Appleby Horse Fair

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Appleby Horse Fair
Appleby New Fair
Most recent6–9 June 2019 (2019-06-06 – 2019-06-09)
Washing the horses at Appleby Horse Fair
Caravans, including horse-drawn Vardoes at the Fair

The Appleby Horse Fair calls itself "an annual gathering of Gypsies and Travellers in the town of Appleby-in-Westmorland in Cumbria, England."[1] The horse fair, also known as Appleby New Fair, is held each year in early June. It attracts about 10,000 Gypsies and Travellers, about 1000 caravans, several hundred horse-drawn vehicles, and about 30,000 visitors. The Gypsy and Traveller attendees include British Romanichal, Irish Travellers, Scottish Gypsy and Traveller groups, Kale (Welsh Romanies), and more.[1]

History and location[edit]

The Fair is billed as the biggest traditional Gypsy Fair in Europe, one that's like a big family get together. The horses are washed and trotted up and down the flashing lane most main days. There is a market on Jimmy Winter's Field selling a variety of goods - some traditional to the Gypsy travelling community - and a range other horse-related products.

The fair is held outside the town of Appleby where the Roman Road crosses Long Marton Road, not far from Gallows Hill, named after the public hangings that were once carried out there. In the mid 20th century the story developed that the fair originated with a royal charter to the borough of Appleby from King James II of England in 1685. However, recent research has shown that the 1685 charter, which was cancelled before it was enrolled, is of no relevance. Appleby's medieval borough fair, held at Whitsuntide, ceased in 1885. The 'New Fair', held in early June on Gallows Hill, which was then unenclosed land outside the borough boundary, began in 1775 for sheep and cattle drovers and horse dealers to sell their stock; by the 1900s it had evolved into a major Gypsy/Traveller occasion. No-one bestowed the New Fair, no-one ever owned it, no-one was ever charged to attend it: it was and remains, a true people's fair.

The legal status of the Fair does not depend on a charter, therefore, but on the legal concept of 'prescriptive right', that is to say easement by prescription or custom. Praescriptio est titulus ex usu et tempore substantiam capiens ab auctoritate legis. 'Prescription is a title by authority of law, deriving its force from use and time.'[2]

The fair has been cancelled twice, in 2001 due to foot-and-mouth and in 2020 due to coronavirus;[3] the 2020 fair was held nonetheless with six participants, in response to a Traveller belief that the fair would be lost if it did not occur. As many as a hundred spectators also defied the ban.[4]


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 Romani) who arranges toilets, rubbish skips, water supplies, horse grazing etc., and acts as liaison with the local authority co-ordinating committee (Multi-Agency Strategic Co-ordinating Group, or MASCG) which manages the public authorities' response to the Fair.

The main activities take place on Fair Hill (the main campsite field, with some catering and trade) and more recently on the Market Field, which was opened up by a local farmer about 10 years ago, and is now the main stall trading and catering area. There are half a dozen licensed campsites and car parks nearby. Most horse trading takes place at the crossroads (known to the local authority as 'Salt Tip Corner') and on Long Marton Road (known to the Gyspies and Travellers as the ‘flashing lane’), where horses are shown off (or ‘flashed’ ) by trotting up and down at speed. (The flashing lane is not suitable for anyone of limited mobility, such as the infirm, the very old or the very young, due to the risks associated with horses travelling at speed, and spectators are strongly advised to keep behind the barriers.)

Many of the horses are taken down to ‘the Sands’, near the Appleby town centre beside the River Eden, where horses are ridden into the river to be washed, and it is not unusual to see scores of horses tied up opposite The Grapes public house. The highway at that location is closed to vehicle traffic for the main days of the fair, which are now the Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

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, and it is all over by the Monday morning.

Besides the horses, there are fortune tellers, palm readers, buskers and music stalls, clothing stalls, tools and hardware, china, stainless steel, and horse-related merchandise including harness and carriages.


