Appleby Horse Fair: Locals say war memorial was left 'desecrated'

Furious locals say war memorial was left ‘desecrated’ with litter as tens of thousands of travellers head to Appleby Horse Fair

  • Event in Appleby and neighbouring Kirkby Stephen is set to see 30,000 visitors
  • Some 10,000 of those attending are from gypsy, Roma and traveller community 
  • Memorial in market square was left strewn with drink and takeaway containers
  • Haulage firm claims field was broken into so that horses could be grazed on it 

A First World War memorial has been ‘desecrated’, local residents said today as thousands of travellers descended on Cumbria for the annual Appleby Horse Fair.

The event in Appleby and neighbouring Kirkby Stephen is expected to see 30,000 visitors, with 10,000 of them from the gypsy, Roma and traveller community.

But locals in Kirkby Stephen are furious after the town’s Grade ll-listed war memorial in the market square was left strewn with drink and takeaway containers.

Meanwhile, a haulage firm claimed yesterday that a field it owns was broken into and a wooden gate damaged so that horses could be grazed on it. 

While locals claim that it was travellers who left the litter on the memorial, this is not certain and no proof has been provided.

Locals in Kirkby Stephen are furious after the town’s Grade ll-listed war memorial was left strewn with drink and takeaway containers, prompting accusations of ‘desecration’

A haulage firm called Lakeland Commercials claimed a field it owns was broken into and a wooden gate damaged so that horses could be grazed on it.

A unnamed local businessman said: ‘Travellers have desecrated the World War One memorial in Kirkby Stephen. 

‘Many of us in the town have relatives commemorated on it and it has gone down very badly. Despite raised police patrols no one has been apprehended.

Appleby Horse Fair: Historic event tracing its roots back to 1685

The fair is held outside the town of Appleby, at the point where the old Roman Road crosses Long Marton Road, on Gallows Hill, which was named after the public hangings that were once carried out there.

It was once thought the fair originated from a royal charter to the borough of Appleby from King James II of England in 1685, although more recent research has found the charter was cancelled before it was ever enacted.

The gathering is sometimes known as ‘the New Fair’ because Appleby’s medieval borough fair, held at Whitsuntide, ceased in 1885.

The ‘New Fair’ began in 1775 for sheep and cattle drovers and horse dealers to sell their stock.

By the 1900s it had evolved into a major Gypsy/Traveller event which brought families from across the UK and Europe.

‘A field owned by a local business has also been broken into and numerous horses were let loose for some free grazing.’

The haulage company, Lakeland Commercials, posted a picture of the horses on their land yesterday and said: ‘We would like to ask Cumbria Police why they are unwilling to act or investigate when our property has been clearly been broken into and filled with horses?

‘This has been reported and their response was they would drop us some signs off.’

The event – Europe’s largest gathering of gypsies and travellers – is set to start tomorrow, a week later than usual to avoid clashing with the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

This year police have made changes to traffic regulations so local roads can be opened and closed when needed.

The number of temporary toilets has also been increased, and there will be daily meetings of the fair’s co-ordinating group.

In its 250-year history the fair has only been cancelled twice, the first in 2001 during the foot and mouth outbreak and the second in 2020 due to the pandemic.

The gathering is billed as the biggest traditional gypsy fair in Europe and has developed traditions that take place every year.

Gypsy horses are washed in the River Eden in Appleby and trotted up and down the ‘flashing lane’ – a closed off rural road – before being haggled over and bought.

There is a market on Jimmy Winter’s Field with stalls selling everything from fashion to horse-related wares. 

People at Barton in Cumbria on their way to the Appleby Horse Fair on Monday. There is no suggestion that those pictured were involved in the damage to the memorial or field

People on Monday on their way to the Appleby Horse Fair, at Barton in Cumbria. There is no suggestion that those pictured were involved in the damage to the memorial or field

Last year there were claims of a sexual assault on a young woman in the grounds of a church and a local man in his 60s was taken to hospital after being assaulted.

There were scenes of chaos as fighting broke out on the main street between rival groups of travellers which brought armed police into the streets to restore order. 

Cumbria Police said: ‘We received a report yesterday at around 4.30pm of a wooden gate having been damaged and horses in the field. Officers attended. 

‘The horses had been moved on by around 7pm. However, the incident is being investigated and police would ask anyone with information to report it to us.’

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