THE world famous Spancilhill Horse Fair has been cancelled for the second time ever in its 400-year history. Restrictions associated with Covid-19 have prompted organisers to make the decision, even before the revised government guidelines banning large gatherings until the end of August. They said they still maintain hope that the fair can run in 2021 to celebrate four centuries of horse-trading and equestrian competition since the event received its royal charter from King Charles in 1621.
The fair, which had been due to take place on Tuesday, June 23, would simply not have been possible given the risk of Coronavirus transmissions said Chairperson Brian Clune. “It was inevitable and I suppose that given the risk to public health, it’s just one of those things,” he said. “The last time it was called off was in 2001 and that was because of the Foot and Mouth crisis.”
Mr Clune said that because of the famous nature of the date of the fair – which has been immortalised in song – postponing it to later this year wasn’t an option. “The date is more-or-less set in stone and really, it seems likely at this stage that restrictions on gatherings will continue for a long time to come.”
PRO and vet Paddy Hassett agreed the decision to cancel this year’s fair was unavoidable, particularly given that the event draws visitors from the UK and continental Europe. “It’s disappointing certainly, and there will be a big economic hit to the area, but we are in unknown waters now in terms of how long this virus will continue to be a threat,” he said. “As things stand, you certainly couldn’t have a gathering of the size and scale of the fair, it draws thousands.”
Mr Hassett noted that in addition to the cancellation in 2001, the fair came under some threat in the 1920s when it became the subject of a High Court case.
“From what we understand, there was a bit of bother when the urban council made an attempt to take the fair over,” he said. “It was so big at the time and the tolls people paid to trade their horses meant that it was considered lucrative for the council. The case went all the way to the High Court, but the fair continued as it was and has gone from strength-to-strength.”
In terms of preparations for this year’s event, Mr Clune said they were only at a very early stage and that they could take some consolation from that fact. “For most of the preparations, you really talking about things starting to get busy in the six weeks leading up to the fair,” he noted. “We would have had a lot of groundwork to do, but it hadn’t really gotten under way. We’re all disappointed, we believe the fair ran more-or-less continuously since the 1800s, but the situation is one where we must all play our part in combating this virus.”