requested to report to
the next meeting what were the necessary steps to be taken in
order to enclose the Goldcroft Common and lay the same out for
the 7th July the Clerk submitted a draft case and was instructed
to obtain Counsel's opinion as soon as possible.
October 6th 1903 the Clerk read the opinion of Mr F.N.
Keen to the Council.
Mr Keen advised that "The Common was not a 'common' in
the strict technical sense of the term but a town green and in
connection with the May Fair the Showfolk had a legal right arising
from custom to place their shows on the ground occupied by the
Fair and he could see no really satisfactory method of carrying
out the objects sought to be obtained by the Council except by
private Act of Parliament. As the land was a 'town green' it could
not be subject of a scheme for inclosure or regulation under the
Inclosure Act 1845 and the Commons Act 1876 but a regulation scheme
however could be promoted under the Commons Act 1899 but that
such scheme could not authorise the permanent inclosure of the
Common or the prohibition of the booths and shows."
hearing this the Council resolved "That the efforts of
the Council should be directed towards limiting the duration of
the Fairs to the statutory day and the preservation of order and
decency during Fair times and that the Clerk be requested to report
to the next meeting what steps should be taken to carry this resolution
November 3rd the Clerk reported back suggesting the County Council
should be asked to pass a special byelaw "with a view
to dealing with the matters complained of." A motion
was passed approving of this course of action.
on June 7th 1904 a letter was received from the Clerk to
the County Council enclosing a copy of a letter from the Secretary
of State at the Home Department stating that "the proper
authority to deal with the matter was the Urban District Council."
A letter was sent back to the County Council thanking them
for their efforts and regretting that the Urban District Council
"could not see their way to pay the expenses incurred
On April 9th 1907 the Urban District Council resolved that
"the Surveyor inform all showmen and others of the effect
of the County Council Byelaws and that copies of the same be printed
May 7th the Surveyor reported that "the effect of the
notice and copy byelaws ordered to be distributed to the showmen
had had good effect, and that all shows with the exception of
two had come and gone a reasonable time before and after the Fair
Byelaws relating to Goldcroft Common made by the Urban District
Council were made on February 5th 1918. On January 27th 1926 these
were repealed and replaced.
new byelaws stated:
2. A person shall not erect or permit to remain on the
Common without consent in writing of the Council, signed by the
Clerk to the Council, or other lawful authority, any building,
shed, tent, fence, post, railing, or other structure.
shall be lawful for an officer of the Council to remove from the
Common any structure erected thereon in contravention of this
3. A person shall not except as hereinafter provided place
on the Common any photographic cart, booth, show, exhibition,
swing, round-about, shooting gallery, stand or other like thing.
that the byelaw shall not apply so as to prohibit a person placing
on the Common any photographic cart, booth, show, exhibition,
swing, round-about, shooting gallery, or other like thing on any
day during a period extending from twenty-four hours before to
forty-eight hours after the day on which a fair is lawfully held
or on any other day or days and during such other or further period
or periods as the Council may by written authority under the hand
of their Clerk direct, subject to the following condition:-
by a notice or notices which shall be affixed or set up in some
conspicuous position on the Common, the Council may set apart
for the placing of any such photographic cart, booth, shows, exhibition,
swing, round-about, shooting gallery, or other like thing as may
be specified in the notice or notices, such space or spaces on
the Common as shall be defined or described in the notice or notices,
such person shall place such photographic cart, booth, show, exhibition,
swing, round-about, shooting gallery, or other like thing on such
space or spaces.
shall be lawful for an Officer of the Council to remove from the
Common anything placed upon the Common in contravention of this