Oyez, oyez, Barnstaple fair opens today

BARNSTAPLE fair opened at lunchtime today (Wednesday) following a traditional proclamation ceremony in the town. The Guildhall was packed to capacity with invited guests, mayors and other local dignitaries from all over Devon. Mayor Jeremy Phillips propos

BARNSTAPLE fair opened at lunchtime today (Wednesday) following a traditional proclamation ceremony in the town.

The Guildhall was packed to capacity with invited guests, mayors and other local dignitaries from all over Devon.

Mayor Jeremy Phillips proposed a toast to the Queen and to visitors to the town, a welcome also symbolised by the large white glove that was extended from the Guildhall window during the ceremony.

The rite also featured a toast to Barnstaple Fair by John Wilsher, speaking as chairman of the North Devon Conservation Society.


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Mr Wilsher talked about the memories that the arrival of the fair had provoked for generations of youngsters growing up in Barnstaple.

Responding to the toast, Kevin Squire, director of rugby at Barnstaple Rugby Club, recalled how as a youngster, he was allowed out without his parents for the first time on the opening night of the fair one year.

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"I remember feeling about six feet tall as I walked across the bridge to Seven Brethren, thinking this is where life begins," he told the audience.

"There is always a special buzz around the town during fair week; the event has had such a big influence on people in the town, including myself."

Mr Squire also recalled some of the attractions on show while he was growing up in the late 1960s and early 70s, including the infamous "rat woman".

"For some reason, the tent was always full of adolescent boys," he joked. "We didn't really notice the rats, but we certainly learned a few things about the female anatomy.

"Then of course, there was the pure theatre of the boxing tent where the hard-nuts of Barnstaple would take on the fair boxers. It was always brutal, often bloody, no-holds barred, thrilling, exciting and exhilarating.

"And the carnival itself is a big part of the proceedings; I remember being on a swimming club float in 1970; the next morning, I was black and blue from all the pennies and thru'penny bits the crowds chucked at the float."

Lieutenant Colonel Bob Baxendale, second in command at the Chivenor-based Commando Logistic Regiment, proposed a toast to the prosperity of Barnstaple. Responding to the toast, North Devon MP Nick Harvey said Barnstaple fair week brought the whole community together and was important to people all over North Devon.

"When former North Devon MP Jeremy Thorpe was leader of the Liberal party, he used to fly back from the party conference in Blackpool by helicopter to be at the fair proclamation in Barnstaple and then fly back again to the conference," said Mr Harvey.

"The fair really does bring both young and old, as well as county, town and area together for one special event."

The ancient fair, thought to be as old as the town itself, is always held on the Wednesday preceding September 20. Its origins have been lost in antiquity, although the right to hold the event was fixed by an ancient charter, and more recently, by a local Act of 1852.

The fairground rides and attractions will remain at Seven Brethren until after the carnival on Saturday evening.

For a full report and pictures of Barnstaple fair week, read next Wednesday's North Devon Gazette.

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