From the 1200s, the annual St James’ Fair was held during the Feast of St James in late July. Market stalls were erected across the churchyard and even within the nave of the church. The fair attracted traders from across the country; in the fifteenth century, stalls were leased to several Londoners including a goldsmith (Peter Fleming, St James Barton).
In addition to traders, there were many shows and spectacles to be seen. By the early 1800s an account book for the fair, now held at M Shed, lists wild beasts, waxworks and a revolving panorama as some of the attractions.
Rowdy wild and lawless
By the beginning of the 1800s there were many complaints about the rowdy, wild and apparent lawless nature of the fair. Samuel Colman’s painting of the fair from 1824, on display at the City Museum and Art Gallery (K353 (c) Bristol Museums, Galleries & Archives) depicts the fair in a very negative light. It was felt that the fair was bad for Bristol so it closed for the final time in 1838.