Three hundred years ago Hainault forest covered much of present day Ilford, Barkingside, Dagenham and Chigwell. It was also the home of the original Fairlop Oak. It was one of the largest trees ever seen in Britain and thought to have been given that name by Queen Anne on a visit in 1704. It grew on a spot occupied by the present day boathouse at Fairlop Water. This enormous oak tree stood alone in a vast clearing and became the setting for the Fairlop Fair, which started in July 1725. The fair became an annual event, taking place during the first week in July and ran almost continuously until 1900. Its founder was the jovially eccentric Daniel Day.
Daniel Day had earned his fortune in marine engineering. He lived by the River Thames at Wapping. He also owned some cottages near Fairlop and made it his business to collect the rents there annually, usually on the first Friday in July. He decided to make the day a special occasion for his friends, his employees and his tenants and a ‘beanfeast’ was held under the great canopy of the Fairlop Oak.
Within a few years others joined in and gradually the gathering turned into a gigantic fair. There would be puppeteers, circus acrobats and exotic animals on hand to provide entertainment. A market sprang up too, selling sweets, toys and nick-knacks.
Daniel Day would always attend the fair but was nervous of travelling by road following an accident. Accordingly he got his workers to put wheels on a masted boat which was decked out with rigging, flags and bunting. From his home he would travel by water along the Thames and River Roding to Ilford. Once on land Day transferred to his boat nicknamed the Fairlop Frigate or boat which would take him to Fairlop. The boat was hauled by a team of six horses and preceded by a marching band.
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