Once upon a time, Sunday mornings were for church but in the 21st century a sunny Sunday morning means only one thing to many people – Boot Fairs! Taking their name from their origins as gatherings where people sold their junk and surplus possessions from the ‘Boot’ of their car (translation – the boot is the trunk for the Americans), a massive grey market has grown up in recent decades with many people making a fast buck that the tax man never sees, people getting rid of stolen goods but mostly normal folk just clearing out the garage or the attic – probably to make space for all the stuff they bought at boot fairs. On a recent visit to my parents we decided to take in Salisbury’s two Sunday morning boot fairs in a hunt for the odd bargain and for plants for our garden (my husband was about to get some time off work and had big plans to get digging).
The first of the two fairs is held at the fire station on Ashley Road. To get there, take Castle Road to the north of the city turn left at the first mini roundabout onto Butts Road and keep going until you see a bit field on the right hand side. If lots of cars are parked up then you’re in the right place. The boot fair raises money for the fire department and related charities. On quiet days the stalls are all in the yard of the fire station but on our visit at the end of April they spilled out onto the playing fields opposite where there is lots of space to park cars.
What you’ll find at any boot fair varies from one week to the next since it all depends on who turns up. Serious bargain hunters go early but we were just there for fun and rolled up at about 9.30 am. My husband went crazy replacing our cat boxes with two new ones since we frequently go to collect our biggest cat (a wandering Burmese called Baloo) from the park where he likes to play and kill small furry animals. We’ve been using a dog box with is much too big. I stocked up on cheap books and found some gorgeous unused pig-skin gloves being sold by a lady whose elderly mother had just died. We picked up a few plants for the garden and a few odds and ends before returning to the car to head to the second fair. The fire station boot fair is relatively small and can easily be handled in half an hour to an hour. Expect to pay 50 pence per person to go in (but don’t be surprised if the bucket for the money is just left on a chair – be good please and don’t sneak off without paying.
We next headed to the Cattle Market boot fair between Harnham and Netherhampton to the south of the city. This is a larger and more professionally run (you could say more commercial) operation that uses the gardens of the Cattle Market in good weather and the indoor market space in the winter. I’ve been before and not liked it too much due to there being a lot of semi-professional booters – the people who buy up cheap stuff to sell on at such events. On this occasion though the vast majority of stallholders were people selling plants that they’d cultivated to sell on and people clearing out their junk. We were charged 60p for the car rather than a fee per person, and even though we didn’t have my mother’s disabled badge with us, I explained she had a new hip and they let me park closer. I had to ensure she hobbled convincingly when we walked away.
The stalls were laid out in a large L-shape and we spent about an hour wandering around. My sister and her partner joined us there and I benefited from some of her plant negotiations (she knocked the prices down, then I took a tray or two at her prices). I bought more books, picked up a nice little vase that’s worth a few pounds if I can ever be bothered to put it on eBay, and had a lovely time talking to the stall holders who’d brought their dogs with them. The Cattle Market boot fair seems to attract lots of dog owners because there’s lots of space for them to run around.
We were lucky to get good weather and to find a few nice bits and pieces. On a good sunny day, a boot fair can be a great way to get out of the house, have a wander and pick up some fun things. Parents with children can do particularly well as second hand kids clothes, toys and books are always available in an abundance. Some strange things almost always crop up at such places – foot spas, vegetable steamers and slow cookers seem to top the list of things people thought they needed and then never used.
It’s actually not entirely legal to sell electrical goods at such markets but it’s very commonly done. There’s always an outside risk that goods may be stolen so take care when buying something valuable to ask a few questions about how long the seller’s had it, whether it’s any good and to look for some kind of evidence that convinces you it’s actually their property. But mostly just get out, get around the fairs and have some fun. Almost everyone leaves with a smile on their face and something they wanted in their pockets.