Lancashire Legends, Traditions, Pageants, Sports, &c./Part 2/Aca's Fair, Manchester

ACA'S, OR ACRES, OR ST MATTHEW'S FAIR, MANCHESTER.

Robert Greslet, the fifth Baron of Manchester of that name, granted a portion of land to one Aca, a clerk, for the sum of three shillings yearly. In the Testa de Nevill it is stated that:—"The Robert Grelle, that now is," gave this oxgang belonging to his "demense of Mamecestre," and that the same Aca now holds this land. Some hold that Acres Fields derived their name from Aca, their early proprietor; but in the "Mamecestre" a suggestion is offered that their derivation may probably merely be from æcer, plural æcres, fields, lands, anything sown, acres. Aca was probably the chantry priest of an ancient chapel dedicated to St Matthew, which was afterwards known as "Grelle's Chantry," and the land is supposed to have included the "Four Acres" upon which the ancient fair was long held. The first charter for a fair in Manchester appears to have been granted by Henry III., when a minor, to Robert Greslet, in 1222, for the consideration of a palfrey for a licence until the king came of age. A more extensive charter was obtained in 1227, and the fair was held in accordance therewith on the eve feast of St Matthew the Apostle, and the days following, i.e., on the 20th, 21st, and 22d of September.

Owing to the enterprise of the inhabitants of Manchester this fair attained considerable importance. Many merchants from distant parts attended this central mart, and the proceedings were originally commenced by a formal opening of the fair by the Baron of Manchester in person. During the three days no person was permitted to wear arms, and each adult inhabitant was bound to assist the "grith-sergeant," or principal peace-officer in putting down any riot or disorder which might arise. The authority of the lord was not acceptable to some of the inhabitants, and consequently on the first day of the fair they used to assemble in large crowds, many being armed with whips, and others with large quantities of acorns which they had procured from the neighbouring woods. This was intended as a protest against the claims of the lord of the manor for the time being; and on the first horses, cows, sheep, or pigs, making their appearance on the ground, some of the men cracked their whips, others pelted the cattle with the acorns, and the rest shouted with a deafening noise, "First horse," "First cow," "First sheep," "First pig." At a later period this rough commencement degenerated into mere juvenile sport, and was finally discontinued long before the fair was removed to Knot Mill.