IT’s nearly 1,000 years old and dates back as far as Edward the Confessor – so to mark the granting of its horse fair charter, St Winnold’s Parade wove its way through Downham Market with its usual elegance and grace.

Mayors and dignitaries from Downham, King’s Lynn and around the borough, led by Bernard the horse from Church Farm at nearby Stow Bardolph as the Suffolk Punch paraded from the council offices in Paradise Road just after 9am and made its way to the town hall.

There Town crier, Ray Wales, read the proclamation from the  historic charter outside the town hall.

Borough Mayor David Whitby outlined the area’s commitment to the equine tradition by recounting his young days watching his grandfather opening country gates in and around the Sandringham Estate for the then Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret along with the Queen Mother. Then, Downham mayor Marion Ross, welcomed everyone who had turned out for the parade before inviting around 100 guests inside for the traditional St Winnold’s breakfast, with all food coming from local producers.

Local schoolchildren took part in the parade, wearing rosettes and holding various specially made paper horses and equine care tools while cyclists wearing costumes from days gone by and riding bikes from different ages of manufacture also made their way through Downham Market.

Downham Market markets received their charter in 1046 from Edward the Confessor.

To this day the town’s Friday and Saturday markets are a central focus of life in and around the towns.

For many centuries the horse fair, held over several days and starting on St Winnold’s Day, was one of the two largest horse fairs in Europe with over 10,000 horses being bought and sold. Some continental armies bought horses in Downham Market at St Winnold’s Fair, many of them bred and reared on the Fens to the west of Downham, land that was generally unsuitable for farming.

The horse fair moved into the town in the early 19th Century and the parade has been one of the town’s attractions for 10 years and, as usual drew a good crowd. Traders who supplied food for the breakfast were: Russells Fresh Meat and Poultry (Friday Market); The Eggman –Mr R Jeffery – (Saturday Market); SP Moyes (Friday and Saturday Market) and Bloomsbury Bakers (Friday Market).