Bernard the gentle giant will be leading the annual St Winnold’s Day parade through Downham Market this morning, when hundreds of people are expected to line the streets.
The Suffolk Punch, from Church Farm in nearby Stow Bardolph, is doing the honours for the third time this year after putting in hours of practice with trainer Elise Howard.
Dignitaries from across the region will be taking part in the parade, which celebrates the town’s fascinating horsetrading heritage.
A civic procession is to leave the town council offices in Paradise Road at 9am and make its way to the Hollies car park where children from Clackclose and Hillcrest primary schools will be displaying artwork inspired by the occasion.
Accompanied by a medieval musician, Bernard will then lead the procession along Bridge Street to the town hall, where mayor Robin Pegg will invite he visitors to tuck into a full English breakfast made using local ingredients.
The event also celebrates the continued success of the town’s markets, which date back to 1046 when Edward the Confessor granted Downham Market a charter to hold markets, fairs and feasts.
Thousands of horses would be bought and sold by traders visiting the town over just a few days when St Winnold’s Fair was at its height.
The event, one of the largest of its kind in Europe, was held in the area for centuries and always began on March 3 – St Winnold’s Day.
The horse fair moved into Downham Market in the early 19th Century and it supplied many thousands of horses to the armed forces during the First World War. Although the fair itself is long
gone, the parade has become a popular fixture in the town’s calendar since its resurrection.
Gill McCoy, livestock manager at Church Farm, said 19-year-old Bernard was first asked to take part in the parade two years ago.
“We were not sure how he would react at first as he doesn’t get into town very often,” she said.
“But he absolutely loves it. He’s always pricked, taking everything in, and is impeccably behaved.
“Bernard has got a really wonderful temperament, he’s a real gentle giant,” she said.
Visitors to Church Farm can also see how Bernard’s harness is fitted and can watch him pull a cart in the farmyard.
The town’s popular market will also be held, as usual, on Friday.
For full coverage of St Winnold’s Fair pick up next week’s Your Local Paper.