This article is published in the July 2012 issue of Bee Craft.
This traditional fair has taken place on 13 September every year for over 700 years
The Conwy Honey Fair was founded over 700 years ago by King Edward 1st when local beekeepers were given the right to sell their honey within the walls every September 13th without charge.
Conwy, on the North Wales coast, is well worth a visit and, if you need any persuading, why not combine it with a visit to the Honey Fair? The town boasts a spectacular castle and the best preserved town walls in Europe as well as many other attractions, all set in the most stunning surroundings.
Conwy, castle and town, was built by Edward 1st following two Welsh rebellions in 1277 and 1283 as part of his campaign to subject the Welsh to English rule. The town was originally populated with English settlers and the Welsh permitted to enter only during the day and not to trade. However, honey was much sought after and so a special charter was needed to enable local people to trade their honey within the town once a year. Conwy remained as an English garrison until the 18th century but the Welsh have since re-claimed the town which still retains much of it’s medieval character.
History of the Honey Fair
The Honey Fair has continued ever since, although it has come close to fizzling out at times. Peter McFadden has written a brief history of the Fair which was published in Bee Craft a few years ago and can be found on the National Fairground Archive: www.nfa.dept.shef.ac.uk/history/invited_articles/conwy. It includes some interesting and amusing accounts of the Fair over the years. Here is just one: “1932 saw the biggest crowds for many years. The streets were thronged with people, but only three apiarists were present. John Berry recalled 50 years of honey fairs and remembered when the High Street had literally flowed with honey, sold from open cans, attracting swarms of bees and hungry children with chunks of bread.”
The effect of the weather and subsequent honey harvest is clear to see from this history: The 1933 honey harvest was so good that stall holders rushed to claim stall space on the stroke of midnight. Yet in 1942 during the Second World War, when rationing meant honey was scarce, there were only two stallholders,and both were selling crockery. No honey was sold at all! In 1948 the Welsh Beekeepers Association had 8,000 members and the Welsh Honey Show was held in Conwy Town Hall to coincide with the Fair.
The Fair thrived in the 1970s but came close to being abandoned in the 1980s after a run of bad honey years. In 1990 the Aberconwy & Colwyn Beekeepers’ Association (now known as the Conwy Beekeepers’ Association) took over the running of the Fair and continue to run it very successfully.
Under the terms of the original charter the fair is from midnight to midnight, but as a prospective stall holder I was relieved to find that these days it is only expected to last from 9am to 4pm. It is still held on September 13th each year. September 13th 2011 was bright and dry, although chilly in the shade. The Honey Fair filled Lancaster Square and most of the High Street. Most of the honey on sale was from North Wales, but there was some from further afield and it was wonderful to see so many different honeys on sale all in one place.
The 2012 Honey Fair
This year’s Honey Fair will be held on Thursday 13th September, 9am to 4pm, in Conwy High Street and Lancaster Square LL32 8DB. Free admission. Weather permitting, we expect the High Street and Lancaster Square to be filled with stalls, including honey stalls plus crafts and home produce, plus Conwy Farmers’ Market on the Quay. Stalls are free, but donations are invited to Bees for Development. To book a space contact Peter McFadden by email: email@example.com or phone: 01492 650851. For details and enquiries go to www.conwybeekeepers.org.uk.
Thanks to Peter McFadden for his history of the Conwy Honey Fair, and to Jeffrey L Thomas for information and photographs from his Castles of Wales website www.castlewales.com
Above photographs by Jeffrey L Thomas www.castlewales.com
Above photographs by Pauline Aslin