William Dargue A History of BIRMINGHAM Places & Placenames from A to Y
In addition to the weekly market, whose charter was granted in 1166, Birmingham's manorial lords were granted in 1259 the right to hold a four-day fair at Ascensiontide, later transferred to Whit week. About 1400 a licence to hold a fair at Michaelmas was also granted. From 1529 until the end of the 19th century the two fairs continued without a break. A lord had to pay the Crown for the privilege, but the potential to make money from markets and fairs was substantial. Traders from outside the town had to pay tolls on their goods. This brought its own revenue, but it also encouraged merchants to take up residence in the town, which also brought in revenue for the lord. Many medieval markets and fairs were set up and many failed to thrive, but the success of those at Birmingham goes a long way to explaining the development of the town into the city it now is.
Centred on the Bull Ring, the fair was spread out through the streets of the town; trade in horses occurred at both annual fairs and took place in Edgbaston Street; other animals were traded on the High Street. Because of increasing congestion the horse fair was moved in 1777 to the end of Smallbrook Street, the continuation of Edgbaston Street, at the edge of the town.
The name of the lane, Brick-kiln Lane where the fair was subsequently held, soon became known as the Horsefair. (The beast fair was moved in 1769 to Dale End.) With the exception of the horse fairs, the other fairs had ceased by 1875. The horse fair survived until 1912.
When the Inner Ring Road was built in the mid-1960s a mosaic mural by Kenneth Budd 30 metres in length depicting the horse fair was erected in the centre of the roundabout at the top of Smallbrook Queensway.
William Dargue 01.08.2010/ 06.10.2012
For 19th-century Ordnance Survey maps of Birmingham go to British History Online.