Crowds of travellers have descended on Wickham in defiance of a ban on the village’s historic 750-year-old horse fair that had been cancelled because of the pandemic.
The Wickham Horse Fair, which usually attracts thousands and dates all the way to 1269, had been cancelled for the second consecutive year to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
But, after reaching an agreement with Hampshire Constabulary, a ‘small symbolic event’ was authorised to take place, although it appears dozens have turned up with their horses.
Signage had been placed on all main routes into the village of Wickham, Hants, but that didn’t stop dozens of travellers bringing their horses for the annual event.
Roads into the village were said to have been completely blocked as police tried to disperse the crowds which had gathered in the square.
Visitors to the fair can normally buy and sell horses, participate in the ‘horse run’ and buy wares from the market stalls which line the streets.
The event was called off in March after a consultation between representatives of the event, the local police force and members of the City and County council.
Crowds of travellers defied warnings today by turning up for an historic horse fair which had been cancelled due to the pandemic
A lively horse can be seen on a lead reing in front of a police car amid increased patrols in the Hampshire town
The historic horse fair was cancelled for a second year in a row to prevent the spread of coronavirus amid the pandemic
But traveller families descended on the Hampshire town in defiance of the ban on attending
Police patrols have been increased in the Wickham area as people have attended the event
Signs around the town warn people that the event has been cancelled amid the pandemic
Crowds were seen alongside dozens of horses tied to fences next to homes in the area
Hampshire Police confirmed they had increased patrols in the area, and officers will ‘use enforcement action’ if necessary
Roads in and out of the town were reportedly blocked as police tried to control the numbers of people coming to the fair
The horse fair is a historic event and is one of the main horse events in the travellers’ calendars
Traveller families are thought to have began gathering at Wickham Horse Fair since 1269
A small symbolic event was due to take place involving ‘one or two horses’ to maintain the tradition of the festival
A man is pictured leading a brown coloured horse away from the fence where others are tied
Wickham Horse Fair’s Royal Charter
The Wickham Horse Fair traces its origins back to when Roger De Syres obtained a royal charter from King Henry III to have a weekly market in 1269.
Over the years this turned into an annual fair.
It takes place on May 20 each year and attracts crowds of more than 1,000 people.
The cancellation of the fair this year halts a nearly unbroken record in place since 1269.
There were fears in May that the royal charter for the fair would be cancelled if no-one attended this year’s event, but this was debunked by the local council.
A council statement said: ‘We are aware that concern has been expressed that the royal charter for the fair requires that some people must attend every year to preserve the right to hold the annual event and would like to make clear that this is not the city council’s interpretation of the charter rights.
A small symbolic event was due to take place involving ‘one or two horses’ to maintain the tradition of the festival.
A spokesperson for Hampshire Constabulary said prior to the event: ‘We will be facilitating a symbolic event that can be safely managed within the space available, and in accordance with the current Health Protection Regulations.
‘This event will be small and attendees have been agreed in advance.
‘For public safety reasons we request that no one attends with horses or vehicles outside of what has already been agreed.
‘We have increased our patrols in the area, and officers will engage with those in attendance and use enforcement action where necessary and proportionate to do so.’
Traveller families are thought to have began gathering at Wickham Horse Fair since 1269.
The fair is one of two highlights of the horse-riding calendar which also includes the famous Appleby Horse Fair which usually takes place in June.
The event near Fareham, near Portsmouth, usually attracts over 1,000 visitors.
As part of festivities at the fair, participants and visitors sell horses and some will take part in the horse run. There’s also a funfair and market stalls.
The horse fair itself dates back to the year 1269 when Roger De Syres obtained a royal charter from King Henry III and has been running annually for almost 800 years.
But this is the second year the fair has been cancelled as a result of Covid – and also the second year that traveller families have defied the ban on attending.
Last year aound 25 caravans parked up close to the small town in Hampshire, but were disappointed to find a heavy police presence in the area, reportedly stopping travellers from trading their horses.
The event near Fareham, near Portsmouth, usually attracts over 1,000 visitors
Traditionally there are horse races and a fairground at the
But this is the second year the event was cancelled as part of measurs to stop the spread of Covid
Police patrols can be seen in the area keeping an eye on the horse fair activities
A lively horse can be seen trotting along the road with several horse trailers seen in the background
Police are patrolling the area to ensure Covid restrictions and social distancing measures are followed