What's at the fair
What you can see and do at the Wychwood Forest Fair
Local food, farm produce and arts
Typical activities at the Fair each year include displays by the Wychwood Project, the Wychwood Barn Owl Group group, and many other local conservation and community groups. A wide range of rural crafts, some of which allow you to ‘have a go’, are on display. The Wychwood Project second-hand book stall is a must for book-lovers.
As well as an arts and crafts tent, there is a children’s Fun Fair, local Morris dancing sides and other entertainers. There are plenty of local food suppliers and farm produce, lots of refreshments, locally produced ice cream and - last but not least - a beer tent selling beer from the local Wychwood Brewery, based in Witney.
18th Century beginnings
Somewhat surprisingly the Fair originally began as a non-conformist enterprise in the late 18th century, aiming to replace the drunken disorder of local events such as St. Giles’ Fair in Oxford and nearby Witney Feast. This increasingly successful Forest Fair was held at Newhill Plain, a large clearing in the Forest about a mile south west of Cornbury Park.
In the first half of the 19th century, Lord Churchill, the then Forest Ranger, was often in attendance, sometimes accompanied by the Duke of Marlborough. The stalls were laid out to create broad regular streets, along which the aristocracy processed in their coaches at the commencement of the Fair. The local yeomanry band played and special constables kept order. Perhaps the police were not too successful, because the event was often cancelled in the early 1830s, during years of considerable political unrest.
At its height the fair continued for two days. Every nook and cranny of nearby Charlbury was filled with visitors. As well as stalls selling practical items such as textiles and provisions, there were sometimes travelling theatres, menageries, boxing booths, dancing salons and fireworks in the evening.
The Fair reached its zenith in 1853, when the nearby Oxfordshire, Worcestershire and Wolverhampton Railway - now the Cotswold Line - was opened. Reports say that up to 50,000 visitors attended the Fair that year. But also at this time an Act of Parliament was passed to disafforest Wychwood. The original Forest Fair finally ceased in 1856, when Lord Churchill closed it down to curb drunkenness and debauchery. Rather like a modern landlord dealing with travellers, trenches were dug across the site of the Fair to keep out any would-be stallholders. Possibly the alleged drunkenness was a pretext, because a long-standing dispute between the Crown and Lord Churchill was settled by the clearance in the late 1850s of half the woodland remnant near Leafield for agriculture, where seven new Crown farms were created, with the other half passing indisputably to Lord Churchill.
The first modern Fair, organised by the Wychwood Project and the former Friends of Wychwood, was held at Combe on a modest scale in 2000 to celebrate the creation of the Wychwood Way, a 37 mile circular trail around Wychwood. Subsequent Fairs have been held annually at different locations around the Wychwood area - including Cogges Farm Museum near Witney, Lower Farm Ramsden, Charlbury and Capps Lodge - to demonstrate the extent of the former Forest and to involve more people in the activities of the Wychwood Project.
Each year the modern Fair, which tries to avoid much of the commercialisation of so many modern country shows, has emphasised a different theme, such as local environmental activities, revived rural skills and locally produced food.
Pictures from the 2014 Forest Fair
You can find pictures on our Flickr site.