Macclesfield Treacle Fair

by frankbeswick

The Treacle Fair held every month in Macclesfield has a tradition that goes back for a century

I visited the Treacle Fair for the first time yesterday with my wife, son and infant grandson. It was a standard English market with a charter extending back a hundred years,one of the many markets that sprung up in the last millennium.It was held as normal in the town square of a rather normal English town, Macclesfield, in Cheshire, about twenty miles from my home.It is the town where my second son lives.

The History of the Market

The Treacle  Market has nothing to do with treacle.The name is a little English oddity that began as a nickname and stuck. The story goes that a wagon load of treacle was spilt in the town square sometime in the past, earning the town the nickname of Treacle Town but I  think this doubtful. More research is needed. But England is a land of odd traditions,  and this is one of them.It is only the name that is odd, the market is a traditional commercial  and social event in a small English town overlooking the foothills of the Pennines, the hills that form the spine of Northern England. The market is a jolly  sort of place, full of generally friendly people thronging there for commerce, fun and a bit of retail therapy. It is held on the last Sunday of every month,  and this was the last before Christmas, so  it was more than usually crowded.   

Most traditional markets in England were instituted by royal charter in the Middle Ages and although many became redundant in the 1340s, when the plague known as the Black Death struck, they have been running since. The Treacle Market is, however,only a hundred years old.  Macclesfield is a town whose name is old English for The Big Field. It is set in a convenient location, for it its centre is set up a hillside, thus preserving it from the threat of flooding. Visitors arriving at the market by train must therefore walk up a short, steep slope which takes them to the town square where the market is centred. It also spreads into the surrounding streets.

The town square contains the small, but impressive Victorian town hall, a reminder of the days when Macclesfield was at the centre of the silk trade. In fact one of the roads running out of the  town is called the  Silk Road, for it was the route taken by carts taking silk loads to ports for export.

The silk industry is now history,killed off by competition from Asia.The market is a legacy from the time when the town was thriving from silk. It is now a place for traditional craft workers to sell their wares free of the economic constraints of running a shop. Renting commercial property in England is very expensive, well beyond the reach of many small craftsfolk, so getting a stall for a day is financially a more workable option than having a shop. It  enables farmers from across the county to sell craft products. 

I love  this sort of place. It is traditional, but socially progressive, empowering small traders in an economic world dominated by rich people and big businesses. As one who rejects both capitalism and  socialism in favour of the New Economics of Schumacher,co-operatives and the Distributism of Chesterton I am in favour   of markets that empower small traders. I also love artisan foods, and this is an artisan market. What is not to love?

The Town Crier

MacclesfieldTown Crier
MacclesfieldTown Crier
Francis Beswick

Meeting the Town Crier

We English love tradition, so we hang on to old institutions long after the circumstances of their origin have vanished. One is having a town crier.In the days before newspapers a well-built man with a deep chest and loud voice would be given a ceremonial uniform and a bell.He would ring the bell in public to gain attention and would then read proclamations. Even in modern times some towns maintain a town crier to perform ceremonial duties. Macclesfield has one, and I met him!

Walking through the crowds I spotted a man in ornate eighteenth century attire approaching me. The town crier! He was on his duties of mingling with the crowds to create the right atmosphere for the fair. I saw my chance and spoke to him. He was warm and friendly. I explained about my being a writer for Wizzley and that I was doing an article on the fair. Please could I have a photograph, because my American readers will really be interested in quaint traditions.We British simply live with them.He was delighted to assist, so if you look at the picture above you are seeing a genuine English town crier. Tradition lives!  He knows that he is embodying tradition and loves  it. 

Around the Fair

We did not approach up the hill, but came from the other side, as we were visiting my son. He is a real foodie, who enjoys delicacies and cooking his own food. But the main object of his trip was to provide a day out for his son of eighteen months old. He bought a pie and some artisan bread, though he looked at a handmade basketwork box to store some of his son's clothes. 

But my path is always the same: look for the pies and cheeses, and for pies I was spoiled for choice. The normal procedure for pie makers is three for ten pounds. Each pie is enough for one person for a meal. I got my ten pounds worth:  beef and blue cheese; pork  and black pudding; and  meat and potato pie.My mother said that I was made of meat and potato pie, for during her pregnancy with me she developed cravings for it, sometime at odd hours of the night. well, sometimes in the early hours of the morning! I had the beef and blue cheese pie today for lunch. Delicious! What lovely pastry.   

I found an artisan cheese stall selling a range of Cheshire cheeses. As Macclesfield is a Cheshire town all the local cheeses are varieties of Cheshire.I could have bought a load, but I contented myself with two,an oak-smoked and a blue variety. I got into conversation with the farmer who had made the cheese, from his own cows on his own farm,on the English-Welsh border. The farmer told me that the farm had been in his family since 1930. I told him how I believe in supporting farmers. He seemed pleased. But what of the future? He was an old man. Will his son or daughter follow him. Will they want to? will they be able to? It is not for me to say; and I cannot know.

