Appleby Horse Fair ‘99.9% certain’ back on in late summer – says Billy Welch

22 March 2021
Appleby Horse Fair

Billy Welch says he’s “99.9% certain” that Appleby Horse Fair will take place on a new date in the late summer – if the Covid pandemic is brought under control

Billy Welch has told the Travellers’ Times that the annual Appleby Horse Fair – “a Mecca for Gypsies and Travellers” - will go now ahead on a new date in the late summer and that the threatened road restrictions on horse-drawn traffic in the historic Cumbrian town have now been withdrawn.

The statement from the Shera Rom came following a meeting between Billy, local councils and Cumbrian police. Initial objections and the proposals to block horse traffic from some of the streets of Appleby town where “smoothed over” and dropped, said Billy Welch.

Billy Welch
Billy Welch at Appleby Horse Fair (c) Mike Doherty/TT

“The meeting went well and the joint agreement is that as long as the pandemic continues to die down the fair will take place,” said Billy Welch.

“We hope to confirm a date for the fair by the end of the month,” he added. “It will not be the usual date, the fair will now take place later in the summer. Gypsy and Traveller people need the fair to go ahead and so do businesses in Appleby who make a lot of money on the weekend that the fair takes place. We’ve been suffering from lockdown and the pandemic, fair traders have been suffering and so have businesses in Appleby town which has also suffered from flooding in the winter. Appleby Horse Fair is a lifeline for all of us, Particularly Gypsy and Traveller people. It has spiritual meaning to us and it is our Mecca. Other big events, fairs and festivals are planning to go ahead and so are we.”

Billy Welch also revealed that he had recovered from Covid-19 and had now taken the vaccine and urged all Gypsy and Traveller people to do the same.

“I’ve had Covid and I recovered but it wasn’t nice. This is a terrible pandemic and we need to do our bit to beat it. I urge all Gypsies and Travellers to do their bit and get vaccinated to beat this virus. The roll out of the vaccine is important in controlling and stopping the pandemic. The virus is being brought under control, lockdown restrictions are starting to be lifted, and that must continue for big events like Appleby to open up again. If the virus flares up again all those events are at risk. If the virus flares up again then Appleby Horse Fair is at risk – we are not going to hold an event that could make people ill - but I’m confident if that doesn’t happen then the fair will go ahead and I’m looking forward to seeing you all there.”

Fair Traders have been suffering during the pandemic
Fair traders have been suffering during the pandemic - although many have moved online (c) Natasha Quarmby

The meeting was held by the Appleby Horse Fair Multi-Agency Strategic Co-ordinating Group (MASCG), of which Billy Welch is a part of. The group also brings together police and councils so that everyone can work together to ensure that the fair goes ahead smoothly and safely.

Yesterday the group released a statement echoing what Billy Welch said - that the fair will go ahead later in the summer unless the “public health situation deteriorates”.

Horses Appleby
The threat to ban horses from Appleby town has been dropped says Billy Welch (c) Natasha Quarmby

Gypsies and Travellers across the UK breathed a huge sigh of relief.

“Good news everyone,” said John Paul Greaves, founder of the popular Facebook group Keep Appleby Horse Fair Alive in a post that has been shared over 300 times. “I have just spoken with Billy and there WILL be a fair this year. It won’t be the normal dates and will be after the 21st June as long as restrictions are lifted as planned. We will have a definite date by the end of the month. Also the road closures proposed are NOT happening.”

"See you all there!" (c) Natasha Quarmby
"See you all there!" (c) Natasha Quarmby

TT News/ Mike Doherty

(Lead photograph: Appleby Horse Fair © Natasha Quarmby/Fields of Light Photography)