Fairs and markets probably occurred as far back as the 13th century as an outlet of the agricultural surplus of the area.
Below the Guildhall was the corn market while the market square was adjacent to the building and formed with stalls on each side, arranged in rows with each one given a name.
The Llantrisant Charter of 1346 make no reference to the market or fairs in existence and both practices were obviously older than the charter itself and probably so well established that they didn’t require a confirmation.
The Charter allowed the burgesses of the town the opportunity to stop non-burgesses from keeping stalls, shops or taverns within the town’s liberties. The market was an outlet for the agricultural surplus of the area and was a focus of the social and administrative life of the town.
Traditionally the market was held every Friday and there were four annual fairs held on February 13, May 12, August 12 and October 29. Rice Merrick wrote in the 16th century the three fairs on Lammas Day (August 1), May Day and St Luke Day (October 18).
George Owen of Pembrokeshire also mentions “four great cattle fairs” and there were horse fairs held on May Day. All of them coincided with religious feasts, which shows they were a community event with entertainment.
The Steward collected tolls due from non freemen who wished to set up a market stall. All the fees, fines, dues and tolls were the income for the lord of the borough.
The town went through a period of decline in the 16th century when Leland didn’t event note Llantrisant as a borough. This continued up until the 18th century when the Guildhall was rebuilt as the burgesses couldn’t afford the costs. It wasn’t enough to bring prosperity to the town.
Appropriate officials of the Court Leet included two overseers of the market but it is uncertain how conscientious they were in the discharge of their duties. In 1779 Llywelyn John and Rees John, overseers of the market, were presented at the Court Leet for being “very remiss in their duty in not weighting bread and butter and other commodities upon market days which belongs to their duty to do so.” In 1778 “the market bell is not rung market days as usual”.
There are frequent references to widescale financial discrepancies and misconduct within the running of the tolls and markets. An entry for June 1786 reads: “all owner of pigs ought to put rings in their noses for they make great damage to the Common.” Another entry in 1799 read “persons have turned scabbed and mangy horses on the Common. They are fined each for that offence.”
Although the corn market house was rebuilt in 1773 there was apparently a further plan to lay out a complete market place. This was finally executed in 1786 but many burgesses were aggrieved by it and petitioned Lord Mountstuart. The new market place saw nine burgesses living on High Street – later Yr Allt claiming their livelihood was affected as they had been able to let market stall holders pitches on their own premises. The nine petitioners were Thomas David, Evan Jones, James Morgan, David Jones, Watkin Evans, David Morgan, Evan Jones and Hywel Evan. The new market saw tolls on the decline for several years. The project went ahead costing £101 12 s 10d but sadly it did nothing to improve receipts.
Resident Thomas Rees recalled one of the fairs in the 1860s when local boxer Jack Sion Ajax came to the Fair Day (known as the “Cheese Fair of October 29th) on Yr Allt which was known as a street where many of the strong, athletic cordwainers lived. He said: “A strong stout farmer’s man from some part of the Castellau Valley was ‘fairing’ and rather early in the morning had taken too much ale at The Black Cock. Being filled with Dutch Courage he paraded the cobbled stones of the Rhallt shouting and invitation to all to battle. It caught the ear of Jack Sion Ajax who slipped out of his front door with his leather apron on. He struck his opponent a terrible blow on the jaw which sent him over like a nine pin. Rising up to his knees in about five minutes and looking wildly around him and up to the farmers, wives and children he exclaimed in Welsh “O the devil what horse kicked me?”
Llantrisant saw further decline in the 19th century with road, rail and canal on the valley floor making the ancient ridgeway roads of Llantrisant obsolete. The incoming population saw a new market for agricultural produce in Pontypridd. Lord Bute gave the burgesses of Llantrisant freedom of the Newbridge (Pontypridd) market tolls but eventually Llantrisant market closed. The cornmarket in the Guildhall was walled upon and the open market square became a police station, ending a tradition of 700 years.
However the fairs continued to take place in the town up until the early 1920s with many tales abound of the drunken rowdiness of the population on this special day. Horses were run the length of Commercial Street by drover Willy Wilde so their perspective buyers could see the fitness of the animal before a decision was made.