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Q From Anne Fairbrother: Does Mayfair, the area in London, just mean a place where a fair was held on May 1st?

A The area in London with that name is indeed so called because it used to be the site of a very big May fair, held each year from the first of May for 15 days. It was suppressed in 1764 because it had become too rowdy, and the rich residents of the houses that had by then begun to be built in the area didn’t like the noise. There were many fairs held in Britain at the beginning of May, in part a perpetuation of the ancient celebration of Beltane, but mainly because it was a good time of year for farmers to meet and trade.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 28 Nov. 1998

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

World Wide Words is copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
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Last modified: 28 November 1998.