Little Sheffield Feast

The Real Junk Food Project Sheffield in conjunction with the Regather Co-op invite you to the enjoy Little Sheffield Feast on Tuesday 29th September 2015. A date and event steeped in history…

A few months since on frolic bent,

On a journey to Little Sheffield Feast I went,

And being as all of you know quite green,

I was mortally pleased with the sigts I’d seen:

There was Betty and Jenny and Factory Nan,

And twenty more girls and they each had a man,

And Sally and Sukey, and Bandy-leg’d Jack,

And the chap that sold pies with his can on his back,

There were donkeys and dog-carts, and lots of fine folks,

With their jaws all a cracking their nuts and their jokes,

As hungry as hunters from biggest to least,

All right for a blow out at Little Sheffield Feast. [1]

Where is Little Sheffield?

In recent times the phrase Little Sheffield has generally meant either the closely-knit community of small cutlers and manufacturers of cutlery auxiliaries in the streets between The Moor and Button Lane, or the streets of little houses around Brunswick Chapel and St. Mary’s Church. To the latter neighbourhood belonged Little Sheffield Feast. [2]

What was Little Sheffield Feast?

To the nineteenth century Sheffielder a “feast” was a fair. The fair of Sheffield dates back at least to 1296; we only know of Little Sheffield Feast from the time when The Moor was completely built up, and to the new and crowded population of the area, Sheffield Fair was quite a long way away.

The Feast was always held on the nearest Monday to 29th September – clearly it was a Michaelmas Fair – and had the annual fairground attractions of booths and stalls of goods for sale, side shows, swings and so on; but its own particular attractions were climbing a greasy pole for a leg of mutton and donkey races from the Hermitage to the top of Bramall Lane. Even in those days the buildings were not entirely close-packed and there was space for the donkeys to run off the main road.

The centre of serious drinking, and of the prize giving ceremonies, was the Woodman Inn on the Moor. The Feast was patronised by all the outlers of the neighbourhood and their families and the children from St. Mary’s National School, and was an occasion of much comparatively innocent jollity and a great spending spree – a cheerful and welcome break in the long monotony of the working year. [2]

Why did Little Sheffield Feast take place?

29 September of course is Michaelmas, one of the four “quarter days” in a year (Lady Day, Midsummer, Michaelmas and Christmas.) These were the four dates on which servants were hired, rents due or leases begun. It was the date that harvest was meant to be completed, and when new servants were hired or land was exchanged and debts were paid.This is how it came to be for Michaelmas to be the time for electing magistrates and also the beginning of legal and university terms.

Hiring fairs can be traced to the fourteenth century with the passing of the Statute of Labourers in 1351 by Edward III and were a way of regulating scarce labour after the impact of the Black Death. Many agricultural communities had them and the feast at Little Sheffield is likely to have grown out of a type of hiring fair when jobs were allocated within the community for working the Little Sheffield field system. (Note that Crookes also has a fair – also probably connected to its medieval open field system).[3]


[1] An excerpt from “A Popular History of Sheffield” by J Edward Vickers originally found in Shevvild Chap’s Song Book

[2] Taken from a leaflet produced by Miss Mary Walton, Librarian in Charge, General Reference Library and Departments of Local History And Archives, of the Sheffield City Libraries, using editorial, in some cases verbatim, from the history of Sharrow which she has in preparation.

A Brief Account of Little Sheffield, Local History Leaflet No. 10, Libraries, Art Galleries and Museums Committee 1962.
[3] Local historian, Brian Holmshaw.

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