The horse fair generates some controversy with complaints of mess being left in the town,[5] violent crime[6] and animal cruelty.[7]

The Local Authority (Eden District Council, which convenes the Multi-Agency Strategic Co-Ordinating Group to manage the official response to the fair) is required to deal with these matters, and their official sources provide a context for these controversial issues.

In 2014 there were 28 arrests at the fair, the lowest for several years (for among other things, drug use, drunkenness, and obstruction), which senior police have confirmed is not disproportionate to other large-scale public gatherings. In 2015, this number came down further, with only 15 arrests over the whole fair, for what the police described as 'mostly low level disorder. During the 2018 Fair there were 7 arrests, including one arrest for a previously issued warrant. The number of caravans in the Eden District in 2018 was signifiantly higher, approximately 20% up on 2017. '[8]

As regards rubbish and clean-up costs, although the trade stands leave a few tons of waste, the market field and Fair Hill are cleaned of litter the day after the fair, at no cost to the ratepayers, and within a week there is hardly a trace that a fair has been held.[9][10] The MASCG Committee reported that improvements in provision of litter bins, signage etc. had resulted a reduction in the number of tonnes of litter from 43 tonnes to 29 tonnes.[11]

The cost of hosting the fair is considerable and a burden to the small market town, there is much controversy regarding the costs being met by the Cumbrian tax payer whilst private individuals make a considerable amount of money by allowing travellers to camp on their fields.

The slow response to cancel the fair in 2020 caused upset in the town, the impression was that the council put financial gain of a few over the health of travellers and locals, waiting for government legislation to force rather than act on guidance before the event was cancelled. This mass movement of people could have been catastrophic for the elderly population in the area and providing a perfect melting pot for the virus to be spread throughout the country when the visitors went home. The cancellation proved that this is an organised event and therefore should be organised in a similar format to Glastonbury, ticketed, insured and with adequate consideration for health and safety.

As regards animal cruelty, the RSPCA patrols the fair scrupulously, and although in 2009 Animal Aid called for the fair to be banned,[12] 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.[13] In 2016, the RSPCA stated unequivocally that although there were some welfare issues, mostly brought about by the hot weather, there is only a small minority of people who attend the Fair that have little regard for animal welfare.[14]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Appleby Horse Fair". Appleby Fair Strategic Group.
  2. ^ Andrew Connell (2015). "Appleby Gypsy Horse Fair: Mythology, Origins, Evolution and Evaluation". Cumberland & Westmorland Antiquarian & Archaeological Society. Archived from the original on 19 November 2015. Retrieved 21 May 2015.
  3. ^ "Appleby Horse Fair cancelled for the second time in 250 years". ITV News. 30 March 2020 [23 March 2020].
  4. ^ "Coronavirus: Appleby travellers defy cancellation 'to keep fair alive'". BBC News. 8 June 2020.
  5. ^ Branagan, Mark (6 June 2013). "Vibrant slice of life or annual invasion? The Appleby horse fair rides again". The Independent. Retrieved 19 May 2017.
  6. ^ Armstrong, Jeremy (9 June 2009). "Over 100 arrests following mass brawl at Appleby horse fair - Mirror Online". Retrieved 26 June 2014.
  7. ^ Armstrong, Jeremy (12 June 2007). "Horse Drowned by Owner". Mirror Online. Retrieved 26 June 2014.
  8. ^ [1][dead link]
  9. ^ "Few arrests at annual horse fair". 12 June 2014 – via
  10. ^ "Appleby Horse Fair draws to a close". The Westmorland Gazette.
  11. ^ "Meeting minutes" (PDF).
  12. ^ "Appleby Horse Fair - Time to call a halt to this festival of animal abuse". 15 June 2009. Archived from the original on 2 April 2015. Retrieved 13 March 2015.
  13. ^ "Fewer incidents at Appleby Horse Fair but many more warnings given". Archived from the original on 25 June 2016. Retrieved 22 April 2015.
  14. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 11 June 2016. Retrieved 7 June 2016.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 54°35′21″N 2°29′42″W / 54.5893°N 2.4950°W / 54.5893; -2.4950