PUBLISHED: 09:27 24 February 2014
Archant © 2013
Thousands of people, and horses, used to flock to Downham Market for the St Winnold’s Fair every March 3. It was one of the biggest horse sales in Europe and the event is remembered to this day, in a procession through the town.
The sale always began on March 3, or St Winnold’s Day, and the festivities, originally held in fields between the village of Boughton and Wereham, became known as St Winnold’s Fair.
At its height more than 10,000 horses were bought and sold during each fair. In the early 1800s, the fair moved to nearby Downham Market.
During the first world war, thousands of horses were needed to tow gun carriages onto the battlefields, and transport other heavy equipment. Many were sold to the Army each spring at Downham’s St Winnold Fair. As the 20th century progressed there was less need for horses and St Winnold’s Fair became smaller.
St Winnold himself is not linked with either horses or Downham Market, although the town’s Masonic Lodge and a street are named after him and a priory at Wereham was dedicated to him. He lived in Brittany in the 6th century AD, where he founded several monasteries and later became linked to windy weather, and people praying to him to be blessed with children.
Early this century Downham Market revived the ancient St Winnold’s Fair celebrations – although not on St Winnold’s Day itself.
This year’s procession, including horses, carriages and civic dignitaries, is on March 21, leaving from the Town Hall car park at 9am and will be headed by a shire horse.