Appleby Fair 2008 Was it a corker this year !
The first thing you notice when you're nearing Appleby is that the road surface is white from the iron tyres of horse-drawn traffic.
Artillery wheel waggons don’t do this. Of course, horse dung can also be found on the road!
But on the Thursday before the Fair in June 2008 few waggons could be seen. At Kirkby Lonsdale some trailers were camped by the river, and a couple of vans had stopped near Sedbergh.
On top of the fells, where a lot of travellers usually stop a week before Appleby, you could see where they had been, but little was up there this time.
Then almost into Appleby I saw a young travelling man. He always has a very good turnout, usually a living waggon, flat carts, a beautiful reproduction Bill Wright pot cart, and all his young family.
They make quite a cavalcade when they travel the road. A wonderful sight.
The Fair had really started on Thursday. They'd let the travellers in at 5 o’clock that morning because there were so many people stopping in and around the town, in every possible place, waiting to pull on. So the Fair was a-go by teatime.
There was a tremendous thunderstorm at the end of Thursday evening, but Friday morning dawned well. The storm was helpful because it settled any dust that might have been coming. Usually, Appleby’s either terribly dusty or terribly muddy, one of the two, but this year it was perfect.
This year too a very exciting waggon pulled onto the Fair. It's owned by one of the Lee family – a very old Gypsy name.
Now this waggon is brand new, as are a lot of waggons on Appleby. It's been built by the Jowetts, and they are reckoned to be the finest builders of Gypsy waggons in modern times. They can’t really be surpassed.
This is possibly the finest ever modern waggon to be built. Certainly the most ornate. It's a bowtop similar to the old Bill Wright style, and the owner announced to everybody: “It’s the best waggon in the country”.
The inside was just as amazing as the outside because every conceivable area was carved and gilded. Also, the paintwork had been done by Yorkie Greenwood, one of the best painters of these times.
There was also a dray (a four-wheeled horse-drawn flat vehicle) to match the waggon, and the two were a sight to behold.
So the bowtop was the talk of the Fair. Certainly nothing else could surpass it.
Except perhaps the lovely Dunton van that originally belonged to me and then Tony Harvey. Tony used to travel in it to fairs around Suffolk and Norfolk.
That was the talk of the Fair in 2007 - but this year it had to take second place to Mr Lee’s fine waggon.
Saturday afternoon, and the town of Appleby was aflow with people. For the first time the police had closed the road coming down from the Fair to the river.
This whole area was devoid of vehicles, although they must have let the horse tack down.
The river is where they wash all the horses, and it's one of the major sights for everyone to see.
This is a great place, almost like the seaside. There's the river and the promenade, and then the famous Grapes pub on the other side of the road, where a lot of drinking is done.
The town square in 2008 had an amazing amount of people in it. Some young women were scantily dressed because it was a hot day, and they paraded up and down the streets to catch the eye of the young men.
Walter Lloyd, who is involved in organising Appleby, was down in the town and had his pals around him. They’re enthusiastic musicians and fiddle-players. They were singing as well, and the travelling people, some of them a little worse for wear, were enjoying it all.
Back at the Fair, the Flash is where they show off the newly washed horses, and this year for the first time the council had put up fencing for safety reasons. These are the trotting horses, and they come along at tremendous breakneck speed. It’s very dangerous, especially when they’re overtaking.
People started to move off Sunday afternoon and evening.
A lot of these fair-goers are dealers or their hobby is horses, and they go back to the inner cities of the north-east, Newcastle and Bishop Auckland, Bradford and Leeds.
The Fair now seems to be a weekend affair, which is a great shame because the actual Fairday is Wednesday - always the second Wednesday in June.
That’s how one knows the date of Appleby, and really it should be held on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The mass exodus used to be on Thursday, when everyone had to be off by midday. But by Monday morning 2008 there were a lot of empty places on the hill, and sadly it was almost over.
For anyone who’s interested in waggons and horses and all the fun of the fair, Appleby is a must.
There’s nothing like it in the world.
Recording / images copyright John Pockett 2008.
Transcribed / edited Gill Clarke.
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