I’ve always been intrigued by the evolution of place names and what those changes can tell us about our local heritage.
For example, if I were to ask you where in Maldon Molehills and Upper Pound Mead are, chances are you don’t know.
However, if I then revealed that they later became known as Longfield and Fairfield, your response is probably a little more positive.
For residents of my age, Longfield will forever be the city garden.
Today, however, the site is the site of the Longfield Medical Center, a large lawn, enclosed play area, a youth shelter, and an avenue dedicated to the 2012 London Olympics and Paralympic Games.
Fairfield, on the other hand, is less immediately recognizable. Admittedly, we have Maldon Housing Association’s Fairfield House, next to Fambridge Road, and that certainly puts us in the right direction.
But most of the Fairfield is now actually occupied by the Plume Academy and its grounds, including their extensive sports field.
The school did not move to this location until 1907, but why was it and why is it still known to some as the Fairfield?
- Cattle graze on the field. Photo: permission Kevin Fuller
The most obvious conclusion is that originally the fair was held here.
Maldon has certainly been the site of trade fairs for centuries. Our charter of 1171 gives the city the right to hold its own fairs “without toll” (tax).
During the 15th and early 16th centuries, Maldon held one annual fair, but by 1555 this increased to three (each of which lasted four days).
These were in March, August and September. In the 18th century, there were only two – the end of March (the Lady Day Fair) and September. When I say “fairs,” these are not the kind of places we think of today, with rides and sideshows.
They were primarily intended for the purchase and sale of livestock, but occasionally also featured entertainment.
These early fairs were strictly controlled by city officials and were held in the main marketplace (outside All Saints’ Church) and on Potman Marsh, public land along the Causeway connecting Maldon to Heybridge.
Then, in 1847, and to the chagrin of the Potman Marsh supporters, the company moved the show to “Dr. Plume’s field and not Great Potman, where it has been held since 1791”.
The reference to Dr. Plume, we discover, is because both Longfield and Fairfield were part of the Plume Charity. A contemporary guide (from 1848) states that “ two annual fairs (are held) for livestock, toys and peddlers (goods or small wares) on the first Thursday of May and September 13 and 14 at the fairground south of the market place ” .
- The school, the field and the cricket ground. Photo: permission Kevin Fuller
In fact, the September annual stock exchange also included attractions like shooting galleries and roundabouts, which are more reminiscent of the sorts of things we think about today.
Not only did the fair move from Potman to Fairfield, but Maldon Cricket Club and some important matches were played on that sacred grounds, not least Maldon against All England XI on Monday 11 August 1873 and Maldon against Mr Thornton’s XI. on Wednesday, June 19, 1878.
That last game included, in addition to CI Thornton himself, the “Demon Bowler” – FR Spofforth, and EM Grace (brother of the famous WG) in the line-up of the visitors.
At one point, the visitors hit the ball straight out of the ground and into Fambridge Road and at the end they won with an innings and 30 runs.
Cricket, at least through the Maldon Club, ceased when the school opened in 1907, but the gymnasium made good use of the old cricket ground and that was still the case when I went to the Plume in the 1970s.
The Fairfield is much more than stock exchanges, cricket and education.
It was the regular venue for city celebrations throughout the 19th century. During World War II, it was used by the Home Defense Services and bombs were dropped at least twice – on October 18, 1940 and March 10, 1941.
Whenever I walk past Fairfield and see contemporary students playing sports I think of all those events from the past and while the old cricket pitch may now be covered with an all-round artificial (AGP) synthetic surface, the Fairfield’s legacy certainly lives on.
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