An annual three day fair was allowed by Charter, in Findon, as long ago as 1261. By 1650 this had become a one day sale on Holy Thursday.
The Sheep Fair proper was started by George Holford on Nepcote Green sometime before 1785. A lamb sale was held on 12th July followed by The Great Fair, always held on 14th September. Previously the sheep had been sold by private deals and the first auction sales started in 1896.
From 1925 sheep were driven in large flocks over the downs to Steyning train station for delivery but this stopped when the Steyning line was closed in the 1960’s. Gradually lorries took over and sheep are no longer delivered on foot in the traditional way.
In 1940 the fair was moved by order of the War Office. It was transported by the traction engines of the Harris Fun-Fair to West Grinstead. The Harris family still run their fair today.
There have been many changes since the fair’s return to Findon, after the war. In the 1950’s the date was altered to the second Saturday in September and in 1971 the July lamb sale was discontinued. Auctioneers changed to Hanleys of Heathfield and then to Lambert & Foster from Kent. Chestnut hurdles, which had replaced oak, were themselves replaced by more hygienic metal ones.
Most dramatically the breed of sheep, which used to be almost all Southdown’s, were over time replaced with other breeds until in recent times very few Southdown sheep are sold and the most popular rams are Suffolk’s.
Sadly the traditional Sheep Auction no longer takes place. Against a backdrop of increased government regulation and changed marketing practices the auctioneers found it less and less financially viable The numbers of sheep auctioned at the fair reduced over the years from more than 15,000 to 3,000. And so the commercial Sheep Fair ceased. The auctioneers regretted the loss of the more than 200 year’s old tradition, a regret that was echoed by Findon Parish Council and the organising committee.
At the start of the 21st century the organising committee ( a sub committee of the Parish Council) set up a village festival and sheep show/demonstration to sustain the 200 year tradition, and so the Findon Sheep Fair, in the form that it now is, was born. The Harris Fun Fair is still an integral part of the current day show. The show has occurred every year since thus fulfilling the original charter. There was one exception: in 2001, the UK was hit with a nationwide Foot & Mouth epidemic and the show did not occur. In that outbreak the committee acknowledged the tradition of sheep on the green by having a plastic ewe stood on Nepcote Green.
Since 2007 we have had over 35 different breeds of sheep on Nepcote Green. It is very encouraging to see so many young people bringing their own sheep as they are the future farmers in farming and showing. The sheep judging competitions, introduced in 2008, have continued to grow with over 300 entries in all competitions in last year.
Findon Sheep Fair has become one of the top attractions for showing in the South of England at the end of the season and is recognised as an integral part of the UK’s Country & Agricultural Show calendar.
Films of Findon Sheep Fair events old and new are available to view on our Ewetube page.