The street musicians played their merry music and we walked back to my son's house where he was cooking lunch for us. 


Updated: 11/08/2019, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 04/09/2022

Queme is so rare I have not heard of it.

DerdriuMarriner on 04/08/2022

This question can be considered related because it's about word use but not related because it doesn't happen to have anything to do with Macclesfield, the fair or treacle. (Oh, wait a minute, it does describe the experience of the first two and perhaps of the third.)

Recently, I noticed the word queme, as dialectical east-pond English for "agreeable, pleasant." It sticks since it makes me think -- not in meaning, but in spelling -- of the Portuguese queimar and the Spanish quemar, for "to burn."

Would this be a word of common, obsolete, rare or special usage by you all east-ponders?

frankbeswick on 04/07/2022

Another word for molasses-correct. I could not write about the culinary use of treacle. I don't know enough about cooking.

DerdriuMarriner on 04/07/2022

Thank you!

Is treacle -- your mother's dark treacle toffee and your treacling morning porridge interest me lots! -- a subject that you or Big Brother's Little Sister Veronica would be interested in writing about? Is your wife's use of golden syrup for morning porridge or for something else?

It isn't clear to me how much this side of the pond understands about treacle, what foods to avoid with dark or golden treacle in them and what foods to embrace with dark or golden treacle in them.

For example, it seems to me that I remember somewhere some source -- authoritative? unauthoritative? -- saying that treacle is simply the other side of the pond's word for molasses. Would that be true?

frankbeswick on 04/07/2022

My mother used black treacle occasionally to make treacle toffee, and my wife rarely, if ever, uses it. It is not a food that I like very much. On the other hand, my mother used golden treacle, which we call golden syrup, much more frequently. I would have a dollop of golden syrup on my morning porridge. My wife uses golden syrup at times.

I have never drunk Mahogany.

DerdriuMarriner on 04/06/2022

Internet sources differentiate between black and golden treacle, with the former appearing to be less an acquired taste than the latter's bittersweet strength.

The Wikipedia article on treacle mentions treacle tart and treacle sponge pudding. But its sole image shows what I'd have thought was soup.

How would you find dark treacle at its tastiest?

And also, would you happen to have had what the Wikipedia article on treacle calls Mahogany, a Cornish fisherfolks' drink of one part dark treacle to two parts local gin?

Mira on 11/15/2019

So there's no original Cheddar. But as with champagne, they could have still reinvented it even if there had been a patented original Cheddar.

I wrote feta cheese the other day but meant telemea cheese. I used to eat more feta cheese in the past, but now I prefer telemea. But both are very good!

frankbeswick on 11/13/2019

Game and rabbit with red wine! This sounds delicious. Game pies in Britain are cooked like ordinary pies.

I am a great fan of feta and happily I don't have cholesterol problems.So I often have a few cubes of feta on my bread at breakfast. I am the son of a man who loved cheese and I am following his tradition!

Cheddar is the name of a place in the South West of England, where Cheddar cheese was first made. But sadly for the makers, other people copied their process and used the name Cheddar, so it became too late for them to copyright the name or patent the process. This great variety of producers explains the variation in standards between types of cheddar.

Mira on 11/13/2019

Thank you, Frank, for your recommendations and explanations. I will look for these cheeses at some specialty shops in Bucharest as well as online. I love cheeses too, and I often eat veggies with cubes of feta cheese. I also like vintage Cheddar cheese but I noticed it varies considerably among producers. It's also much higher in fat content than feta cheese, and I have to watch my cholesterol.

I can't wait to travel to the UK again and try some cheeses and pies there. I ate a meat pie in a pub in London and really enjoyed it. Are game pies prepared differently than pies with other types of meat? Here we prepare game and rabbit (available at some butcher's shops) with red wine.

frankbeswick on 11/12/2019

Great to hear from you, Mira.

Here are some recommendations for English cheeses:
Wensleydale, still made to a recipe developed by monks.
Stilton: a blue cheese, said to be the queen of English cheeses
Cheshire: white and crumbly,a real delight. [Veronica, who lives in North Cheshire, loves it.]
Creamy Lancashire. [I live in South Lancashire] Very tasty.
An Irish cheese, Cashel Blue, is one of the best there is.

I have enjoyed cheeses which are flavoured by chives or young nettles, which are boiled to eliminate their sting, then chopped.

The term blue applies to cheeses that have been allowed to develop an edible mould.

Pies: I like many pies, but I enjoy wild boar pie, which is very tasty.

Game pie needs some explaining. Game is the term for animals that are hunted. The term game covers the following: hare, venison [the name given to deer meat] pheasant, partridge, grouse, woodcock. Game pie can include any or all of these meats.I like a good game pie.

Rabbit is not counted as game.

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