Social media users have expressed outrage at how horses were treated in the documentary The Town That Gypsies took over, that aired this evening.
The Channel 5 observational documentary took viewers inside Britain’s oldest and most exclusive gypsy gathering – the world renowned Appleby Horse Fair.
Viewers got an inside look at the thousands of caravans, several hundred horse-drawn vehicles and more than 40,000 people who descend upon the sleepy northern town every year to buy and sell horses.
But the treatment of some of the horses at the event left social media users reeling.
One user said: ‘Poor horses. They’re so rough with them. One person whipping to go into the water and another hanging off the horses neck.’
While another person said: ‘I somewhat feel sorry for horses who have to endure people on their backs whipping them.’
And other users questioned the police, with one person saying they were ‘powerless’
Viewers got an inside look at the thousands of caravans, several hundred horse-drawn vehicles and more than 40,000 people who descend upon the sleepy northern town every year to buy and sell horses
A number of social media users felt distressed about how some of the horses were treated on the documentary
Thousands of caravans, several hundred horse-drawn vehicles and more than 40,000 people descend upon the sleepy northern town of Appleby every year to buy and sell horses
Residents of the sleepy town of Appleby in Cumbria have likened preparing for the annual gypsy and traveller horse fair to getting ready for war. Pictured: the aftermath
Residents of the sleepy town of Appleby in Cumbria likened preparing for the annual gypsy and traveller horse fair to getting ready for war.
Locals claim they’re forced to board up their homes and businesses as the visitors who descend ‘break every law under the sun’.
There is growing tension between the gypsy and traveller community and local residents and police.
New restrictions put in place to control the mayhem have fuelled anger among the gypsies and travellers, with many feeling the festival is now being too monitored and is losing its identity.
Mervyn, an Appleby resident interviewed for the programme, said he was ‘horrified’ when he saw the lengths the locals feel obliged to go to in an effort to protect their homes and businesses.
Observing a building with the windows boarded up, he said: ‘This reminds me of the ARP, air raid precautions, in the last war. You don’t expect that in an English country town.
The 300-year-old event is regarded as the cornerstone of the gypsy and traveller culture, with many travelling miles over several days and weeks to attend
New restrictions put in place to control the mayhem have fuelled anger among the gypsies and travellers, with many feeling the festival is now being too monitored and is losing its identity
‘Last year it was chaos; they were urinating in the bus shelters, they destroyed hay fields, they broke into stables to use the lavatories.
‘You had to duck when the young boys were driving, they’d wind the window down, they just clear their throats and spit.’
When it was put to Mervyn that many of the gypsies and travellers feel they are being prejudiced against, he brushed it off as ‘absolute rubbish’.
‘It’s because they break every law under the sun,’ he ranted. ‘If they behaved in a civilised manner they’d be welcome everywhere, but they don’t.
‘They’ve got a law unto themselves, they disregard our laws; most of them are Irish tinkers.
In a new Channel 5 observational documentary, locals claim they’re forced to board up their homes and businesses as the visitors who descend ‘break every law under the sun’
One local Appleby resident said she felt ‘intimidated’ by the visitors that arrive for the fair
‘If we’re short of police, we ought to employ a few Gurkhas, because Gurkhas would sort it out very quickly.’
Another resident said she felt ‘intimidated’ by the visitors that arrive for the fair, adding: ‘I think a lot of people would like to see it cancelled.’
For some local businesses, the sheer size of the fair can be overwhelming; a number of people even leave town for the duration of the event.
Hotelier Nigel said the town ‘changes in character’, making it ‘unrecognisable’ and ‘fairly awful’ for residents.
He explained that he operates behind a ‘closed front door’ during the event, locking up the back of the yard and the hotel’s main entrance.
Wacky races! Travellers often go full speed on their horses down the streets in order to parade them
‘We don’t have the windows open, we put little wooden things on the sashes so you can only open them so far,’ Nigel said.
‘The only way is in through the front door. We run a hotel from behind a closed door basically.
‘If I don’t like the look of what’s out there… I can keep people out, once someone’s in it’s really difficult to get rid of them.
‘Inevitably you end up with stresses, some people insist on trying to get in, so eventually you have to open the door and talk to them.’
He also complained that he can’t hang up the hotel flower baskets or plant up the borders as they’d be ‘ripped up’.
Some have travelled hundreds of miles to get to Appleby, and first thing on the agenda on arrival is freshening up, which involves washing their horses by riding them in the river
Travellers have fun splashing each other with buckets of water from the river as they prepare their horses for the fair, many of which would have travelled to the small Cumbrian village on foot
The 300-year-old event is regarded as the cornerstone of the gypsy and traveller culture.
Many spend weeks making the annual pilgrimage by horse and trap, including 80-year-old Romany gypsy Jack, from Wales.
It took him three weeks to travel to Cumbria, a journey he has made ‘all his life’.
‘We love coming here,’ he said. ‘We have a deal, horses, or maybe a bird, we sell a canary, anything we earn money with, and if we rob one another we rob one another of horses, “you robbed me this time, I’ll get you next time”.’
Head gypsy Billy, who is the custodian of the fair, described Appleby as the Romany ‘Mecca’.
‘This is where our ancestors have been coming for centuries,’ he said. ‘When we sit here on this field it gives us a sense of place, of belonging, of ancestry.
A horse drawn bow top caravan is driven through town on the first day of the Appleby Horse Fair. Other carts can be seen travelling down the road
Many spend weeks making the annual pilgrimage by horse and trap, including 80-year-old Romany gypsy Jack, from Wales (pictured)
‘It is literally sacred to us, when we’re here it makes us feel closer to God.’
But due to new police road restrictions, many travellers are forced to camp by the side of the main road.
‘There seems to be more police again this year and the more police there is, the more intimidating it feels,’ remarked one visitor.
Speaking as she shaved her armpits on the roadside using a bowl of water and disposeable razor, another said: ‘I think it’s rude, disrespectful, course I do.
‘We’re not horrible people, we’re just people like everybody else. Whatever they try and do, they’re not going to stop it are they.’
Giddy Up! One woman was seen clinging onto her horse as it bolted while other women were seen dressed up (right) walking around the village
Due to new police road restrictions, many travellers are forced to camp by the side of the main road. Pictured: An overturned portaloo lay among the rubbish left in fields by travellers
Another gypsy went so far as to claim the residents were ‘racist’ against their culture, adding: ‘There’s quite a lot of racism down in that village.’
Some have travelled hundreds of miles to get to Appleby, and first thing on the agenda on arrival is freshening up, which involves washing their horses by riding them in the river.
But this year, torrential rain lead water levels in the river to rise to dangerous heights, which left the police with no choice but to close it to avoid horses and their riders drowning.
The gypsies and travellers were furious that they weren’t allowed to follow this staple tradition of the centuries-old event.
Despite police efforts to ensure public safety, one distressing scene captured a traveller as he fell from his fast-galloping horse.
While in general locals seem to find the horse fair frustrating, some sing the praises of what they call ‘proper gypsies’
Cries of ‘get the ambulance’ were heard from the side of the road as emergency services raced to help the man, who suffered a head injury from the impact of the fall before being rushed to hospital.
Police were quick to comment about the risks of using horses in the extreme, but one observer casually insisted ‘accidents happen’.
‘Just maybe the horse just tripped,’ he said. ‘Maybe just spooked as it was coming down, no different to the grand national.’
Another scene captured a horse lying on the ground after having buckled under the weight of a cart.
The fair generates a lot of money, and for some pub and restaurant owners, business is booming.
They cash in on their visitors, who are all too keen to spend their hard-earned money.