- The origins of Blackwater Fair and the Welsh Drive are discussed in an excellent article by Phil Stevens and Malcolm Miller in Surrey Heath Local History Clubs Newsletter Feb 2016. I have been given permission by the author to reproduce the "Origin of Blackwater Market" for a wider audience.
The origin of Blackwater Market
- According to John Richardson in The Local Historian's Encyclopedia 1974 in a section about 'Markets & Fairs — Charters' "a list was prepared from an MSS volume in the Public Record Office styled Palmer 's Index No. 93 which was believed to contain all Letters Patent preserved in the PRO relating to Markets and Fairs in England from the reign of King John  to Edward IV "
- Mar 4, 2016 12:23 PM GMTBlackwater Fair was not listed under Hampshire, but the county is not always given and there are two candidates which might be Blackwater, ie. Bretford, Market, 11 Hen3  — coinciding with deforestation of Surrey - and Dodebroke Market and Fair, 41Hen3 .
- In the Charter of 976 (King Edgar's gift of Crondal to the old Monastery at Winchester) the River Blackwater appears to have been called Dudda's Brook and Blackwater village appears to have been called Bryda's Ford. (Baigent, The Crondal Records 1890 and Stilwell, 'History of Yateley'). At the time of King John the name then used for Blackwater was 'Bredeford' [Broad Ford].
- It is possible that Blackwater Market began as early as the reign of King John. Probably declined at the Black Death and then grew with the rising population of London in the 16th century. Certainly it was significant in the 18th century.
- Blackwater Fair, unlike others, was advertised in the Reading Mercury until 1752, when notice was given that due to the 11 day change in the calendar the Fair would be held on 8th November instead of 28th October, provoking popular cries of 'Give us back our 11 days'. Perhaps it was too traditional to need advertising.
- According to Sydney Loader, Blackwater Fair is referred to in Brian Vesey-Fitzgerald's book 'Garden Alive' as follows: "The cattle were Welsh Blacks from the summer and autumn fairs of Wales. And the droves were huge: Sidney Webb, in his 'English Local Government', puts the total destined for London and southern England at 30,000 head annually. The great cattle fair in this neighbourhood was at Blackwater on 8th November. Blackwater was a 'Clapham Junction'. It was there that the huge herds were split up to take different routes for London, the coast and various parts of south-east England. In the autumn and winter the herds of Welsh Blacks, small tough beasts with long horns, and their mounted drovers 'gabbling a strange tongue' (all, of course, spoke perfect English when the need arose!) were a familiar sight in this neighbourhood. Cobbett mentions herds of 2,000 and more."
- There are long memories in Yateley of the cattle being driven to Blackwater along the Welsh Drive. This ancient drove road crosses Eversley and Yateley Commons. It can still be walked for most of its length along the original route. However I do not know its route west of Heckfield, or whence it originated.
- Earlier in the autumn the cattle-driving was preceded by flocks of up to 2000 Welsh sheep which reached Blackwater across the commons by way of Reading on their way to the Sussex coastal marshes [nb the Maultway]. John Smith also recalled seeing flocks of 200 geese being driven along the turnpike to London.
- It is said that pub windows were boarded up and sawdust laid on the floor and sacking hung on the walls as a measure of protection against rowdy drovers who were fearsome men indeed. Nora Hough's booklet contains a very full account of the Blackwater Fair — the former Entecon building (now flats) stands on the site of the old fairground.
- As times changed and motor vehicles took over from horses the Fair diminished year by year. In 1929 the last Cattle Fair took place on Blackwater Green. Animals were transported by train and then were imported.
- Phil Stevens and I discussed the origins of Blackwater Fair on the Heathland History Forum 9 years ago. We discussed some other sources not mentioned above:
- An article in the Camberley News of 4 Jan 1929 was transcribed for the Yateley Society in 1990 by June Sparey, then reporter for the Camberley News.
OLD BLACKWATER CATTLE FAIR - MEMORIES OF THE PAST published January 4, 1929
- The ancient institution of Blackwater Cattle Fair for the sale of Welsh and Devon horned cattle, Welsh ponies, New Forest ponies, and Irish horses, used to be one of the largest of its kind in the south of England. The fair just survives today with a few horses. The Green on the Yateley and Hartford Bridge crossroad was used regularly for the fair, and as November 8th, the old established day, annually came round, farmers and dealers from far and near gathered at this immemorial place to do business and to see what was going on.
- One may well wonder how the date was remembered. No advertisement of the approaching function ever appeared to be made. Nevertheless, as if by intuition, early in the morning of November 8th, in those by-gone days, the roads of this neighbourhood began to fill with wayfarers of all sorts and descriptions making for the Green - as this fair then never failed, although generally the weather was very inclement.
- It can be understood how the recurrence of a great gathering like Blackwater Cattle Fair should be memorable enough. Some of the stock which appeared there for sale had been on the road for weeks beforehand, and weeks previous to the fair the cattle would graze on the common and in the fields round about Eversley, Yateley and Blackwater, but when the railway came most of the animals were sent by rail direct to Blackwater.