Celebrating 40 years of the Downton Cuckoo Fair

Celebrating 40 years of the Downton Cuckoo Fair

Published by Mike Draper at 4:30am 4th May 2019. (Updated at 8:17am 17th May 2019)

6 minute read

2019 marks a combined century of anniversaries at the Downton Cuckoo Fair today (Sat 4th May) which is the largest event in Wiltshire.

It's been 40 years since the Downton Cuckoo Fair was reborn, thanks to the enthusiasm and dedication of a group of local people, and with 60 years of the iconic British Mini being marked this year, Downton's role in its history through Downton Engineering Works is another reason to celebrate.

In this special anniversary year the fair will be opened by the Mayor and Mayoress of Salisbury.

60 years of the classic Mini celebrated alongside 40 years of the Downton Cuckoo Fair
60 years of the classic Mini celebrated alongside 40 years of the Downton Cuckoo Fair


The Fair's organisers say they are delighted to host, in conjunction with the Downton Motor Club, a cavalcade of Minis from the last 60 years being driven through the village ahead of the annual procession.

  • WHEN: Today, Saturday 4th May 2019
  • WHERE: Downton, Wiltshire
  • FAIR OPENING/CLOSING TIMES: 10.00am to 4.30pm
  • PARKING: The fair is free to visit and well signposted with car parks available at a charge of only £5 for the whole day
  • ROAD CLOSURE: To ensure the safety of visitors the B3080 through Downton village is closed from 8.30am to 6.30pm


One of the highlights during today's Fair is the crowning of the Cuckoo Fair Princess, which takes place in the centre of the village at 10am and signals the official opening of the Fair by the Mayor and Mayoress of Salisbury.

This is followed by the spectacular parade of Minis from the last 60 years making their way to the Classic Car Show ground at Downton Sports Centre before the traditional Cuckoo Fair procession which begins at The Bull Hotel and ends at The Maypole.

Also, after a decade of absence, the spectacular 15ft tall Christopher the Giant and his companion Hob-Nob will be making a very special appearance in the procession alongside Sarum Morris.

After the procession visitors will be able to enjoy over 300 different stalls located on the village greens and Memorial Gardens as well as the Produce Market which can be found in the car park behind the Co-Op for some foodie delights. There are a multitude of different places to sit down to eat and drink or to simply grab something whilst walking and enjoying the variety of entertainment from bands and local singers to dance groups and the traditional Punch & Judy, it really is a great day out for all the family!


Brenda Harris is the Secretyary at Downton Motor Club, and told Spire FM News they are delighted to be opening this year's Cuckoo Fair:

"The cavalcade is a first for us."

"It's the 60 anniversary of the classic mini, and 40 years of the Cuckoo Fair, so it's really good."



Brenda Harris, Secretary of Downton Motor Club


Brenda's husband is also celebrating his 70th birthday today (May 4th) and will be at thewheel of one of the Mini motor cars taking part in the cavalcade from around 9.30am.


This on-board white-knuckle ride shows of Paul Shepherd from Downton Motor Club setting a personal best time at the wheel of a classic Mini on the Wiscombe Park Hillclimb in 2012.

Paul Shepherd, from Downton Motor Club, at the wheel of a 1380cc MK1 Mini at the Wiscombe Park Hillclimb in 2012


  • The Downton Cuckoo Fair is a quintessentially English village fair steeped in over 800 years of history and tradition.
  • Even before the sealing of Magna Carta and the building of nearby Salisbury cathedral, Downton was holding a market or fair. The Downton Cuckoo Fair is reputed to have acquired its name in 1530, when a captive cuckoo was released into the village as a celebration of springtime. The Cuckoo Fair was suspended by 1920 due to wartime upheavals and was re-established in its present form in 1979.
  • The Downton Cuckoo Fair was reborn 40 years ago.
  • It is the largest event in Wiltshire and now sees over 22,000 visitors to the village on fair day, and has raised over £1 million for local groups in the last 40 years.


Cuckoos are harbingers of Spring and their arrival must have seemed magical and mysterious in times gone by. Many superstitions and traditions are associated with hearing the first cuckoo call, so much so that people still look forward to their return from migration, marking the end of winter and prospect of warmer weather and new growth in the Spring.

It is probable that the coming of Spring has always been celebrated. Rituals of Beltane for Pagans, the Feast of Flora for the Romans and Easter for Christians. May Day Fairs being a combination of such ancient traditions, and in Downton we celebrate with the Cuckoo Fair on the first Saturday nearest the May Day Bank Holiday. The cuckoo flag mounted on top of the maypole now ensuring that a cuckoo can always been seen 'flying' over the festivities!

A Cuckoo Fair princess is chosen each year and to be eligible must either live within the Parish boundary or attend one of Downton's schools. There used to be a Cuckoo Fair Prince who became a King the next year but difficulties with recruitment ensured that this didn't last.

Christopher the Giant and his companion Hob-Nob are pageant figures of the Salisbury guild of Merchant Tailors. Both original figures are now on display in Salisbury Museum and are too fragile to continue their traditional appearances at fairs and days of national celebration. Modern day replicas now accompany Sarum Morris when they dance but the Giant now makes very few outings and last appeared at Downton Cuckoo Fair a decade ago.


The Fair relies on a team of volunteers to organise and manage it. If you'd like more information, contact the Downton Cuckoo Fair Committee via their website or Facebook page.

You can also email Joanna Horbury - jokramsay@yahoo.co.uk

Website www.cuckoofair.co.uk
Facebook www.facebook.com/Downton-Cuckoo-Fair/
Twitter @cuckoofair

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