Why is it called Fair Green?
The land now known as Fair Green was originally called Cock Street, and Diss Fair, an historic medieval fair going back to 1185, first seems to have moved to Cock Street soon after 1430. The Fair was traditionally held on the vigil, feast and morrow of SS Simon and Jude (27th October – 1st November), and lasted almost 700 years, for 400 of which the fair took place on Cock Street’s ancient Green. Find out more about The Story of Diss Fair.
In 1863, Cock Street Green was renamed the Fair Green in honour of the historic fair, on the marriage of the future Edward VII to Princess Alexandra of Denmark. Similarly, Cock Street was renamed Denmark Street.
Is it a Common? Who owns it now?
The enclosure movement grew across England, but in when the Diss Enclosure Bill passed through the House of Lords in 1814, Cock Street Green was left unenclosed as it was required for the annual fair held in November. This was why it was awarded to the Lord of the Manor in trust for the inhabitants, so effectively remained an open piece of common land. It eventually passed into the ownership of the Diss Parochial Charities, and was registered to them officially under the Commons Registration Act 1965 (ref 225/U/170). In the 1990s, Diss Parochial Charities sold Fair Green into a private ownership in order to raise charitable funds. Today, it is privately owned.
What might I have found on Cock Street Green (Fair Green) in the past?
On Cock Street Green in 1851, there were several hemp weavers, some working in Warne’s factory on Chapel Street, but most in private houses, like James Quantrill who lived near the Cock Inn. There was also a school, Eliza Legoods’ Seminary, which taught grammar and composition in English and French.
In a report made to the General Board of Health (on a preliminary public inquiry held in Diss in pursuance of the Public Health Act of 1848), the surgeon Henry Ward described the houses on Cock Street Green as: “…being occupied by poor people, many of the rooms are very small, and densely filled.” In common with much of the town, many residents had neither drains nor pump. Some fetched their water from the fen. Several of the identified owners are mentioned in this report: Mr Carter’s tenants had to cope with water the colour of sherry; Mr Cook’s three cottages on the Green were without water, drainage or privies; and Mr Mullenger’s property had an offensive privy, no cesspool and a broken pump.
A messuage and building called the Kitchen on the north side of Cockstreet Green was sold by John Notley to Eleazer Dunken in 1757 and given for the Town’s use as a poorhouse (i.e. a workhouse). This house was in the occupation of William Payne in 1839 at the time of the tithe apportionment. In 1851 there was a Parish House or almshouse on the north side of the Green quite close to the ale house, given by Eleanor Dunkon in 1786 for the use of the Town: there was a right to a water pump outside the door.
William White’s History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Norfolk 1845 discusses Diss at length:
A large FAIR is held on November 8th, upon the large green at the foot of Cock street; where a lamb fair is held on the first Friday in July.
By the 19th century, Diss Fair was known as a cattle fair, and also included acrobats, clowns, dancing girls, merry-go-rounds and more. In 1862, the famous English boxing champion Jem Mace visited Diss with Ginnett’s Circus, which is still touring today. In 1864, The Diss Express started life, and in its first year the paper reported on the annual Stock and Pleasure Fair at Fair Green. The reporter “rejoiced at the absence of penny gaffs, sparring booths and similar affairs,” but found that, “drunkenness was prevalent and in the early part of the evening there might be seen the sad spectacle of old and young men scarcely able to walk.” In 1872, the Fair was forced to close due to the local disruption caused by drunkenness and rowdy behaviour!
Fair Green on film!
The 1949 film Village in the Wheatfields (drama-documentary illustrating the farming year in and around Rickinghall) features The Cock Inn and Albert Youngman’s fish and chip shop (see Denmark Street). The scene starts at 4:11 with the farmer coming out of the garage in Rickinghall, but as the viewpoint changes he is on Fair Green, and you can see the pub sign in the background. Then, as his car pulls away, the scene takes you into the Albert’s shop, finishing around 4:41.
Meanwhile, this wonderful 8mm colour cine film of Diss, made by Stanley Youngs in the 1940s, shows Fair Green from about 2:44 to 3:32. It was this clip that represented Norfolk on the VE Day in Colour programme in 2020:
The Fair Green History Group
In 2007, a small number of Fair Green residents (Jackie Collins, Frances Hart and Suzanne Kayne) formed the Fair Green History Group to locate and collect information and artefacts relating to the history of Fair Green, Diss and its environs and to share them with the residents of Fair Green and other interested people.
Over the next two years, they collected memories from residents, researched census returns and located a number of historic maps and photographs of the Green. The group then arranged for small displays of items relating to the history of the Green to be on view at open air events on Fair Green. The Fair Green History Group also displayed an exhibition in 2009, again on the history of Fair Green and its fairs, in Diss Museum.
We are actively seeking any memories of people who live or have lived on The Green, artefacts and any old newspaper cuttings relating to Fair Green. If you can help – please get in touch.