Traditionally the arrival of the cuckoo was seen as the onset of good weather and the Downton tradition of “opening the gate” to let the cuckoo through is the basis of the fair.
Factually the Downton fairs are first recorded in 1249 and in 1289 a fair was claimed on the eve, day and morrow of St. Laurence (9th-11th April). Early fairs died out and in 1676 during the reign of King Charles II, two annual fairs were granted on 12th April and 21st September. These were mainly for cattle, horses and sheep. When the term Cuckoo Fair came to be used seems to be unknown, as is any possible links with pagan festivities. The Cuckoo Princess only dates from the revival of the fair in 1979 but there may have been an earlier Cuckoo King.
The annual Downton Cuckoo Fair has been running for over a quarter of a century in its current format, and attracts up to 20,000 people to our village for Maypole, morris dancing and folk entertainment. The event also features over 300 craft stalls and craft demonstrations, line dancing, street entertainment, music, the Downton Brass Band and plenty for the children.
The modern Downton Cuckoo Fair is deliver by Downton Cuckoo Fair Limited. This is a company limited by guarantee, and registered in England and Wales under Company No. 4748797. Registered Office: West View, Slab Lane, Downton, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP5 3PS.
The aims of the company, as recorded in its formal memorandum of association as registered with Companies House, are:
- To create an event (or events) to allow clubs, organisations and charities local to the village of Downton to raise funds;
- To sponsor and promote live entertainment in the village of Downton;
- To encourage art and craft in the village of Downton by providing art and craft marquees at the annual fair and arranging art and craft demonstrations;
- To assist in the provision of leisure time activities in the interests of social welfare with the object of improving the condition of life of the inhabitants of parish of Downton in Wiltshire and its neighbourhood;
- To raise funds to cover the costs of advertising, insuring and staging an annual fair to be held in the village of Downton;
- To promote and stage an annual fair in the village of Downton; and
- To use monies to support fund and/or promote any of the objects either by way of donation or by way of loan and upon any terms, which the Directors see fit, in their absolute discretion to impose.
Ten things you may not know about the fair
- The first Downton Cuckoo Fair was officially recorded in 1530 when a cuckoo was let into the village and fairs continued to be held until just after the First World War. The Cuckoo Fair was resurrected in 1979 marking the arrival of the cuckoo and the coming of summer.
- The Cuckoo Fair is non-profit making and run entirely by local volunteers, who meet over nine months prior to the day to ensure it runs smoothly. The main aim of the Fair is to provide a fun village event which includes live entertainment whilst also enabling local organisations to raise funds for their own use.
- It is estimated that since 1980 in excess of £1 million has been raised by local organisations which take part and this has created a very important annual source of income for them.
- In 2017, it cost just over £38,000 to hold the Fair. Major costs included medical cover, park and ride mini buses, advertising, portaloo provision, marquee hire, entertainment, security, insurance and post Fair cleaning.
- In 2017, the Fair had an income of just under £38,000. The major source of revenue came from the stallholders (75%) and car parking (12%). Donations, advertisers, souvenir sales and marquee hire made up the remainder.
- Since 2013, costs have increased by 27% but income has only risen by 8%. This discrepancy has been driven mainly by new Health and Safety regulations, Wiltshire Council Event Management requirements as well as increased insurance and marquee costs.
- The Fair is heavily dependent on donations from the significant local fundraisers and other organisations who benefit from the Fair to cover the costs. Any profits generated are either ploughed back into the running of the next Fair or donated to local causes. Past donations have included the Scanner Appeal, the commissioning of the Memorial Gardens gates and the Sea Cadets for a new defibrillator. The Downton Christmas tree and lights are also donated to the village by the Cuckoo Fair.
- A Cuckoo Fair princess is chosen each year and she must either live within the Parish boundary or attend a local school. There used to be a Cuckoo Fair Prince who became a Cuckoo Fair King the next year but difficulties with recruitment meant that this didn’t last.
- The Committee is always seeking new local people to join them in managing the Fair. Some members of the Committee have been serving since 1979 so they would love to welcome some younger members! Contact Chairman, Tony Pike, on 01725 511332 for details.
- The Cuckoo Fair by numbers: 20,000 people attend on the day; 8,000 promotional leaflets are distributed to tourist outlets; 4,000 programmes are distributed on the day; 2,750 car parking spaces are provided which in turn raise funds for local organisations; 300 stallholders to browse; 40 feet tall Maypole is erected; 20 Maypole Dancers to watch; 15 different Entertainers to enjoy; 2 Cuckoo Fair attendants; 1 Cuckoo Fair Princess is crowned.
Who Delivers the Fair?
The delivery of the Fair is lead by the Core Team who have defined roles to undertake. These are documented in the Event Management Plan. But they cannot deliver the fair by themselves. Here are just some of the many organisations who deliver the Fair each year.
They rely on a companies to provide professional services and resources:
- W Shipsey & Sons Ltd provide the two marquees, fire fighting equipment and the platform for the Princess;
- Rob Beale Limited provides the toilets;
- Grist Environmental Event Services provides the wheelie bins for the visitors’ rubbish. Note these are sorted at their facility and all re-cycleable material is extracted;
- South West Ambulance Services provides the medical cover;
- Delcom Systems Ltd provides the walkie talkies used by the Core Team;
- Tech Event Services provides the PA system;
- R&W Traffic Management deploy the road diversion signs and barriers;
- Priority Mailing & Digital Print print the Day leaflet and other document required by Event Control and Barrier Teams;
- KF:D Creative Design & Advertising Agency, Time2Display and Downton Signs provide graphic design and printing services
- CoverMarque who provide the event public liability insurance for the Fair;
Also, there are many local organisations who help out for the Fair:
- Downton Guides undertake a litter pick at the end of the Fair;
- St Laurence’s Church provides the core team and key teams with the team breakfast briefing;
- Downton Memorial Hall provide the venue for Event Control;
- Downton Army Cadet Force help clear away the Fair and return the equipment to storage;
- 1st Wilton Scouts provide the Park-n-Ride service for the Barford Lane Car Park;
- Downton Baptist Church provide parking for the stall-holders and residents;
- Trafalgar School, Millennium Green Association and the Downton Football Club operate their own car parks for the visitors;
- Downton Parish Council provide the Borough Greens and Memorial Gardens for the Fair;
We also rely on the volunteers who help the Core Team prepare, setup, and dismantle the Fair.