HISTORY & BACKGROUND
The September Fair Proclamation Ceremony is the major civic event of the year in Barnstaple. Although its origins are lost in antiquity, they are said to be as old as the town itself.
The ancient Proclamation Ceremony takes place on the Wednesday preceding the 20th September in the Guildhall, where civic guests, dignitaries and invited members of the public are guests of the Mayor and the Town Council for this special occasion.
During the ceremony a large white glove, decorated with flowers and ribbons, is suspended over the street from the top window of the Guildhall. It symbolises the open hand of friendship to welcome those who wish to trade at the fair, and the many thousands attending it.
At noon a civic procession makes its way from the Guildhall. Outside a proclamation is read by the Town Clerk, and repeated again at the site of the old South Gate (by the Royal and Fortescue Hotel) and the old West Gate of the town (outside Queen Anne’s Walk).
In past times the Fair lasted for a week, or for as many days as the Mayor would allow! It would have included a Cattle & Sheep Fair and a Horse Fair, with the remaining days given over to the Pleasure Fair. Nowadays it runs for four days, Wednesday to Saturday, with the entire time devoted to the rides, stalls and amusements organised by the Showmen's Guild.
Visit Barnstaple in September and you can witness this ancient tradition, which now has a very modern twist!
The Town Clerk declares the Fair Open
BARNSTAPLE FAIR 2019
The Barnstaple Fair Proclamation Ceremony 2019 was held on Wednesday, 18th September in the Barnstaple Guildhall’s main chamber.
The ceremony's procession down the High Street and along The Strand was led by three Exmoor Horn sheep as town clerk Rob Ward read out the ancient proclamation.
Town centre visitors flocked to watch the procession, which followed the traditional ceremony at the Guildhall where guests of Barnstaple Town Council gathered for the Proclamation of the Ancient Fair ceremony, served with traditional 'fairings' of sweets and sherry.
Mayor of Barnstaple, Councillor Alan Rennles decided to recruit the sheep for this year's occasion, which were supplied by Ginny Kingshotte, as a callback to ceremonies from the 1940s and 50s.
Mr Rennles said: "I went to see Ginny at the North Devon Show, and after seeing the sheep in their pen I invited them up.
"That was the idea, to reinstall a bit of history and tradition, and I think it's been tremendous."
The ceremony at the Guildhall saw the traditional toasts to 'The Queen', 'Barnstaple Fair', 'the Prosperity of Barnstaple' and 'Our Guests'.
Irene Hockin of Seroptimist International of Barnstaple and District proposed the toast to Barnstaple fair
Mrs Hockin recalled memories of the fair when it was held at 'Monkey Island'.
She added: "Barnstaple Fair has been part of my life, and that of many of you. It is an integral part of Barnstaple's history."
Phillip Paris, president of fair providers the Showmen's Guild responded, and offered assurances about the impact of development on the current fair site at Seven Brethren.
He said: "I am sure this visit will stand out as one of the highlights of my time as president.
"I am told Barnstaple Fair is one of, if not the oldest in England at well over 800 years old.
"I understand there may be problems on the horizon regarding the site...it's clear to me there's a fantastic relationship between the Western Section of the Showmen's Guild and the town council. I know there are other parties involved but I do feel a solution to the forthcoming problem can be reached."
Deputy Lieutenant of Devon, Christine Williams proposed the toast to 'the prosperity of Barnstaple', which was responded to by Mark Cartmell, a consultant at Northern Devon Healthcare NHS Trust.
Mr Rennles proposed the toast to 'our guests', with Superintendent Toby Davies responding.
Mr Rennles spoke about 'friendship' across the town and the valuable role of volunteers in the community.
Each year the funfair is set aside for a morning so that children and young adults with special needs can enjoy the rides.
The event proved as popular as ever this year with many children and adults with physical and learning disabilities attending the Special Fair.
The annual event is made possible by the Showmen’s Guild and organised by the Town Council.
All attending had the opportunity to experience the thrills of the rides of the fairground, all with assistance on hand. Candy Floss and a toy, as a memento of the day, were given out by the Mayor, Councillor Mr Alan Rennles.
The Town Council is grateful to the Showmen’s Guild for their generosity and time in staging this event.