Though Bartholomew Fair started out being celebrated on St. Bartholomew’s day, 24 August, calendar reform moved it to 3 September after 1752. It went on for another hundred years, until the Victorians banished it in the 1850s, maybe with just cause or maybe because ordinary people were having too much of a rollicking good time.
But as Ackermann’s Microcosm of London demonstrates, it was still going strong in 1808. I do love the description of it as “this British Saturnalia,” and yes, this is one of Rowlandson's livelier images for the book. He must have had a blast with it!
The annexed print is a spirited representation of this British Saturnalia. To be please in their own way, is the object of all. Some hugging, some fighting, others dancing: while many are enjoying the felicity of being borne along with the full stream of one mob, others are encountering all the dangers and vicissitudes of forcing their passage through another; while one votary of pleasure is feasting his delighted eyes with the martial port of Rolla, and the splendid habiliments of the Virgins of the Sun, another disciple of Epicurus is gratifying his palate with all the luxury of fired sausages, to which he is attracted by the alluring invitation of “Walk into my parlour!” —Microcosm of London Vol 1.(Since the Spitalfields Life blog always has superior images to what I can find in the public domain, I recommend you visit here, and enlarge.)
Along with the feasting and hugging and squeezing there were carnival rides as well as performers and other entertainments you can read about in Henry Morley’s Memoirs of Bartholomew Fair (first published in 1857).
One of the entertainers who intrigued me especially was the Fireproof Lady, but you may have your own favorites.
Clicking on the image will enlarge it. Clicking on the caption will take you to the source, where you can learn more and enlarge images as needed.