The heart of the Lincolnshire Wolds
|Horncastle was once the venue for the world's largest horse fair. In
the early 1800s horse dealers and buyers came from all over Europe to
buy and sell horses.
By this time the fair had already been established for some 600 years, its charter being granted in 1229. The fair was not only an institution but also hugely influential, prices realised at the sales were used as a barometer and price guide throughout the country.
Towards the end of the 18th century a 3 to 4-year old cart horse would sell for £25 to £30, a considerable sum at the time. Small wonder then that most of the local farmers and landowners were engaged in breeding horses. The main breed was known as the
Lincolnshire Black, a precursor of the Shire Horse, these were used mainly for ploughing, haulage and for pulling hackney coaches when they were licensed in 1694.
The August fair, which could last up to two weeks, gave rise to its own
satellite economy. For example the area became one of the largest
producers of oats in solely in order to meet the demands of feeding the huge
number of horses.
The mid 1800s saw the fairs at their peak with the advent of the
railways bringing in more and more horses, especially from Ireland. By the
1890s the glory days were over and the fair began to show signs of
decline. Fewer horses were coming in which in turn lead to the
cancelling of some train services. Both prices and volume began to
decline steadily throughout the early part of the 1900s. The general
street trading was all but gone with sales going through the
single auction with prices between the wars falling to an average 12 to
15 guineas per horse.
for images of the horsefair please visit our gallery
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