3rd August 2009
Stow & Appleby Fairs - a Future?
Do they mirror Britain's demoralised travelling community - reflecting the true image of an abandoned culture? Are these historic Gypsy rendezvous now under threat?
By Bose Wales This article supports O Romane chib - British Romani language
Stow and Appleby Horse Fairs - o boro puro graiengere tana are the country's last two bastions for Britain's remaining ethnic traveller groups like the Romanichal, Irish Travellers, Scottish Travellers and Nachins, and Welsh Kale. Appleby Fair is the largest of its kind in Europe, attracting around 10,000 Gypsies/Travellers and over 30,000 visitors each year. Unfortunately the two traditional gathering places are facing an irreversible threat - not just from a wave of Mother Earth's mud but from a cultureless trot of the wrong type of feet. These landmark horse fairs are far from immune from today's rampant changes. The young may deny, though the old will agree, we are witnessing a culture and nomadic way of life dying before our very eyes. Like the grai horse that sadly drowned in the washing river in 2007, foolishly killed by a showboating gajo a non-Gypsy attempting a ceremonial head duck and sinking the horse instead. Gypsies were falsely accused of the tragedy, indicating little has changed in public attitudes over the last 100 years. The tragic event perhaps symbolizes the serious state whereby British Gypsies/Travellers are still being drowned by ignorance. As for the innocent horse: jasa o Duval kusi grai journey with God.
Appleby Horse Fair has been basking under the protection of a said charter granted by James II in 1685. But as one historian insisted, nobody has ever found the scroll. In 1965 Westmorland Borough Council made a serious attempt to close the roadside fair down, but they failed due to the champion Sharo Rom Silvester Gordon Boswell, who rallied against the authorities and successfully saved the historic fair. It owes much to this fine Romanichal. I wonder what he would chib today - disappointed I'm sure. The good fokengi are becoming scarce these days, and the culture urgently needs more Silvester Boswell komoni.
Many sincere people go to the fairs each summer with good stalls, proud horses and stunning vardos, and for their efforts they deserve better. However, it has to be said, over the decades the Gypsy fairs have been steadily losing their kalo cheriklo dark Gypsy wagtails and tukale gaje friendly non-Gypsies in exchange for a sea of hotdogging daytrippers. Many of the deeper charismatic Gypsies, the sharo roms, the old wily tinkers and the puri dukker old queens of these yearly meeting places, have either cocked their clogs or lost their traditional zee heart for the fairs. They now stay away, demoralised at the sorry states Stow and Appleby Fairs have fallen into. Over recent years Appleby has manifested itself into a commercial stewpot, selling everything including the kitchen sink. With more strangers than friends.
If Appleby or Stow Fairs were ever stopped, then aside from the smaller horse fairs there would be no monumental gathering grounds left for the remaining true taco foki to trade and have their yearly rokra yarn. You could say the last dawn has appeared on the horizon, indicating the end of an historic traveller culture. Let's hope the powers to be can restore in some form the traditional essence of Gypsy folk art and manner back into these horse fairs to a respectable heritage level and organize not just for luvva money but for the preservation of the culture. Otherwise, as two well known deeply concerned Rai - fairmen - stated this week, they are best closed.
The Appleby Fair Multi-Agency Strategic Co-ordinating Group
Appleby Fair is not licensed or operated by any organisation. However, up to 2007 it was overseen by the Appleby New Fair Committee. 2008 saw a radical change with the formation of The Appleby Fair Multi-Agency Strategic Co-ordinating Group - a coalition including the police, district and county councils, RSPCA, fire and ambulance services, NHS and Highways Agency, who took over the event so that it could continue safely and enjoyably while also considering the impact it had on local people. The committee board included Gypsy Travellers, who represented the various ethnic groups and safe-guarded the future of the Fair. The Group has a three year strategy.
Appleby Fair clearly has problems, and those actively concerned are working hard to address public anxieties and issues to settle the event back down into some sort of future traditional slot. Perhaps a new fair can arise from the quagmire. After all, the Steam Fairs seem to do well these days, which could well be the modern bench mark for these Traveller horse fairs to crawl towards. It's a challenge for sure. However, we must be realistic, for the golden fair days of the last century, that once adorned many Travellers' hearts and pockets up to the 1970s/early 80s are forever truly gone.
Atch Misto / Stay Well
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Article & Images Copyright GypsyWaggons / UK Vardo Project 2009
Gordon Boswell Picture by Richard Wade