“A wonderful spectacle” – Appleby Fair 2024 full report

11 June 2024
“A wonderful spectacle” – Appleby Fair 2024 full report

“The priority of the Gypsy and Traveller representatives is to preserve the reputation of the Fair so that it can continue for our children and grandchildren and future generations” – says Billy Welch

AS the great clean-up got under way after this year’s Appleby Horse Fair, organisers were reflecting on another successful gathering, despite the challenges.

“Appleby is a huge event with thousands of people coming to the town and there are bound to be challenges,” said Shera Rom Billy Welch, who sits as the Gypsy and Traveller representative on the Fair's managing committee.

“It’s gone brilliantly. Everything we had planned went like clockwork. We are very grateful to all our partners: the council, Highways and the police have been fantastic.

“It takes all year to plan. It is not easy, but it is brilliant when the plan comes together. We have had a wonderful fair.”

Appleby 2024
Billy Welch - "It takes all year to plan"

Around 10,000 travellers and 30,000 other visitors from all over Europe descend on Appleby-in-Westmorland, which normally has a population of less than 3,000 for the four-day event.

One group of horse lovers from Holland made the trip specially to see the Fair.

“We have nothing like this back home. It is a wonderful spectacle which we come to see every year,” said one of the four ladies.

Among this year’s successes was the Travelling Man beer tent at Salt Tip Corner, enjoying its second year.

There were some concerns initially that it would lead to increased disorder. But in fact, it meant more visitors and Travellers can have a social drink up near Fair Hill, instead of having to walk or ride into crowded bars in town.

Appleby 2024
Bathing horses in the River Eden - Appleby 2024

“Everyone who used the beer tent seemed to enjoy it,” said Mr Welch.

And Mr Welch was particularly pleased with new tethering lines on Flashing Lane where horses and sulkies are put through their paces.

With Gypsy help, the Highways department had put in a new steel post line to divide on-lookers from the horses to improve safety for all concerned.

“It provided a safer environment for the horses, riders and visitors. It was a great success,” said Mr Welch.

Appleby 2024
The new safety rails on the Flashing Lane - Appleby 2024

Sadly, there were also two horse deaths, both suspected of being caused by exhaustion through over work.

The RSPCA and police are still appealing for information after a horse was worked to death before the Fair.

The stallion – a three-year-old skewbald trotter, 14hh – collapsed at Jubilee Bridge at around 3pm on the Wednesday (June 5).

RSPCA chief inspector Rob Melloy said: “The horse’s temperature was very high, and he was covered in rubs. He had been worked until he dropped.

“This was an inexcusable act of cruelty. This person has let themselves, their family and of course this poor horse down, who undoubtedly suffered before he died.

“This incident is a very disappointing way to have started the Fair today, where there are so many examples of good horsemanship, and we know a lot of people will be upset to hear about this.”

Appleby 2024
The RSPCA are appealing for information about this man - caught on CCTV - who they believe may have been involved in the death of the first horse

Later it emerged a second horse had died, again suspected of being overworked.

RSPCA Chief Inspector Rob Melloy said, “There are a lot of wonderful people and animals at the Fair, who it’s really enjoyable to meet and get to know. You only need look at the Appleby Horse Project’s Best at Appleby Awards, which celebrate horse health, happiness and horsemanship.

“Unfortunately, there is also an element of people who think it’s okay to drive horses to the point of exhaustion, and disappointingly we’ve seen the most serious results of that this week.

“Everyone knows about the horse who died at Jubilee Bridge on Wednesday, but we had a Shetland pony who died in the residential section at the back of the Trade Field on Saturday too, which showed all the signs of exhaustion.

“We believe a lot of overworking was happening at night, though it was not being reported, and we had to deal with the consequences the day after. In the case of the Shetland, we were called to the stallion early in the morning, and suspect he was overworked in the evening.”

Appleby 2024
Appleby 2024

Mr Welch said of the first death: “We are sickened and saddened by the cruelty that this person or persons have shown.

“We have no hesitation in asking anyone who has any knowledge of this awful event to cooperate fully with police and RSPCA in identifying whoever is responsible.

“If you are in any doubt, please come forward and provide any information you have for the sake of justice and the future of the Fair.

“We are fully supportive of the efforts of the RSPCA and their partner charities to improve the standards of horse welfare, and this is a body blow to all our efforts.

“As far as we know we have never had this happen before and we plead with everyone to listen to the welfare messages so that it never happens again.”

Staff from eight other animal welfare charities attend the Fair each year, alongside the RSPCA. They occupy a vet station at Salt Tip Corner where assistance can be sought for any animal that needs it.

Appleby 2024
Police at Appleby 2024

Arrests were made following a nationally led police operation to crackdown on stolen caravan trailers.

