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Criccieth – Fighting on the Green.

The Borough of Criccieth was established in 1284. The charter required that, at the annual Michaelmas Court, two men be appointed as bailiffs to oversee law and order and control “nuisances” (anti-social behaviour). As Criccieth was a small, quiet community this was not an onerous position for most of the year; perhaps the rounding up of stray animals to put in the pinfold or pound or reminding residents to keep their pig sties and ash pits clean and tidy. Fair days were different as many people came to the town from all over the district. In medieval days the fair was at the foot of the castle and down to the sea with animal sales on the Maes. There were taverns on Castle Street and in the square. On Caernarfon Road was “Ty’n y Maes” which later became the Lion Hotel. There was much consumption of beer and wine which often resulted in arguments and fights broke out. The bailiffs would lock the worst offenders in the animal pound. After the building of the Turnpike Road, businesses and taverns developed along what eventually became the High Street and the centre of the town moved to here. There were more fairs and animal markets than there are today and following the arrival of the railway in 1867 many more animals were brought in and people from far afield attended. The town would have been hurly-burly of activity. The farmers congregated at Pont Cwrt to discuss crops and animals, there would be the shouts and calls of the traders, fortune tellers and operators of luck or chance games and music from steam organs at the fun fair. Every now and then a gipsy or trader would gallop his horse or pony down the street to show off its fitness. The farm hands would stand on street corners waiting to be hired or paid and quarrymen from Ffestiniog, newly paid off sailors from Porthmadog with money in their pockets, Criccieth fishermen and folk from the countryside would fill the taverns and public houses. Much to the dismay of the chapels and temperance societies, there would be excessive drinking. This often led to misunderstandings, insults, arguing over girls and just showing off or challenging. A crowd would gather around the antagonists, cheering them on. As hobnailed boots or clogs were usually worn there would sometimes be serious injuries. Leather belts with heavy brass buckles could cause serious cuts. The Caernarvonshire Constabulary was established in 1857 and by 1861 there was a proper police station with cells on the Maes so the worst offenders could be locked up. This anti social behaviour continued well into living memory. Dafydd Glyn Williams recalled, during the 1920s, “The gypsies always used to go to the Lion Hotel for a drink and would have to leave at closing time – which was 3 o’clock. As children we would wait outside as it was inevitable that they would start rowing and fighting with each other.” Thankfully, the fighting is now, mostly, a thing of the past. The fair is today a very small affair with only the sounds from the fun fair reminding us of what Criccieth Fair days were like.

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