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.