Bampton Fair – 1954

Neville Barnett – Reported 24th November 1954

One-Day Fair At Bampton an ancient occasion in North Devon

The people of Bampton proudly claim that theirs is the oldest one-day fair in England. There is a record of it being held in 1258, and it is more than probable that it was in existence many years earlier. At that time it was the biggest sheep fair in the West Country; now, although sheep still play an important part, it is famous for the annual sale of Exmoor ponies and suckers. In the seventeenth century, when cloth was sent to Exeter from almost every town and village in the county, Bampton played its part, and later in its history the place became a distribution centre for lime. The first of the pony sales took place in 1853, and each year a transformation takes place in this quiet North Devon village. People, horses and hucksters fill the street and traffic has to contend with the muddle as best it can. At one end of the town, in the orchard and grounds of the Tiverton Hotel, the ponies from eight different areas Tiverton, Hawkridge, Simonsbath, Doone Country, Porlock, Withypool, Dartmoor and Winsford are corralled and sold. And by the railway- station, at the further end of the town, some 3,000 sheep and a few cattle are auctioned. The main street joining these two points is lined, on both sides, with traders’ stalls and fair-ground sideshows. Here you can buy a waffle iron and learn to make a Waffle, as a solid cattle brand, and a little way along is the ‘Health Centre,’ the physique and steam roller tactics of whose proprietor goes a long way in selling his tonics and chest expanders. Across the way a seedy Father Christmas competes with powerful aroma of sausages and fried onions. Sweet stalls, with candy stripe awnings decorate either side of the portico to the White Horse Hotel. The speciality is crisp ginger-snaps, and the Huish family have had their stand for over fifty years.

Along this corridor the people mill all day, and late into the evening. They have come from near by, from over the Somerset border, and by trains, coaches and private cars from all over Devon. There are, two visitors from abroad, a family from Nothern Rhodesia, sampling, for the first time this very English fair.
For Bampton Fair still retains the essential spirit of the old fair days. It is a day for business, and a day for simple amusement: the more strident fair ground rides of the jet age are only tolerated on the outskirts of the town. It is the countryman’s day a family day, an occasion to meet old friends. And, if the weather is good, as it was this year, and business favorable, there’ll be no difficulty in persuading the good natured crowd to by a comic hat, or a tipper wagon for the farm

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