Friday, June 10, 2011

Appleby Horse Fair

The Appleby Horse Fair is a horse fair which is held annually at Appleby-in-Westmorland, Cumbria (until 1974 and historically Westmorland) in England.

It is held every year in early June and has taken place since the reign of James II, who granted a Royal charter in 1685 allowing a horse fair "near to the River Eden". Since then, around ten thousand Gypsies and Travellers have converged each year to buy and sell horses, meet with friends and relations, and celebrate their music, history and folklore. Another thirty thousand people visit the fair during the week.[1]

The fair is one of the oldest horse fairs in Britain. The fair is held outside the town on what was formerly called Gallows Hill (named after the public hangings that were carried out there), which is now known as Fair Hill.

The fair customarily starts on the first Thursday in June, unless that is on the 1st in which case it starts on the 8th, and ends on the following Wednesday. Besides the horses, there are also fortune tellers, palm readers and horse-related merchandise.

Thank you Wikipedia for that info.  Here is another link with info.

Now the following is my own opinion which may or may not agree with other peoples opinions.  I haven't lived in Appleby in over 22 years so things will have changed.  However I lived in Appleby from the age of 6 until the age of 25, so these are my memories from then.

I remember walking up to Fair Hill a few times and all the hustle and bustle of it all.  When it was good weather the crowds were huge, when it was wet and believe me there were wet years all you could see was the mud and the filth and wondered how those poor people could live amongst it all. 

One thing that hit me was the smell and the overflowing garbage bins, and again how they could live amongst all that?  However amongst all that were the gorgeous caravans, both the traditional ones and the ones covered in chrome with all their Crown Derby China displayed.  Like many people I had my fortune told once and a lot of what she said came true.

As a local though it was and probably still is a love hate relationship with this annual event.  Yes it brought a lot of money and tourism into the area and town, but it also turned the towns quiet life upside down for that week.  The pubs were just overflowing as drinking was a big thing during that time, therefore the noise of people drunk and disorderly in the streets was always there.  The local fish and chip shop would never stop serving from morning through night.  Other shop keepers just closed up, as they couldn't keep up with the things that would "walk" out of the store without being paid for.  The police are drafted in from all over Cumbria to try and keep the "peace," but there is still a lot of crime committed during the week.

Going down the town in the car was nigh on impossible especially along the Sands as that was where the gypsies raced their horses and brought them down to the river to wash them.  Washing the horses before selling them is a tradition, and although a spectacle it was also a tad cruel on those horses depending on how deep the river was that year.  Here is a link to an article with a photo.

As a local you totally changed your way of life for a week, and had to go with the flow.  I think the majority of the locals would probably rather not have the Fair Hill Week, as it takes a week or more after they have left to clean up the town from all the mess.  However with an area that is limited in how it makes a living this is one way of bringing in tourism money to the area.

My main memories of the week are the gorgeous caravans and the smell and crowds.

Do I miss it heck no.  I wouldn't mind going around the hill to see all the sights again, but I am glad I don't live in the town when it is on.  I'll be interested in what my brother has to say about this as he still lives in the town.  I'll email him and get him to reply so look out for his comment.


Jane and Chris said...

True Romany gypsies are quiet, clean, honest, and treat their animals well. They are the 'royalty' of gypsies.
Gypsies and Tinkers and Travellers are another matter all together.
People tend to lump them all together.
Well, that was how it used to be: my Great Grandmother was from a Romany family,I guess with all things.....times change.
Jane x

Stella Jones said...

A family get together and buying and selling to be done. It sounds so romantic, but I expect the reality is a bit different. We are visited here quite often as well. I suppose it just depends on how you view life and how that life treats you. I have had mixed experiences and am therefore wary.

DeniseinVA said...

We used to have a Gypsy encampment settle for a week or two in one of the fields nearby, on the way to where I don't know but they appeared annually and rented from the local farmer who welcomed them. I don't remember there ever being any trouble and they always picked up after they left, as if they had never been there. This is also going back over 35 years.

The only thing we had in my village was The Apple Pie Fair held annually. It was always a lot of fun and I wouldn't mind visiting it one of these days.

Boyett-Brinkley said...

Fantastic post with great links! My MIL is Czech and they were referred to as "gypsies" although I am not sure why - they certainly didn't live a gypsy lifestyle! I didn't know much about British gypsies and travellers until there was an incident locally which made us aware of a permanent settlement close by. Except for the one incident --which truly wasn't an incident at all, in my opinion -- I had no idea that there was this group living closeby so they must be quiet and honest. I find it all fascinating!

Valerie said...

The fair was featured on television. It was lovely seeing the horses in the river. I didn't know they were good swimmers.

Rose said...

Gill, this has been one of the best posts I have ever read...very, very interesting. And I would love to have one of the traditional caravans. I don't know what I would do with it but I would love it.

Rose said...

Oh, I also meant to thank you for all the links you provided. I really appreciate the time it took.