Summer Stow & Appleby Fairs 2009
Like a ritual unchanged - vardo rai and historian John Pockett went walk-about at both Stow and Appleby Fairs. He gives a candid and truthful account of what he experienced amongst the rains!
By John Pockett - Vardo Artist & Historian - 3rd August 2009
Stow Fair - Poor weather, poor turnout?
Stow was not so well attended as usual. There were a number of reasons: cold, wet and windy weather and maybe the threat of some violence happening at night. Still it was a good show of horses, a lot of living vans, stalls, and all the fun of the fair. But people left early, and it died very quickly mid-afternoon.
I got there just after 10 o'clock and spent several hours looking round, meeting lots of old friends and finding some very good sights.
One of the nicest things were two copies of Bill Wright waggons. One was a full-size, and the other a half-size, and both were beautifully decorated.
There were also two straight-sided waggons.
A great pleasure to see in a corner of the field
but you had to go looking for them.
There was another nice squarebow waggon
that had been at a fair last year. It has changed
There was a waggon with a number of cooking pots for sale outside. Certainly, apparatus for cooking on the yog is coming back.
I enjoyed the social event but it hadn't got the feeling of a lovely May day at all. It was soon over. Everybody was leaving before it meant the tractors pulling them out of the mud. And as the heavens opened later in the afternoon that's what would have happened.
Appleby Fair - Great Turnout by Big Brother?
The days coming up before the fair were beautifully warm, and the day I set off, 3rd June, was still lovely. By the time I got on to the Fells it was teatime, and they were absolutely covered in motors, trailers and waggons. Everybody was waiting to move on to the fair, which was the next day, Thursday. There was a great police presence up there. Everybody was being monitored and checked over. An amazing amount of travelling people waiting.
I got on to a nice spot known as Fell End. There's a pub in the middle called the Fat Lamb, which is a great meeting place. Just as we got settled, the cavalcade of motors, trailers, horse boxes, waggons, drays and flatcarts came over the Fell. There was a red sky at night, and it was beautiful to see some of the horse-tackle, some of it very fine indeed, making for Appleby. A lot would be camping nearby for the pull-on the following morning.
There was concern a week before of changes at the fair. I had heard there was going to be the setting up of trailers and campsites at Appleby. They were going to try to put the trailers 20 foot apart from each other. Something I think would be impossible to carry out. Luckily this year they didn't try this. This was to do with health and safety happening at other shows and events I believe. I know the showmen have had their fairs organised this way.
I found out that our usual stopping place, which was on the very end of the fair, was stopped and no camping allowed there. The following day I moved on to a village green some 7 or 8 miles out of Appleby; very pleasant. The river was running nearby, and the village people put up with us very well. There were some grand sights as horses and waggons pulled on and off the green for the last stretch into Appleby.
And now I must say for quite a lot of staunch supporters of Appleby Fair, we are not so fond of the fair itself anymore and find the best of Appleby is before and after, seeing the tackle on the road: the horses and the waggons. Some are out of this world. Some are just accommodation lots: drays or flat carts with wooden hoops and a canvas stretched over. It adds to the spectacle of the fair, and there's a much happier atmosphere of people doing what the event is all about.
By the next day, Thursday, the weather was on the change, and it had turned a lot colder. I had a drive about. Masses of horses were in fields quite some distance from the fair itself.
One of the chief concerns to all of us was the police presence. There was some 400 officers on site, and a lot of RSPCA people. By the entrance the police had their mobile station, and there were police with guns looking very inhospitable. They had concerns unpleasant things were going to happen. There was a lot of violence, a lot of sorting out, confiscating vehicles, and arrests. I didn't see any violence myself but I did see some unpleasant young people not causing good vibes.
Friday turned out to be a very wet morning with sheets of rain. In the afternoon the weather brightened and we had a good few hours looking round at a lot of good waggons. There was a nice Bill Wright waggon, an original one, which I was told had been stored in Kent for 40 years. Lol Thompson painted it and made a nice job. There was a story it belonged to the Kray twins but whether that was exaggerated or not I don't know.
