Let’s face it, where else would you see half a ton of apples flying through the air?

7 September 2017 9:33AM

In the 13th century, King Henry III granted a royal charter allowing a weekly market and an annual fair to be held in Egremont.

This meant that, four years before Marco Polo started his travels through Asia, three years before the birth of William Wallace and around the time the first pair of eyeglasses were invented in Italy, Egremont Crab Fair was born.

Over the last 750 years, the fair has changed a lot. It was originally a religious festival.

This year it will see its first music festival, Crab Fest.

But it has always remained a special weekend in the calendar for the population of Egremont.

This year’s anniversary celebration will combine traditional sports and games with new arrivals, including a motorbike stunt show, the inaugural Crab Fest on the Crab Fair field and the Taste Cumbria food festival in the castle grounds.

There will, of course, also be the World Gurning Championships, a highlight of the fair in which contestants pull a face through a horse collar.

Committee member Daniel Shutt, who works in events management at the fair, remembers how it has always been a part of his life.

“I didn’t have much choice,” he said. “My dad got involved with the Crab Fair when we were young.

"I’m pleased he did because I had some fun Crab Fair weeks up on the field as a kid.

“I remember entering the hunting and comic songs competition at the World Gurning Championships when I was about seven – at that time the gurning happened on a tin sheet trailer on the Co-op car park.

"And I remember begging my mam to write a letter to my headteacher so I could spend my Crab Fair week helping with the setting up.

"I learnt more about life in a week on that field than I did in 12 months at school.”

For many in Egremont, the fair is a large part of their childhood or a time for family.

At last year’s fair, Claire Spedding claimed the ladies’ gurning title for the second year in a row while her daughter, Georgia Lister, secured the junior award.

And the men’s event has been dominated for long periods by the Mattinson family.

Gordon Mattinson won the face-pulling contest on 10 occasions, with his son Tommy, who still competes, the most successful male competitor with 16 victories.

But Tommy’s success is still 12 short of the most decorated female contestant as Anne Woods won the competition 28 times before she died in 2015.

However, the Crab Fair isn’t just for Cumbrians. The current male gurning champion is Coventry’s Adrian Zivelonghi, a regular visitor to the fair.

Speaking after last year’s event, Adrian said: “This is the only thing that I could become a world champion at.”

Crab Fair chairman Steve Foster said at the time: “Adrian is a very worthy winner, he has been a big supporter of the Crab Fair for more than 15 years.

"He helps out every year and he is exactly the sort of person who deserves recognition.”

The chairman quickly began planning for 2017, with the committee hoping to make it an anniversary to remember.

“This year is our 750th anniversary,” he said. “I don’t think any other fair will have celebrated that anniversary, it’s so unique.”

The fair will take place on September 15 and 16, with entertainment on the town’s Main Street on Friday before an action-packed Saturday.

It kicks off with Dancing In The Street, headlined by Union J and including a performance by former Eurovision contestant Sonia.

Daniel said: “I’m looking forward to seeing our first-ever food and drink festival – it’s been nice working with Marie Whitehead and the team from Taste Cumbria and we’re sure the event will be a huge success.

“It will bring a lot more people to the town – and what better backdrop for the event than Egremont Castle?

“We must also thank the team from the Copeland Community Fund for helping us make this happen.”

Daniel added: “Crab Fest is also new and we’re feeling really positive about it. Where else would you see six great bands, four acoustic acts and a DJ set for a fiver?”

Egremont Crab Fair has survived, and thrived, for 750 years now – and organisers are keen to take the tradition well past
its landmark anniversary.

“We must keep it going,” said Daniel.

“My parents, grandparents and their grandparents and so on right back to 1267 enjoyed Crab Fair day and, let’s face it, where else would you see half a ton of apples flying through the air? A man trying to smoke a pipe full of tobacco faster than the man next to him? A face pulling competition?

“Only in Egremont – that’s why we must keep it going.”

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