Photo gallery: Annual St Winnold’s Day procession brings out the crowds in Downham Market

Scenes from St Winnolds Day Parade as it goes through Downham Market. Picture: Matthew Usher. Scenes from St Winnolds Day Parade as it goes through Downham Market. Picture: Matthew Usher.

Friday, March 21, 2014
3:45 PM

Hundreds of people lined the streets of Downham Market as the annual St Winnold’s Day procession made its way through the town, keeping alive the tradition of one of the biggest horse fairs in Europe.

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For centuries the horse fair, held over several days at this time of year, was one of the largest of its type.

At its height, more than 10,000 horses were bought and sold during the fair, which began on St Winnold’s Day, and helped to replenish stocks for various armies on the continent.

The fair has long disappeared from Downham Market but people still lined the streets today to watch the procession which recognises the town’s once pre-eminent place in horse trading.

The event is also a celebration of the continued success of Downham’s markets, which were granted to the town in 1046 by Edward The Confessor.

The civic procession, led by Bernard, a shire horse from nearby Church Farm, left the town council offices at 9am and headed to the town hall.

Bernard was accompanied by a pony and members from the West Norfolk Riding for the Disabled Association.

Waiting at the town hall were children from Hillcrest Primary School and Nelson Academy, both in Downham Market, who had taken part in history projects to commemorate the occasion.

The charter received in 1046 - 20 years before the Norman Conquest - was then read out by town crier Ray Wales, before Father James Mather, rector of St Edmund church in the town, blessed the town and market.

King’s Lynn and West Norfolk Mayor Elizabeth Watson joined Downham Market Mayor David Sharman in the procession, and told the assembled crowd: “This was once one of the two largest horse fairs in Europe. It’s also the anniversary of the First World War, and many horses that were used came from this town.

“Ever since I was a child I have had a passion for horses, so I was delighted to see the beautiful shire horse Bernard, who I think you will agree with me was the star of the show. One of the mayor’s charities for the year is also Redwings Horse Sanctuary.

“I hope the Friday and Saturday markets in this town continue to thrive and bring the community together as they have done for 1,000 years.”

The Downham Market mayor then invited people into the town hall for breakfast, and urged everyone to take a look at the artwork on display inside.

Staff bearer John Savage MBE said: “The horse fair used to be the place where hundreds of horses were sold. The procession was revived about 10 years ago, and the same shire horse, Bernard has been leading the procession ever since.”

RAF Marham station commander Group Captain Harvey Smyth said grace, and added: “It’s a privilege to come here. I’m originally from Northern Ireland where we have a few fairs, so it makes me homesick.”

Also taking part in the procession were Hilary Cox, chairman of Norfolk County Council, Sir Jeremy Bagge, deputy lieutenant of Norfolk, Stuart Wright, Mayor of Thetford, Robert Kybird, vice-chairman of Breckland Council, Nick Dibben, Mayor of St Ives, Elaine Clutton, Mayor of Hunstanton, Douglas Smith, Mayor of Sheringham, and Ann Thorp, Mayor of Swaffham.

Also in attendance were past mayors of Downham, Ron Botham, Colin Sampson, Val Starling and Pat Roberts.

How is your town or village in West Norfolk keeping alive its traditions? Email david.bale2@archant.co.uk

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