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Saints, Vikings and dangerous streets: why a town will be on the march

PUBLISHED: 09:15 12 March 2020 | UPDATED: 09:34 12 March 2020

The St Winnold's Day event in Downham Market has been postponed. Downham Market. Picture: Ian Burt

The St Winnold's Day event in Downham Market has been postponed. Downham Market. Picture: Ian Burt

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A Norfolk market town is getting ready to celebrate its proud horse history and a tradition that dates back centuries.

The tradition dates back centuries and is an important part of Downham Market's history. Picture: Ian BurtThe tradition dates back centuries and is an important part of Downham Market's history. Picture: Ian Burt

St Winnold's Day Parade honours Downham Market's historic horse fair, which was the third largest in Europe at its height.

This year's event, which is organised by Downham Market Town Council, will take place on Saturday, March 21 in the hopes it will encourage a greater turnout.

The fair, which was the largest in England, was considered one of the most important places for horse trading, with thousands of people flocking to the town to buy and sell the animals.

The tradition is named after St Winnold, a 6th Cornish saint whose family fled to Brittany to avoid the Viking and Saxon invasion.

St Winnold's Fair in the 1900s. Picture: Discover Downham Heritage CentreSt Winnold's Fair in the 1900s. Picture: Discover Downham Heritage Centre

After his death he was commemorated at a monastery in Wereham, where the horse fair initially was held.

It was later held in Wimbotsham before it moved to Downham Market in the 19th century.

MORE: 10 things you did not know about Downham Market

Kathleen Wiseman, trustee of the Downham Market and District Heritage Society, said: 'When the fair was originally held is lost in the mists of time.

Barry Hawkins auctioneers in Downham Market. Pictured is the Winnold Fair Castle Yard in the early 1900's. Picture: Ian BurtBarry Hawkins auctioneers in Downham Market. Pictured is the Winnold Fair Castle Yard in the early 1900's. Picture: Ian Burt

'St Winnold's Day was held on 3rd March as the old rhyme went 'first comes David, next come Chad. Then come Winnold roaring mad.' It was noted for its Winnold weather as it typically had strong wind and rain.

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'People used to board up their shop windows and schools closed as streets were deemed dangerous when the fair took place.

'Thousands of horses would be seen in the town and people locally used to breed Hackney horses in the area.'

This year's procession will start at 9.15am from the town council offices on Paradise Road to the Town Hall on Bridge Street.

Dignitaries will be shown round the market stalls and a medieval-style fair organised by the town council and an exhibition put together by Discover Downham will take place in the Town Hall from 10am to 2pm.

Elaine Oliver, town clerk, said: 'It was felt Saturday would be better as it would include children. The event is very much a conscious effort to make it more community friendly and we wanted to make people more aware about the history and at the same time publicise the market place.'

Joining the horses on the day will be mini donks, which will be on the town square for petting.

READ MORE: Downham Market in 10 objects


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