The Glasgow Fair dates to the 12th century, and is one of the oldest pubic holidays and was granted by William the Lion, King of Scotland (1165 to 1214), after Bishop Jocelin asked for permission to hold festivities within the boundaries of Glasgow Cathedral in 1190. By the 1800s, the fair moved to Glasgow Green.
Glasgow Green was established in the 15th century and is the oldest park in the city. It sits on the north bank of the River Clyde on the city’s east end. King James II granted the land to Bishop William Turnbull and the people of Glasgow in 1450. Originally it was an uneven swampy area composed of the High and Low Greens, the Calton Green and the Gallowgate Green, divided by the Camlachie and Molendinar Burns. Initially it was a grazing area with the banks of the Clyde used for drying fish nets and communal washing. Over the years, the burns were drained and the green levelled and extended. After the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), the Town Council of Glasgow employed 324 jobless as workers to remodel Glasgow Green. Throughout the 19th century, the green was used for political meetings, demonstrations and public executions.
At first, the fair was associated with the sale of horses and cattle. As time passed the gathering became a focal point for traveling showmen, who took advantage of the large audiences. More recently the fair become associated with amusements, with circus and theatre shows as centrepieces. As was the custom most local businesses closed on 'Fair Friday' to allow workers and their families to attend. The community of travelling show people grew in the city towards the end of the 19th century. In anticipation of the fairs around the city, showground families acquired, or leased patches of land. By 1912, the fair incorporated penny gaffs, these were make shift theatres, which cost one penny entrance fee. Originally a gaff was the name given to a cock fighting pit. Cock fighting was banned in the 19th century and the penny gaff featured clowning, dancing, singing and short melodrama. The Glasgow Fair in 1912 featured a scenic railway to visitors on a simulated ride through Japan and back to Scotland. Green’s Carnival at Whitevale. Gallowgate attracted large audiences eager to see films on a silver screen of Trench War. As the years passed, Glasgow Green became the site for amusements, circus animals, shows and ride simulations.
Prior to the Industrial revolution in the 19th century, fairs, markets and the like were patronised by the gentry as part of a paternalistic ethos. Both cultural, and structural changes came with industrialisation and the spread of factory work and unprecedented regularity and intensity of working hours produced a new formation of leisure activity. Most workers had the Sunday off, but apart from that the only other time off was during the religious holidays of Christmas and Good Friday. In 1871, the Bank Holiday Act gave workers a few paid holidays each year and four new public holidays were introduced in England and Wales, and 3 in Scotland. Opportunities for leisure activities increased dramatically as real wages continued to grow and hours of work continued to decline. In urban areas, the nine-hour workday became increasingly the norm; the 1874 Factory Act limited the workweek to 56.5 hours, encouraging the movement toward an eventual eight-hour workday. Moreover, a system of routine annual vacations came into play, starting with white-collar workers and moving into the working-class. By the late Victorian era, the leisure industry had emerged in all cities. This provided scheduled entertainment of suitable length at convenient locales at inexpensive prices. These included sporting events, music halls, and popular theatre. Glasgow was well served with railways with inexpensive railway fares; the Clyde steamers allowed working class people access to the seaside resorts and cheap hotels along the Firth of Clyde, Rothesay and the Ayrshire coast.
It soon became a common practice for local industries to close during the second half of July, to allow the majority of their employees a holiday on the Trade Fare. Literally everything would have stopped production, shipyards, retail (for the most part), and Glasgow ground to a halt. Being paid holiday pay in hand meant it was not out of character to see wives of workers waiting patiently outside the docks or depots, to ensure their husbands did not spend their fair fortnight wages, in the pub.
After the Second World War, tens of thousands of Glaswegians made their annual exodus from the city either travelling by rail to exotic locations such as Blackpool or "doon the watter" on the Clyde steamers. Huge queues of holiday-makers formed at Glasgow's Central Station or the Steamer Terminal at the Broomielaw with families eager to start their holiday. A regular call was “Taps aff, we’re going doon the watter for the fair.” (Shirts off boys, we are going to the seaside). Blackpool became a Mecca for thousands.