Victorian photograph from when the Fair was held in the High Street.
In 1955, having been asked on numerous occasions, the Esher Round Table organised the first Esher May Fair on behalf of local charities and the community. The first committee members included Noel Scott, Bob Armstrong, Bert Neve, Charles Ayling and Arthur Lilk.
In the early days, stallholders gave a percentage of their takings to the Round Table and in 1963 "a party of old people went to Brighton for a holiday with all expenses paid".
The Esher May Fair has always been a traditional fair with events such as balloon races, tug-of-war, May Queen competitions, maypole dancing and fancy dress competitions appearing in the programme for many years. In 1960 an inter Round Table tug of war was held – just think of the healthy rivalry there must have been!
In 1962 local resident Michael Bentine, a member of the famous 'Goons', agreed to open the Fair but due to illness sent a telegram instead. That year there was a balloon race and the winning ticket was found in Brittany. Of 1594 balloons released, 137 were returned despite concerns that all may be lost in the Channel!
In 1963 and for a number of years thereafter Michael Bentine did in fact open the event. That year saw even greater commitment and enthusiasm for the event – the 'Esher Freedom From Hunger Campaign' built a true to life Basuto African village hut! Imagine that today!
The following year, an instructor with the Esher ATC Squadron, Mr Dennis Hartas circled over the Green in a Tiger Moth aeroplane with a young lady called Miss Campbell standing on the wing! The ATC also sponsored a competition to win a free trip in the plane – although not necessarily standing on the wing! Finally, to complete the programme, there was a fencing display by Hinchley Wood Secondary School. Admission by programme was priced at 1/- (one shilling in 'old money' and the equivalent of 5 pence today). Always ready to capitalise on opportunities, in 1971 – the year of decimalisation - the Round Table ran a 'bring your old coins' stand.
In other years some interesting arena displays have included the Vale Working Dog Demonstration team, a cycle polo display, a local schools tug-o-war knockout competition and displays by the Wimbledon Fencing Club and the Nonsuch English Folk Dancers whilst in 1976 a double-decker bus was positioned on the Green.
Media personalities living in and around Esher who have graced the Esher Green, either opening the Fair or visiting, include ventriloquist Ray Allen, DJ David Jensen, Capital Radio's Mick Brown and actor/comedian Jack Douglas who had the arduous task of choosing the May Queen!
In 1977, the year of the Queen's silver jubilee, the Fair was opened by Mickey Mouse who was celebrating his 50th birthday that same year. What a busy summer he must have had with so many fairs to visit up and down the country!
The following year the May Fair was opened by Radio 2's Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart.
The 25th Esher May Fair was celebrated in 1988 with a colourful parade from the old Fire Station up to the Green – imagine all the fancy dress – what a wonderful sight it must have been. The following year Joe Long, the World Stilt Walking Champion opened the Fair and entrance to the event cost all of 20 pence!
1984 saw a very busy programme of events including square dancing, a keep fit display from Enerjazz, songs from the Guildford Barber Shop Chorus and a re-enactment by the Surrey Folklore Society who staged a gun fight in the Arena.
In 1985 the May Fair was held on 32nd May – clearly something went wrong with the calendar that year! Subsequent years saw a world record attempt at Greek dancing organised by the Greek Vine restaurant in Claygate as well as a 'most teddy bears at one Fair' attempt. Archives don't reveal whether any new records were in fact established. Another major attraction for several years was the opportunity to go aloft in a tethered hot air balloon sponsored by Cala Homes. This must indeed have been a fantastic sight in the middle of the Green!
In the late 1980s when the May Queen competition became a little 'non-PC', the Fair went from the sublime to the ridiculous with events such as 'the Battling Cumberland Giants', Gladiator Games and mini Olympics.
Due to dwindling membership, in 1995 the Esher Round Table announced that they could no longer organise the event. Unless another organiser could be found it was clear that the Esher May Fair would not survive. Salvation came in the form of locally based Ajax Sea Scouts who stepped into the breach when they learned that the future of the Fair was at real risk.
