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History of the fair at Lambert’s Castle

View from Lambert's Castle Hill, Dorset.
View from Lambert's Castle Hill | © National Trust Images/David Sellman

For over 300 years this ancient hillfort was also host to a bustling annual fair. Alongside all the stalls and farming attractions that you might expect at a country fair, the highlight of these events was actually a series of horse races on a racing track next to the hillfort.

The fair's beginnings

There are records of a fair taking place at Lambert’s Castle as far back as 1709, although there are also some reports that indicate that it may have been held here as far back as 1459. They continued until at least 1947, and possibly until 1956, when National Trust took ownership of the site.

The fair was normally held every June but in some years, when its popularity was at its peak, there was a second fair held in September. It seemed to run most years, although there were notable absences during both the First and Second World Wars and, typically for Britain, it was also sometimes 'rained off'.

Fun and games

Local records, primarily from the archives of Bridport News, tell us that the fair steadily grew in size. What had begun as a simple horse race ended up with a silver cup, grandstands, refreshments supplied by the local inns, and fairground games like a coconut shy.

The arrival of motorised cars helped to boost visitor numbers, making the site a lot more accessible for visitors and specifically families.

'Elis' Beating Colonel Peel's 'Slane', by Henry Alken (1837) at Shugborough Hall, depicting a horse race at Newmarket in 1837
'Elis' Beating Colonel Peel's 'Slane', by Henry Alken (1837) | © National Trust Images/John Hammond

Evidence of the fair today

Sadly, there is not much real evidence of this fascinating history to see here now apart from the earthwork remains of some market stalls, but as a visitor you can tell that the fair would have been a real spectacle to behold.

Those who were lucky enough to have attended would have enjoyed the same impressive views across the Marshwood Vale out to sea that we can all still appreciate today.

With thanks to Adrian and Kathy Parkes for their research.

Veteran beech trees and bronzed leaves on the ramparts at Coney's Castle, Dorset.


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