We went along to the Newent Onion Fayre in Gloucestershire, UK, in September 1999, and here’s what we discovered.
1. Newent Onion Fayre – an onion show plus more
‘Well, I’ve made 12 friends today, that’s for sure’, laughed Roy Haviland, as those outside the hall began clamouring for entry. He’d just spent one and a half hours judging 125 entries in 12 classes at the onion growers’ show at the 1999 Newent Onion Fayre. Not to mention the children’s vegetable animal section that attracted 19 imaginative entries, all incorporating at least one onion. ‘I’d never seen so many onions in one show until I came to Newent. There’s nothing else on this scale anywhere else that I know of.’
The show is only one part of a unique annual celebration of the noble onion by residents and neighbours of this small Gloucestershire town. Masterminded and managed by volunteers and the ever-ebullient town crier, this ancient annual fair (established in the 13th century and surviving until the early 20th century) was revived in 1996 with great success. 2005’s event attracted around 12,000 visitors (triple the town’s population) who all oohed and aaghed their way around the impressive display of perfect onions.
2. The fun of Newent Onion Fayre – lots to see and do
At Newent Onion Fayre people talk onions, show onions, eat onions (there’s even a raw onion eating competition) and buy onions. And with the main street closed to traffic for the day, they can admire the winning shop window display, browse the crafts, enjoy the street entertainers, take a chance at a fairground stall or hold their breath on the ferris wheel, cleverly squeezed into the bend of the road between two rows of houses.
With cafes, pubs, a real ale festival at the old coaching inn (The George Hotel), teas at the church and the Memorial Hall, and plenty of cake stalls to raise funds for charities, there’s no chance of going hungry or thirsty either.
In times past, market gardeners would bring their produce to sell at the various annual fairs here, with onions being the major crop at the September event.
During our day at the 1999 fayre, the Keenes, local commercial growers from Over Farm Market, heaped up over 5 tonnes of freshly lifted Tamrock onions to sell throughout the day. Their 22lb sacks were being snapped up at £1.95 each. Alongside them, 10lb strings of onions were being bought almost as fast as Roger Grimes of Forest Farm Garden could tie them. Additional seasonal produce, such as runner beans, pumpkins, gourds and marrows, were also selling well. As was the onion soup.
So for peeling your way through the layers of onion know-how in addition to an entertaining day out, make a note in your diary to visit the next Newent Onion Fayre. (For some more photos of previous events, look at Flickr: 2007 and 2009)
3. Essential information about the next Newent Onion Fayre
(this page updated September 2012).
Newent Onion Fayre is held on the second Saturday in September. Recent fayres have included children’s entertainers and a fancy dress competition, animal corner, various bands, drummers, Morris men, clog dancers, stiltwalkers and a barn dance.
Unfortunately there are no longer any tourist information centres in the Newent area, but you can get more information about the event, accommodation and buses from Newent information online or by phoning 01594 810000 (Forest of Dean council switchboard).
Newent’s other attractions include a lakeside park, a museum of Victorian Life (The Shambles), a Crime Through Time museum, National Birds of Prey Centre and Three Choirs Vineyard and Restaurant.
Getting to Newent:
The nearest railway stations are at Ledbury and Gloucester, with regular bus connections to Newent. Buses and trains from Ledbury link also with Hereford (National Rail Enquiries (tel: 08457 48 49 50).
Local bus times are available from Gloucestershire County Council (online – type Newent into the box). Alternatively use Traveline online or download their app to your mobile, or phone them on 0871 200 22 33 from 0700 to 2200 daily (closed Christmas Day, shorter hours may apply on Christmas Eve, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day); calls cost 12p per minute plus your phone company’s access charges.