Explore the author's map to discover strange stories from Mitcham and the surrounding areas.
Part 1 - Mitcham:
The Phantom Cyclist
of Mitcham Common
(update to Strange Mitcham)
A Dark Figure on Mitcham Common
Tales from the
'Calico Jack': The
Playful Ghost of
Lacks the Drapers
The Faces on the Walls:
The Haunted Cottages
in Tramway Path
The 'Haunting' of
Soldier of Graham
The Legend of
Remember the Grotto
The Phantom of
An Apparition at
Woof & Sabine
Haunted Rooms at
The Phantom Cat
Mitcham's (not so)
The Kingston Zodiac
The 'Ghost Tree'
Medicinal Plants and
A Magical Tree
The Wrath of God
A Ghostly Experience
in Morden Road
Mitcham Clock Tower:
When Time Ran
The Rosier Family
The 'Ball of Fire'
UFO over Mitcham
UFO over Tooting
Bec Common, 1990
Part 2 - South of
The Ghosts of
Church & Churchyard
The Figure in the
A Spectral Cavalier
'Haunted Mitcham' Facebook group:
Facebook group set up
by Geoff Mynn in
Thanks to the
and Merton Council
there are some very
maps of Mitcham
Download for free
via this link.
The Mitcham Ghost
The Legend of Mitcham Fair
Looking around today, it may come as a surprise to learn that royalty once held Mitcham in the highest regard. But in the late sixteenth century, Mitcham was a very different place. Then it was a pleasant little rural village set in the lush green Surrey countryside, a haven of peace and fresh air far away from the bustle and stench of Tudor London. What's more, its convenient location - only about an hour's ride from the capital - meant it became a fashionable retreat for Elizabethan nobility.
That famous Elizabethan gentleman Sir Walter Raleigh, for example, lived here for a time (hence the road named Raleigh Gardens close to Upper Green) and he features in a number of local ghost stories. (See the chapters about Beddington Parish Church and the nearby alley, and Beddington Park for details.)
Queen Elizabeth I herself visited the area many times during her reign (1558-1603), staying overnight on at least five occasions. The Virgin Queen's connection with Mitcham has given rise to an enduring local legend concerning the annual fair.
Legend Fills A Vacuum
Mitcham's Fair is one of England's oldest. Apart from two lapses of a few years each, it has been a feature of local life for so long that nobody is quite sure how it all began.
Whenever facts are in doubt legend quickly fills the vacuum, and in this case it is claimed that Elizabeth I established the Fair by Royal Charter. The story has it that Elizabeth was so delighted at the way Mitcham's villagers celebrated one of her visits that she declared the celebrations an annual event. It is an attractive story and, if true, it would date the Fair's origins at around the end of the sixteenth century.
Sadly, no evidence to support this claim has ever been found, despite a detailed search carried out in the early twentieth century, prompted by a threat to end the Fair. It is perfectly possible that its origins do lie in the Elizabethan period, but without documentary proof it is impossible to be sure.
What is sure is that the Fair was definitely around by the mid-eighteenth century. In fact, it seems to have attracted a great deal of unwelcome attention at this time, for tradition states that the authorities declared the Fair illegal between 1770 and 1775. This is probably an exaggeration: it is more likely that what really happened was an attempt to clamp down on the event's less savoury aspects such as gambling, unruly behaviour and litter.
Originally, the Fair was held on Upper (or "Fair") Green, but it had an unwelcome habit of overflowing onto nearby private land, prompting complaints from the owners. During the 1900s, these complaints, together with the threat of accidents posed by the ever-increasing traffic congestion, led to suggestions that the Fair should be abolished. But traditionalists cried out (rightly or wrongly) that "the people's Fair" had been granted by Royal Charter and could not be taken away. At around the same time, the Showmen's Guild - who had a vested interest in the event continuing - helped sway public opinion with the introduction of an ostentatious opening ceremony involving an enormous gold-coloured key.
Above: The opening ceremony, 12 August 1998. (James Clark, 1998)
The opening ceremony is still performed each year when the Mayor, attired in full regalia, raises the key above his or her head and turns it several times to symbolically open the proceedings.
(There is a story that a different opening ceremony, involving the exchange of a horse, existed long before the key was introduced. However, although it is known that some horse selling did take place in earlier times, there does not appear to be any evidence that it played this vital a role.)
After many years of arguments, the Fair was allowed to survive but only if it moved to a new venue. So in 1924 it moved to its modern location around Three Kings Piece. It continued to be held year after year until 1940 when the Second World War intervened, but this was only a brief interruption and eight years later it made a triumphant return.
Its greatest threat to date came in 1975, when some local residents who considered the event a nuisance complained loudly to the Council. The Council responded by imposing more stringent regulations on the showmen, demanding an improvement in safety checks and food hygiene. This led to an increase in pitch rents and the showmen, already unhappy at the poor profits rainy Augusts had bought them in recent years, decided to call it a day. But, as had happened over fifty years previously, there was a public outcry - the issue of the alleged Royal Charter was again raised and there were loud demands to bring the Fair back.
Happily, a compromise was eventually reached and Mitcham Fair reopened in 1983 on its traditional date of 12 August - a date once well-known to locals as "the Glorious Twelfth".
Old footage of Mitcham Fair from British Pathé (links added Sep. 2009)
Click on an image to open preview footage in a new window:
"London - An Ancient Fair - Mitcham Fair - that dates from Elizabethan days -- opened with the historic key" (1919)
"Mitcham Fair: A Survival of Elizabethan Days. Mr Mallaby Deeley M.P. opens the Fair with the historic key. Mitcham, London" (1921)
"Come to the Fair: Mitcham Fair opened with historic key" (1922)
"Mitcham Fair opened, for the first time in its history, by a woman - Mrs Hallowes. Surrey" (1925)
"A London Sideshow: Mitcham's famous Fair opened once again with historic key" (late 1920s?)
"'Heigh HO! Come to the Fair!' Just for a brief moment - let's all be young again - at the famous Mitcham Fair" (1930)
"'Come to the Fair' Mitcham Fair opened with historic key" (1931)
"'All the Fun of the Fair' Mitcham Fair opened with historic key" (1932)
"Mitcham Fair opened with historic key" (1935)
"Mitcham Fair opened with historic key" (1937)
"Mitcham Fair opened with historic key" (1938)