This year’s Barnstaple Fair opening ceremony takes place at The Guildhall on Wednesday, September 13.

Barnstaple Town Council has been forced to make changes to its historic fair proclamation ceremony following a health and safety review.

The council has had to cut the number of guests at the annual ceremony by 67, taking it from 250 guests to 183.

The fair proclamation kick-starts Barnstaple Fair, when a colourful ceremony at the Guildhall is followed by a procession around the town centre.

The reduction comes after a review of fire safety at Barnstaple Guildhall, the venue for the event.

The fair opening in 2016. Picture: Matt SmartThe fair opening in 2016. Picture: Matt Smart

Town clerk Will Austin said the decision had been a difficult one, but assured the 'pomp and colour' of the ceremony, which has been held at the Guildhall nearly every year since 1826, will be retained.

He said: "We carried out a routine review of fire safety for the ceremony in June, and realised then that the evacuation routes weren't of the standard needed to meet the latest regulations.

"As a result, councillors have taken a very difficult decision to reduce the number of invitees.

"The opening of Barnstaple Fair goes back hundreds of years, and councillors have been sensitive to the need to respect our rich heritage whilst recognising that modern-day health and safety standards are rightly tighter than they would have been in past times.

The fair opening in 2016. Picture: Matt SmartThe fair opening in 2016. Picture: Matt Smart

"The pomp and colour will still be retained, but we'll need to re-jig some of the furniture to make sure that if the worst happened people could leave the building with as little difficulty as possible."

Mayor of Barnstaple, councillor Julie Hunt said: "Obviously it was a really tough decision for the council, and we know we'll disappoint a few people who would have been looking forward to this wonderful celebration of our history.

"I do hope people will understand though - safety really does have to come first."