Blessed with numerous green spaces, Cambridge has been home to fairs and fetes since the thirteenth century. Stourbridge Fair, a trade fair first held in 1211 on the common of the same name, was, at its peak, the largest of its kind in Europe, and the inspiration for Bunyan's Vanity Fair in The Pilgrim's Progress. Midsummer Fair, also originally a trade fair, has been held on Midsummer Common since medieval times, and continues today as a fun fair in late June.
In the twentieth century both fairs suffered a slow decline, but one-off events were often held on Midsummer Common throughout the 1950s and 1960s. In 1974 a band of Cambridge University students, calling themselves the Mayday Group, decided to hold such an event after gaining publicity in the General Election of February that year, in which they fielded a candidate. So on Mayday bank holiday a stage was erected at the east end of the common, Arjuna Wholefoods set up a stall, and a one day alternative fair was held. It was such a success that the organisers decided to do it again a few weeks later in June, as an alternative to the Cambridge University May Balls (which, confusingly, are held in mid to late June). They branded this second event 'Strawberry Fair' and, apart from the single stage, it featured clowns, comedy and surrealism, in keeping with the Monty Python age.
It was so successful they decided to do it again the following year, and 2,000 people turned up to enjoy, amongst the music and mayhem, a parade by a chinese dragon. In 1976 the organisers struggled to raise the £300 required to hold the fair and the stage was not ready on time, but the event went ahead anyway, with bands playing on the grass. Throughout the 1970s the Cambridge Mayday Group continued to run and grow the fair, but by 1980 the original organisers were looking to move on, and the reins were handed over to a committee of volunteers from throughout the city.
The early 1980s were a time of political protest and pop music, and Strawberry Fair embraced both, expanding the number of music stages, highlighting the CND movement, and providing stall space for a plethora of local and national charities. By the end of the decade it was firmly on the music event and new-age calendar, being described by the Cambridge Evening News in 1990 as "an odd mix of a stonehenge-type hippy fair with the atmosphere of a village fete."
Growth continued in the 1990s - a trapeze act provided a new finale in 1991, and the number of venues expanded to eight in 1992, so that by 1995 attendance was estimated at over 50,000. Famous acts in 1997 included Zion Train, Loop Guru and John Otway, as well as the usual assemblage of local unsigned talent. In 1999, despite day-long rain, 50,000 turned out to hear Ozric Tentacles and Horace X.
In the past decade regulatory requirements and economic conditions have made it ever harder to stage the fair - the 1989 fair cost £6,000, but thirty years later this figure is well over £100,000, all of which has to be raised from traders, merchandise, benefit events and donations. With the Police appealing the Fair's licence, the committee decided not to hold the 2010 event, taking the year off as an opportunity to rethink the Fair's future. Strawberry Fair returned in 2011 with a new site layout, new venues and a renewed emphasis on kids and young people.
2019 marked forty five years since the first Strawberry Fair and, with your continuing support, it will still be going in another forty five years: a day of music and entertainment, provided free of charge, by the people of Cambridge, for the people of Cambridge.