I met my old friend Yorkie Greenwood in a cottage tent. There were a number of them, original-looking but brand new, that were on sale at the fair. So that was another innovation. I also met my friend Gordon Boswell from Spalding who owns the Gordon Boswell Romany Museum. He always has a field close by the fair.
I saw a very interesting 3/4-size waggon that caught my eye, and I ended up purchasing it off some Irish dealers from out of the north-east. Maybe it was a bit of Appleby fever because I'm not sure I would have bought the waggon at ordinary times, but it was very attractive. It had been horsed from above Newcastle upon Tyne and then back. I picked the waggon up a couple of weeks after the fair, and I'm very pleased with it. It's beautifully made and painted; quite a showpiece.
On Saturday it turned out colder and wintry, and in the evening snow was on the hills. I went in to the town and saw the washing of the horses in the river. There were a lot of people and a good atmosphere. I saw an amazing sight: an enormous horsebox which had welshgypsyhorses.com written on the side pulled up a back road. They let the ramps down, and 50 coloured horses came out and were herded into the main street and up on to the hills. It was just like the wild west.
The last day for me was a Sunday. The weather was a little warmer, the sun shining. There were a couple of good sights. One was an interesting Hampshire strawberry van, a four-wheeled vehicle used in the New Forest. One of these had been beautifully converted and had an openlot top built on it.
I also saw an old waggon that a friend had bought last year off Peter Ingram, a Hirst Brothers waggon. It still had quite a bit of Ingram's original paint on, and they'd horsed it up some miles. I'd spent many an hour in this waggon in the past.
On the Monday I moved off. There was quite a lot of tackle on the road. The stalls on Sunday night were closing up for good, which meant there'd be a very poor fair from Monday to Wednesday, and talk was there was hardly anything left by Wednesday, which should traditionally be the main fairday.
I spent a few more days in a very peaceful pleasant village, going out visiting friends with waggons and seeing things of interest. The weather had warmed up considerably. We had one or two nights outside cooking food on an open fire.
Lasting thoughts - It was not such a good fair, and we do have to be concerned about its future. Especially as the council have taken over running it, and understandably the townsfolk are very concerned about their tax being spent on running it , which most of them would prefer didn't happen.
How the Fair is supposed to be:-
The main fairday was always the second Wednesday in June. That's the way you tell which day Appleby starts and finishes. But on the second Wednesday in June there is virtually nobody at the fair any more. What has happened over the years is the fair has become a tourist attraction, so Friday, Saturday and Sunday are now the main days of the fair, whereas the original days were Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday of the following week. Now that is a serious matter because Appleby has got a charter, and nothing can happen to the charter as long as people are there on the main dates. But people are there a week beforehand, and the fair now starts on the Thursday. It should start on the Monday following, and it's a very worrying thought. A lot of people are concerned about the future of the Appleby Fair, and there was a lot of talk about it this year. The stalls and the market have grown. A lot of stalls have little to do with travelling people, selling clothes and wares that are not akin to travellers themselves. So these stallholders come, set up on Thursday, they work until Sunday evening, then they close up and go away. This takes the heart out of the fair, and sadly made the fair close a lot earlier. There are some staunch stallholders who carry on as long as they can in to the following week. Most fair supporters consider that it has got far too big. It's expanded from Fair Hill to many fields going north. The main attractions are the horses being washed down in the town and The Flash, which is where the horses show their paces down the road. These are the two sights which the tourists come to see. They come in their coach loads. In mid Wales coach firms taking bookings for the fair, so if it happens in Wales, it happens all over the country. So how can a small town support all this massive fair - it's got far too big, and it's not a true horse fair anymore. People are calling it now a Sunday market, and It's a little bit more than that. I think the future of the fair is in dire need of something to be done.
It was not a happy fair, and these are images of the good side. Let's hope and pray it will not close.
Text / images copyright John Pockett 2009
Transcribed and edited by GypsyWaggons / UK Vardo Project