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Century of tradition lost as Epsom Derby Fair scrapped
More than a century of tradition at the Epsom Derby has been scrapped after organisers axed the annual Tattenham Corner funfair to make more room for car parking.
The Derby Fair has created a party atmosphere at the world’s greatest flat race since Charles Dickens visited more than 160 years ago and it was immortalised in a picture by William Frith in 1850.
But Epsom Downs Racecourse owners said the space it takes up is needed to house a larger police marquee and extra car parking for racegoers.
Managing director Nick Blofeld, who said the decision was “tinged with regret”, also blamed antisocial behaviour and damage to the nearby golf course as other factors in dropping the historic fair.
He said: “We have a lot of our own stewards and more agencies are involved in keeping racegoers safe this year so we need a larger marquee for the joint agencies.
"We need more car parking space as we have limited spaces for the racegoers.
“There has also been a reduced demand for the fair over the years. It used to run for 10 days; last year it only ran for three or four.
“It is something we want to try this year and we will review the decision next year.”
The decision to drop the fair was greeted with anger and disappointment from some residents.
Caroline Baldock from the Epsom Equestrian Conservation Group said: “This is a Derby day for Londoners. It’s not Royal Ascot. The Derby Fair is part of the tradition and has been there for decades.
It’s a disappointment. There is no alcohol sold at the fair so any drunken behaviour comes from the race course. People should have been consulted about this.”
Epsom and Ewell Councillor Anna Jones said: “It is a real shame, this is supposed to be the people’s Derby. This is another part of the Epsom tradition which is being squeezed out.
“The number of arrests has always been very small and this is more about raising revenue from car parks than the problem with antisocial behaviour.”
Councillor Diana Coman said: “There is an historical tradition of having a fair. If there are concerns about the modern fair, a return to a more traditional format, in keeping with the tradition of our past, is just as much fun for families as the modern fairs.
“It is very disappointing the fair has been cancelled. It is a missed opportunity to consider more creative options.
“If people have concerns about antisocial behaviour, some of the more traditional events don’t attract those kinds of people.”
• Jockeys riding in the Investec Derby on Saturday will wear black armbands as a mark of respect to Vincent O’Brien, who died on Monday at the age of 92. Mr O’Brien trained six winners of the classic between 1962 and 1982.
History of the Derby Fair
Music and conjuring, clowns and coconut shies were already part of the tradition when Charles Dickens came and William Frith painted his famous picture in the 1850s.
It was all part of the atmosphere that made Derby Day something more than a race – it was the people’s holiday.
The artist Gustav Doré sketched fire-breathers and pugilists as well as noblemen baring their wrists for the test-your-strength machine.
When steam-driven rides were invented in the 1870s, the derby saw roundabouts, chairoplanes, switchback rides, walls of death, with every new marvel painted in bright fairground designs.
Generations of show folk grew up with the Derby as part of their annual round, bringing the fun of the fair to hundreds of thousands each year.
The fair on Epsom Downs has been part of the Derby for more than a hundred years.
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