The Elephant Fayre

Peregrine St Germans evokes a colourful bygone era of festivals at Port Eliot…and a unique spirit that lives on.

“The Elephant Fayre started in 1981 and was cobbled together by some enthusiastic amateurs. We had very little experience but a firm idea that our festival was not going to be another rock show. We hoped to integrate all the performing arts theatre dance comedy poetry music yes and even juggling. We got the festival going to the extent that on our last one we had 25–30,000 punters.

Sadly it was brought to its knees six years later by an unruly mob, high on alcohol, methadone and amphetamines, and hell bent on meaningless chaotic violence. They called themselves the Peace Convoy. Apart from all that, the Elephant Fayre is a much-cherished memory for many of just how good a festival could be.

When the Fayre began, no one had heard of Health and Safety, so we had no restrictions on what we did or how and where we did it, other than working within the rules of ordinary common sense. We built a rickety pier into the middle of the wide river with a wobbly cafe at the end; nobody fell in, and nothing collapsed.

The water supply came from the same source as that used by the monks in medieval times and still used in the house to this day. It is clear as gin and twice as efficacious. An elephant was built which stood 55 foot high from the top of the howdah to the ground. In the middle of this creature was a café run by children for children. No adults allowed. No children fell off. The lavatories were a simplified version of the dreaded ‘long drop’ loos.

Some of our performers were close to being unacceptable. For instance, two jugglers called Boris and Norris dressed as medieval serfs and juggled with livers and hearts and live rats. Another troup performed as a cross between samurai warriors and Viking raiders. Their act was one of bloodthirsty (real blood) re-enactments of fantasy battles after which they let children shoot at them with real bows and real arrows. The warriors stood there and flicked away the on coming missiles. No one was killed.

A third dressed as a highly over officious immaculately dressed security guard dog handler. He went about the site-ordering people to put out joints and stop being slovenly. What spoilt him from being taken seriously was that the dog at the end of the lead was dead. Poor taste? Yes. Funny? Hysterical.

None of the above would be tolerated these days by Her Majesty’s forces of Awe and Boredom. The carefree innocent days of the Barcham fairs, early Glastonbury and the Elephant Fayres have passed on. Today punters are looked after to the extent that they might as well be in a site ‘themed’ for a festival. At most festivals there are no risks and fewer adventures to be had on a festival site than in past times. But at Port Eliot, as twilight turns to darkness, you may still feel the menacing frisson of the unknown coming night…”