Police seized a motorhome and a Ford Transit van, both believed to have been stolen in separate incidents in other parts of the country.

Superintendent Dan St Quintin, police gold commander for Appleby Horse Fair, said: “The arrests we have made have been intelligence-led and aimed at targeting a small minority so that the vast majority of law-abiding people who are intending to come to the county to enjoy the fair positively can do so.”

Appleby 2024
Appleby 2024

The action taken by the police and partners has been supported in a statement by Gypsy and Traveller representatives, Billy Welch and Bill Lloyd.

They said: “Cumbria police have used good intelligence, modern technology and proactive policing to identify and recover a significant number of stolen caravans.

“Some people have been quick to claim on social media that these proactive police actions are heavy-handed harassment and persecution.

“We disagree. The Gypsy and Traveller representatives disassociate themselves from those comments. That is not our opinion, and we fully support this police action.”

“Appleby fair is a horse fair, and an ancient event with great cultural significance. It attracts all sorts of people, the majority of whom are not Gypsies.

“The priority of the Gypsy and Traveller representatives is to preserve the reputation of the Fair so that it can continue for our children and grandchildren and future generations.

“We have never tried to defend or condone criminality of any description and we never will, which is why we congratulate the police on their good intelligence and the smooth and efficient recovery operations.”

Appleby 2024
"We have never tried to defend or condone criminality of any description and we never will" - Billy Welch

Chair of the Appleby Horse Fair Multi-Agency Strategic Coordinating Group (MASCG) and Westmorland and Furness Council’s Director of Thriving Communities, Steph Cordon, said: “I’d like to thank everyone involved in the response to the Fair, for their hard work and dedication. There has been a particular focus on community engagement ahead of the 2024 Fair and a number of improvements were in place, as result of feedback received from residents.

“This work has included the installation of barriers on the leisure centre car park, temporary traffic calming measures and improved signage, as well as the introduction of a secure footpath and renewed fencing on Flashing Lane. We have also increased the provision of litterbins and Portaloos, and our cleaning and street sweeping teams have worked exceptionally hard to keep the streets looking clean and tidy.

“Trading Standards officers, in a joint operation with Cumbria Police, also seized unsafe counterfeit goods on sale at the Fair, including, cosmetics and perfume, sunglasses and electrical goods.”

“This multi-agency approach, combined with listening and acting on feedback from all the communities involved, has helped create a safer and more enjoyable experience for residents and visitors,” Steph continued.

Appleby 2024
Appleby 2024

Cumbria Police revealed that there was a provisional figure of 102 arrests during the whole of the policing operation.

Officers also issued more than 500 tickets (Traffic Offence Reports), whilst more than 100 vehicles were seized including for being suspected of being stolen, being suspected of having been used in a crime, causing an obstruction and driving without insurance.

Superintendent Dan St Quintin, Gold Commander for Appleby Horse Fair, said: "Whilst the arrest figures will grab the headlines, it is important to note that the majority resulted from the proactive enforcement action being taken, particularly on the roads, including the seizure of vehicles suspected of having been stolen elsewhere in the country.

"We make no apologies for this approach, because it targeted offenders from all communities to prevent crime at the Fair.

"The message will go out that people who commit offences elsewhere in the country and then come to Appleby Horse Fair risk being arrested and having their vehicle seized.”

Appleby 2024
Appleby 2024

After the Fair, teams of people are employed to clear Fair Hill of any rubbish, of which there was very little this year.

Some of the national media take photographs of litter in fields belonging to local landowner, Jimmy Winter, which is hired out to market traders for the Fair.

Mr Winter also employs a team to clear it up within a couple of days of the end of the Fair.

Mr Welch says: “When we have finished, you wouldn’t know there had been a Fair. The clear up is signed off by the council.”

“The Travellers have paid for everything (on Fair Hill), the policing, the skips, the toilets, the public liability insurance – everything,” he adds.

Mr Welch is now off to Glastonbury where he and a dozen friends and family will take four caravans and park in Billy Bragg field. In exchange he gives talks on Traveller life and traditions.

“It is a good chance to chill out,” he says.

Then it will be back to planning Appleby Horse Fair for 2025.


POLICE are appealing for witnesses and information after an incident in Appleby which left a teenager with a significant arm injury.

In the early hours of Sunday morning (9 June) on a residential field at Appleby, police became aware of a 16-year-old with a significant injury to his arm. Police believe it may have resulted from an assault.

Officers entered the field and arrested five men on suspicion of grievous bodily harm. All five men have subsequently been released on police bail, with conditions not to enter the county unless to answer bail.

The 16-year-old remains in a stable condition in hospital. Police said they do not believe the incident involved a knife or any other type of bladed article. 

Mike Glover for TT News

All photographs by Milton Haworth for the Travellers’ Times