Tales from Alphington's Fairs

Goose Fair

Tommy Osborne was an early 19th-Century Exeter traveller who worked as a bookseller, labourer and was also an MP. He was born in 1782, the son of Thomas Osborne a cordwainer, and died at the age of 41 in 1823. Tommy had his portrait lithographed and it shows him as shabby wearing a patched suit and a battered hat. He was adopted as a candidate at the Ide burlesque election of 1812, it was said that he was a shambling character and his fondness for the bottle let him down. He gave an address to the Ide electors on 29th September 1812 and on his way home Tommy confessed, 'I fell into the kennel . . . and most unluckily gamboged my best breeches and very much deranged the cuticle of my posteriors'. It was thought that this cost him the election and the next that is heard of him is when he is setting off for the Alphington goose fair.

Horse Fair

Blue Jimmy was said to have been a well-to-do farmer but this did not stop him from indulging in his hazardous 'recreation' of horse stealing. From court proceedings we learn that Mr Holcombe of Fitzhead reported that his bay mare had gone missing from her field between the 8th and 10th October 1826. The field ajoined a main road and the mare could not escape. Mr Holcombe found his horse on the 21st October in a stall of Mr Oliver's at the Kings Arms, Dorchester.

Jimmy had arrived at the Crown and Anchor, Mosterton Somerset at about 4pm on the 9th October riding a bay mare accompained by a pony mare, the animals were stabled. The inn keepers wife Elizabeth Mills was present. When her husband, Robert Mills, arrived home at 9pm he went into the stable with Pierce the constable and Jimmy tried to sell the horse to Robert for 25 guineas and the pony for 12. Robert refused telling Jimmy he did not think he had come by the horses 'straight', Robert had recognised Jimmy and addressed him as Jimmy. Jimmy said that was not his name and he had 'chopped' the mare at Alphington fair for a black cart horse. Robert then offered 12 guineas for the bay mare but Jimmy refused and ordered her to be saddled up so he could pay his dues and leave. While tacking up the mare Robert cut two marks in the hair under the mane. Robert confirmed these were the marks he had made when he next saw the mare on the 22nd October when she was back in Mr Holcombe's possession. A witness named Gillard said he was walking to church on the 8th October and he saw Jimmy in a lane 3 miles from Fitzhead. Jimmy was found guilty and was executed on Wednesday 25th April 1827. Horse stealing in those days was an hanging offence.

From researching notes on a court case dated about 1848 it is interesting to see a few of the people who attended the Alphington Horse Fairs though the accuracy of the names cannot be guaranteed: Thomas Mountain; George Long; Jones; Edward Turner; William Thomas a Tavistock horse dealer.


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Copyright © Rowena Kirkpatrick