Barnstaple Fair has been cancelled for the first time in almost 200 years – and once again because of an epidemic.

The Barnstaple Fair Proclamation Ceremony 2019. Picture: Matt SmartThe Barnstaple Fair Proclamation Ceremony 2019. Picture: Matt Smart

With regret, Barnstaple Town Council has formally cancelled this year’s fair – which was due to start on Wednesday, September 16 – because of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was felt it would have been impossible to hold the event on Seven Brethren safely with proper social distancing measures.

Town clerk Rob Ward said: “This decision has not been taken lightly, but public safety and protection is our priority.

“Furthermore, this is not unprecedented, as during the year of 1832, due to an outbreak of cholera, the fair was also cancelled.”

The reading of the Barnstaple Fair Proclamation by town clerk Rob Ward. Picture: Matt SmartThe reading of the Barnstaple Fair Proclamation by town clerk Rob Ward. Picture: Matt Smart

A small ceremony involving the mayor, mayoress and clerk will be held in the Guildhall on the Wednesday and streamed on the council website and social media.

Throughout its almost 1,100 year history, a fair has been held at Barnstaple every September, following a royal charter granted around 930 AD.

Even during the two world wars it continued, albeit in a reduced format.

The tradition saw a lavish Wednesday opening ceremony at the Guildhall, followed by a procession of council staff and councillors, with the fair proclamation read out and the ‘hand of friendship’ extended from the Guildhall.

Barnstaple Fair in full swing at Seven Brethren. Picture: Andy KeebleBarnstaple Fair in full swing at Seven Brethren. Picture: Andy Keeble

The cancellation of Barnstaple Carnival, the culmination of fair week, was announced in June and it has come as no surprise the fair itself was unable to go ahead.

Barnstaple mayor Alan Rennles said: “Not being able to have the Barnstaple Fair in 2020 is a real loss to the town calendar.

“Every year local people look forward to one of the biggest events in North Devon and is a real draw for families. It really strikes home the impact of the coronavirus pandemic when another event that we come to rely on is lost.

“The town needs to work so hard to recover from Covid-19 and the future of the Barnstaple Fair will be really important as a way of bring people together again. We send our best wishes to the Showman’s Guild who bring the fair to Barnstaple each year and we look forward to extending the ‘hand of friendship’ to them again soon.”

Robert Kefford, vice chairman of the Showman’s Guild, said they completely agreed the fair had to be cancelled, but added: “It’s a tragedy. I have been doing it 66 years and I still can’t get my head around it now.

“It’s a money thing as well but I think the bigger part of it is we have always attended Barnstaple and its like an extension of the family, we get treated brilliantly there and the town council is fantastic.

“Hopefully next year we will get this virus sorted and we can come back.”