Stow Fair October 2015
John Pockett - Vardo Historian
Stow-on-the-Wold Horse Fair in the Cotswolds is held twice a year in May and October, and I visited the Fair on 22nd October this year. It was quieter than usual, which was a little surprising. It’s always been very popular, but there weren’t many people visiting and quite a number of stalls were missing.
There could be several reasons for this. One reason being that on the last week in September another Fair was held. It’s not a proper Charter Fair, but it’s been going some time now. The Fair is held at Kenilworth, near Coventry, not far away from Stow and just a bit higher up in Warwickshire. Kenilworth Fair had very fine weather, a beautiful weekend, and I was told it was well attended. So I think that made a marked difference to Stow.
At Stow it was overcast most of the day. There were also lots of stalls missing. It usually has many stalls selling all sorts of useful items for the travelling people. A stallholder said that the rents had gone up, so that could have caused less stalls as well.
All the same, there were plenty of clothing and fashion goods, some quite exotic for the younger travelling girls, and even a little outrageous.
There were stalls selling furniture and accessories, because a lot of travelling people now live in residential chalets on sites or on their own ground. Plus china stalls and a few selling CDs. There were also animals for sale, such as dogs, puppies, horses of course, and chickens - chickens seemed to be quite popular.
The stall above sold children’s clothes. That’s another thing that is popular, and shoes of course. All to do with showing off. The younger fraternity, especially the young ladies, dress in some of the most flamboyant clothing - because it’s a day to be seen, and that seems to be very important.
These cobs are favourites at the moment and fetch quite big money. I won’t say how much, but they are heavily sort after. But with this Fair it was marked that there were less horses either for sale or being shown off.
They are very attractive, and of course the coloured horses, known as the Gypsy cobs, are very much in vogue.
Carlights were reckoned to be one of the best makes of trailer caravans, and I had two or three Carlights in the past. Mainly the firm built tourers.
This one is a travellers’ special, and you can tell that by the chimney. They made these caravans in Sleaford in Lincolnshire, but I believe the business closed recently, and they’ve finished making them now.
This young lady with the blonde hair was quite amazingly dressed. Look at her footwear. She hobbled down the track (because it’s very uneven) in those terrifically high-heeled shoes, leopard-skin waistcoat, and tights.
In the background there’s another Carlight trailer, a much smaller version, with a For Sale notice in the window.
Lower down the Fair, the people were selling odds and ends. One gentleman comes in a transit pickup and sells shafts, ready-made steps, kettle boxes, all bits and pieces to enhance your bowtop, and metalwork such as shaft-fittings.
Another man sold similar items and a lot of brassware. Sadly, he told me he had some nice scroll irons to go on a bowtop, but they were the last because the people who made them had given up the business. He was having trouble getting some of the fittings, and he usually sells brass frets for the wheels and the pieces that enhance the centre front of the wheels.
You can tell by the pictures what the Fair was like: a bit of blue sky but mostly overcast and not that many people. It's a shame because it’s a very important Fair is Stow, and it’s got this Charter which goes back centuries. A new book has just come out on Appleby Fair, and we found out there wasn’t really a Charter for Appleby, although it has always been thought there was one.
This twenty-two foot Westmorland Star, a beautiful trailer, was in a wonderful condition. These were very popular in the 1970s and early 80s.
There were two trailers: the Westmorland Star and the Vickers trailer, sometime know as the Balkan trailer.
They reckon Westmorlands used to be about £100 a foot to buy (quite expensive at the time) and, being very heavy, needed TK Bedfords or the bigger Ford lorries to pull them. Of course travellers don’t have those lorries any more, so these trailers went out of fashion - but they are collectors’ pieces now!
There was a smart little waggon on artillery wheels but with a new innovation which I didn’t care for much.
Of course, an openlot has to have its canvas sheets to the front, and this one had plastic see-through panels in them.
I can understand the reason for that, because once the sheets are pulled up for the night it's pretty dark inside as you’ve only got the rear window for light.
So it's a new idea, but I do hope it doesn’t catch on.
This openlot was Fred Walker's, a famous traveller who travelled up the Eastern counties around Peterborough and that part of the world.
Fred passed away a few years ago now, but one of his sons goes to a lot of the fairs with this waggon, sometimes horsing it and sometimes lowloading it. It’s a very fine bowtop.
Fred always had a hostess range in his waggons; he never succumbed to having the Queenie stoves which are more popular in openlots.
Another very nice openlot which was Fred Walker's at one time. Both these two waggons go to Stow each time. I had a chat to the owner and his wife, and they said that the inside was painted by Jimmy Berry. I'm not sure who painted the outside, but it’s all grained.
This picture shows the rear of the waggon. Two-toned grained: a light oak and almost a mahogany colour. Very nicely painted and beautifully carved - a good waggon.
Another painted waggon, which had been newly done.
I'm not sure about the green and the red, but people always try out new styles, and this is well executed.
A backboard to a flat cart with a friendly smiling lady.
The paintwork is very nice: a free scroll work, quite unusual, and a very good horse’s head.
I don’t know who did this, but it was certainly stylish, and I liked it a lot.
Some little puppies on a painted dray were for sale.
They were very cute, and I think about £200 a piece.
Below, a general view shows how quiet was the Fair. The trailer caravan was probably a Carlight.
This man sold ornaments, harnesses, churns, chimney pipes, and cooking pots. They have to be hoop-handled pots of course to go over an open fire, and the frying pans are also specially made for such cooking.
In the background there's a little tent which says Gypsy Books For Sale.
John McKale comes from Newcastle, and he’s brought out some interesting books, mostly pictorial of the fairs, the travellers and the lifestyle.
One of the stalls sold furniture and artefacts suitable for the residential chalets that travellers have today. I looked hard at first and wondered what the strange thing was in the centre, and of course it’s an apple core! Quite an unusual thing to have for an ornament I thought. There’s also tables and chairs, urns, settees, and showcases. It’s all over the top, mostly white, silver and gold, and very blingy.
Recently I bought a book on a family called Edwards of Swindon. They had the most fabulous rides. They’ve given up travelling now, all the old people having passed on, but the Edwards did use to go to Stow Fair.
As I said, the Charter is for Fairs twice a year. There always was the Horse Fair, but also fairground rides would be built up in the town centre.
Now I remember this back in the 70s and 80s, and it's a shame that the showmen don’t go there any more. I believe there was trouble at one time with travelling children and youngsters causing friction by jumping on and off on the rides, and the showmen probably thought it was time to give up. So that’s a tale of how fairs both evolve and die out.
Another thing is that over the last few years there’s been talk of the ground on which the Horse Fair is held being sold for development. Originally, the developer who owned it tried to build on the site. However, the Council didn’t grant him planning permission, and that’s why the Gypsy Horse Fair went on this ground. Recently, there has been talk of a medical centre being built here, but it’s a very difficult piece of ground: undulating, with almost a valley at the centre. It would be very tricky to build houses on.
Anyway, that hasn’t happened, and there’s no talk at the moment about the Fair being either moved or ended, but it certainly was a cause for worry over the last two years.
Article Text & Images copyright ValleyStream / John Pockett Collection 2015. Transcribed and edited by GypsyWaggons / UK Vardo Project.
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