Part of the Scout Association, Ajax Sea Scouts provides fun and challenge for boys and girls aged 6 to 18. The Group operates from a purpose built Water Activities Centre in Thames Ditton where Sea Scouts learn to row, canoe, sail and operate power boats – all to the highest safety standards. Ajax is an authorised Royal Yachting Association Centre and this means that members can achieve nationally recognised boating qualifications. Ajax also has a base at Chichester Harbour where it keeps two Wayfarer sailing dinghies, enabling Ajax members to gain tidal experience and further qualifications. For more information about Ajax visit www.ajax.org.uk
Key advocates of the event included Marguerite Rollason MBE and Keith Stokes – leading lights at Ajax – who saw the Esher May Fair as a family day out where a wide variety of local charities – including Ajax itself – could engage with the local community and raise much needed funds. They were simply not prepared to allow this important local event to die. Ajax therefore decided to take on the challenge of organising the Fair – with the same objectives as the Esher Round Table – to assist local charities and the broader community! 2005 was the 50th Anniversary of the Esher May Fair, and the 10th Fair to be organised by Ajax. It should therefore have been a year of unmitigated celebration. Sadly however, Keith Stokes, the key architect of the previous nine Esher May Fairs and Ajax Group Chairman for 17 years was not be there to celebrate together with everyone.
Keith passed away at Christmas 2004 at the untimely age of 60 years. With his calm organisational skills Keith's passing left an enormous gap –particularly on the day! The weather was kind and the atmosphere 'zinged' - probably making it one of the most successful years ever! There was more support from the business community in terms of sponsorship and contributions for the Auction. Main sponsors included Cargill plc, Knight Frank, Gascoigne Pees and a number of significant donations. There was the naming ceremony for the new Ajax safety boat 'The Stokes' in memory of Keith, his wife Christine and his son Howard – all lifelong Ajaccios and now all sadly no longer with us. Keith's son Gordon and daughter Jacqueline performed the naming ceremony. Ed 'Stewpot' Stewart performed the task of auctioneer for the Knight Frank Auction with the top 'lot' being a trip on the Flying Eye - Captial Radio's traffic plane.
In 2006 John Bowler, aka PC Valentine and Kim Tiddy who plays PC Honey Harman in ITV's The Bill jointly opened the Fair. Both live locally and we were delighted they could join us. The weather was absolutely diabolical - strong winds and rain really put a damper on things - but fortunately, despite the weather, everything bar the gazebos managed to survive. The Ferrets howevr, a regular attraction at the Fair were sadly missing - they had to withdraw at the last minute due to a ferret virus!
From 2005 to 2008, despite sometimes less than perfect weather, the Esher May Fair went from strength to strength under the leadership of Ajax Group Chairman Alison Derrick supported in particular by her friend and fellow Ajax parent, Maggie Capon. Alison's extraordinary creative flair elevated the ‘look and feel’ of the event to new highs and her remorseless personal commitment ensured that all went smoothly on the day – despite the candle being burnt at both ends night after night in the run up to the Fair! Both Ajax and the community owe much to Alison for her considerable personal contribution to the continuity and the development of the Fair.
In 2010 a new Ajax team took over the organisation of the event. This was headed by Kevin Simpson and John Moore, who had both previously been leading lights in the running of the Dittons Fair – an invaluable apprenticeship for the much more complex Esher Fair! Kevin and John had been blessed with an outstanding organisational team including Ajax parents Alan Coe and Ben Darlow plus former Ajax parent Paul Williams who, despite the fact that his son is no longer a member of the Group, has continued to mastermind the acquisition of business sponsorship as well as media relations.
Having kept our fingers firmly crossed, the sun beat down warmly upon the Esher May Fair in 2011, and all the charities and other local organisations who depend on this event enjoyed another highly successful day.