The Autumn Equinox has been a time of celebration for as long as we know.
Whether under the Pagan name of Mabon or the Christian name of Michaelmas, it marks the time when the harvest is complete and the store house and granary full. All sorts of traditions abound: balancing an egg on its point, creating a dolly from the last sheaf of corn, harvest festivals and suppers, cutting an apple and meditating on the five-pointed star it reveals and creating displays of fruit and vegetables like the ones we go to see in Masham church at the Sheep Fair.
It’s the day - 23rd September this year in the UK - when the day divides into equal portions of light and dark. It’s inspired countless works of art from John Keats Ode of Autumn to Paul Nash’s painting The Landscape of the Vernal Equinox. It’s the perfect time to raise a glass of cider, salute the rising sun and contemplate the season of the sun which began at the spring equinox all those months ago in March.
What is it that gives somewhere a spirit of place? It’s a mysterious tapestry of cherished aspects of landscape, memories, stories, culture and tradition. The Happy House stands in Masham Market Place - one of the biggest market squares in England - and home to a unique tradition: the Masham Sheet Fair . The fair has ancient origins. Before the reformation the abbeys of Jervaulx and Fountains traded their sheep here and the tradition continued until after the First World War with over 80,000 sheep being traded at the fair. It was revived as a charity event in 1985 in response to the famine in Ethiopia.
It continues today (this year it’s on September 30th and October 1st) with sales of rare breeds, duck herding sheep racing and much more. It marks the very end of summer, the climax of the sheep farmer’s calendar, the days when conkers fall from chestnut trees and the time when the town relaxes as the tourist season draws to a close. But it also contributes to the spirit of the place - the continuation of a tradition at least seven centuries old, always the same and yet always evolving - where, for a couple of days, Masham is like nowhere else on Earth.
You can find out more here: https://www.mashamsheepfair.com/
The photographs are thought to date from about 1905.
Josie Beszant and/or Ian Scott Massie, both artists from Masham North Yorkshire, Uk.