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Cockermouth Post Article August 2013 – The Fair Field

The Museum Group’s exhibition, coming up at the Kirkgate Centre very shortly, will focus on an area of town that played a significant part in the community life of the town. The fair field was used for a variety of purposes over the years, before the building of Fairfield Junior School in 1967 and the construction of the present-day car park and Sainsbury’s. A pre-World War I aerial photo shows a large, grassed area, empty except for the Mitchell’s Cattle Mart on its western edge and the present-day Fairfield Infants’ School. Nestling in there somewhere were the Fairfield Works (agricultural implements) and Cockermouth’s early Volunteer Fire Brigade. Around the time of World War I came the town’s Public Mortuary next to the Auction Mart. The Fairfield was used to graze Irish cattle, brought in by railway, before they went to be sold. As the name suggests, the area was the site of fairs, such as the regular horse fairs held by Mitchell’s, which had taken place for decades and attracted large numbers of people.

George Biddall, born into a circus family in 1848, brought his famous ‘Biddall’s Ghost Illusion’ show to Cockermouth, and had long-standing connections with the town and the fairfield. Indeed, Fairfield was to be the place where he would die in 1909 in his caravan home after a serious illness. A surviving piece of film of his funeral shows George’s body being taken from the caravan to his last resting-place in Cockermouth Cemetery. His funeral was one of the largest ever seen in Cockermouth, and is a reflection of the high esteem in which he was held. Many showmen attended the funeral and it was rumoured that Buffalo Bill Cody, who was said to be in this country at the time, also attended. George’s memorial, positioned within sight of the former Industrial School, towards whose inmates he showed great generosity and kindness, is the largest in the Cemetery. One of the clowns in Biddall’s Ghost Illusion show was John Moncrieff, known as ‘Bingo’:

“Bingo is the name I adopted when I became a clown. And that was with that renowned show of Biddall’s Ghost Illusion. The worthy and genial proprietor who was a thorough gentleman and highly esteemed, I have great recollections and pleasant thoughts of .. And of Bingo (me, of course) was it not said he was also clever and smart, a good tumbler and funny face maker that could tell his jokes and make them all laugh …”

Poor Bingo’s life had a tragic outcome, all the more poignant for his being a clown, since he ended his days in the Whitehaven Poor Law Institution (the Workhouse) in 1932 at the age of forty-nine.

Gloria Edwards

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