Appleby Horse Fair

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Washing the horses at Appleby Horse Fair
Caravans, including horse-drawn Vardoes at the Fair

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

The horse fair is held every year in early June and has taken place since the reign of James II of England, who granted a Royal charter in 1685 allowing a horse fair "near to the River Eden" Since then, around 15,000 English and Welsh gypsies, Scottish travellers and Irish travellers have converged each year to buy and sell horses, meet with friends and relations, and celebrate their similar lifestyles. Another 30,000 people visit the fair during the week.[1]

The fair is one of the oldest horse fairs in Britain. It is held outside the town at a crossroads on the Roman Road near to Gallows Hill (named after the public hangings that were once carried out there.) The event comprises Fair Hill itself, (the main Gypsy campsite, with some catering and trade) and the Market Field, which was opened up by a local farmer about ten years ago, and is now the main trading and catering area, together with half a dozen licensed campsites. Most horse trading takes place on Long Marton Road, (known as the ‘flashing lane’) where horses are shown off (or ‘flashed’ ) by trotting up and down the lane, and also on ‘the sands’, which is near the town centre beside the river Eden, where horses are ridden into the river to be washed.

The fair customarily ends on the second Wednesday in June, and starts on the Thursday before that. Although the last Tuesday was once the main horse dealing day, due to the growth of the market field and the large number of visitors, the main day is now the Saturday. Besides the horses, there are fortune tellers, palm readers, music stalls, clothing stalls, tools, china, stainless steel, and of course horse-related merchandise including harness and carriages.

The fair is a regular but spontaneous gathering, and is not organised by any individual or group, although the Gypsies and Travellers have a Shera Rom (Head Gypsy) who arranges toilets, rubbish skips, water supplies, horse grazing etc. and acts as liaison with the local authority co-ordinating committee (MASCG).

The horse fair generates some controversy with complaints of mess being left in the town,[2] violent crime[3] and animal cruelty.[4] although in reality these problems are no different to those found at any large gathering. As is often the case[according to whom?], the bad behaviour of a minority of Gypsies and Travellers is assumed by exaggeration to apply to all Gypsies and Travellers. According to a report issued by Amnesty International in 2011, "...systematic discrimination is taking place against up to 10 million Roma across Europe. The organization has documented the failures of governments across the continent to live up to their obligations".[5]. In 2008 the media reported that Gypsies experience a higher degree of racism than any other group in the UK, including asylum-seekers. A Mori poll indicated that a third of UK residents admitted openly to being prejudiced against Gypsies.[6] (cf. Antiziganism).

In 2014 there were 28 arrests at the Fair, (for among other things, drug use, drunkenness, and obstruction,) which senior police have confirmed is fewer than a busy Saturday night in the county town of Carlisle, although this is seldom reported. Similarly, although the trade stands leave a few tons of waste, the main market field and Fair Hill are cleaned of litter the day after the fair, and within a week there is hardly a trace that a fair has been held. As regards animal cruelty, the RSPCA patrols the fair scrupulously, and although in 2009 Animal Aid called for the fair to be banned,[7] nevertheless the instances of cruelty are few, and they are prosecuted where they do occur. Warnings and advice are given in borderline cases, and the very great majority of horses at the fair are well looked after, well treated, and in good condition.

The official website for the fair, which carries public service announcements about dates, parking, licencing, trading, camping and accommodation etc. is at

A useful introduction to the history and organisation of Appleby Fair, in photographs and text, can be found at


  1. ^ "Appleby Horse Fair". Appleby Fair Strategic Group. 
  2. ^ Bond, Anthony (2013-06-11). "Thousands of travellers decamp and leave rubbish carpeting Appleby, Cumbria | Mail Online". Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  3. ^ Armstrong, Jeremy (2009-06-09). "Over 100 arrests following mass brawl at Appleby horse fair - Mirror Online". Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  4. ^ Armstrong, Jeremy (2007-06-12). "HORSE DROWNED BY OWNER - Mirror Online". Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  5. ^ "Amnesty International – International Roma Day 2011 Stories, Background Information and video material". AI Index: EUR 01/005/2011: Amnesty International. 7 April 2011. Archived from the original on 5 June 2011. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 
  6. ^ Shields, Rachel (6 July 2008). "No blacks, no dogs, no Gypsies". The Independent (London). 
  7. ^ "Appleby Horse Fair - Time to call a halt to this festival of animal abuse". 15 June 2009. 

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