Back in the days when horses were used for everything involving personal transport and agriculture, thousands of people would flock to Downham Market each year to buy and sell horses on St Winnold’s Day (March 3) with as many as 10,000 animals being sold.
Dealing would take place in the streets and in the Howdale field over a three day durtation, where many thousands of horses were supplied to the armed forces during the First World War to tow gun carriages.
The Downham Market town signs still feature horses to commemorate the town’s horse-trading heritage.
Although the horse selling days are over, to mark it’s equine history, the St Winnold’s Fair takes still place at Downham Market every year in March, with this year’s event taking place on Friday, March 16 when a procession of horses and carriages – followed by civic dignitaries – will begin at 9am from the town council offices, on Paradise Road.
Dozens of spectators are expected to line the streets as the parade – which will include ponies and traps led by a Suffolk Punch, a traditional local breed of heavy horse, as it makes its way through the town before ending at the town hall where the town’s market is located.
Now the fair is very much a celebration of civic pride, commemorating the town’s first market charter which was granted by Edward the Confessor in 1046, 20 years before the Battle of Hastings and the start of the Norman Conquest.
As in previous years the town’s mayor welcomes guests before the charter received from Edward the Confessor is read out by the town crier.
But although the Fair has an ancient history its modern origins are more recent as the tradition fell by the wayside before it was revived by way of a parade around 14 years ago by the former town mayor Stephen Teverson.
The fair is named after St Winnold, a 6th Cornish saint whose family fled to Brittany to avoid the Saxons. Although he has no connection with Downham Market, the town’s masonic lodge and a street is named after him as well as priory in nearby Wereham.
St Winnold’s Fair, Downham Market; Parade commences from Council Offices, 15 Paradise Rd, Downham Market PE38 9HS at 0900 and progresses to Town Hall.Tags: Charter Market Downham Market St Winnold's Fair