This historic Charter Fair is traditionally on the second Thursday in August but this year (because of DEFRA Movement Regulations and so as not to conflict with the Wilton Great Fair in September), it has been brought forward a week. It still provides a venue for the buying and selling of sheep that extends back many hundreds of years. Originally the flock owner would have driven his sheep many miles on foot from the Downs to the Fair Ground to negotiate the sale by barter.
Nowadays it is the salesmen at Southern Counties Auctioneers who arrange the penning, the publicity and the facilities to attract buyers from far and wide. And of course road transport has replaced the Drovers.
The entry may not be as large – two thousand head compared with twenty thousand some 20 years ago – which reflects the change in times and habits, as well as the whole marketing programme and to some extent changes in lifestyle too.
There is still a wide selection of breeds on offer, although the breeding sheep are predominately Mules (cross of a blue-faced Leicester ram with a Swaledale ewe). But there are Suffolk and Dorset crosses, and in the Stock Ram Sale, Texels, Hampshire Downs and Charolais feature.
But the traditions go on and the fair gives satisfaction to the Vendor with his stock sold and money earned and to the buyer with the opportunity to replace or expand his (or her) flock and bring forward next year’s crop for the UK market.
The Wilton Great Fair on Thursday 8th September 2016 will now follow as one of the main sheep Fair calendar dates for the whole country.