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Notes from Enchanted England

The Ghost Horses of Shiddenfield

Shiddenfield is full of places – it has a New Place, an Old Place on which the New Place was modelled (please keep up) a Park Place and an annual gypsy horse fair that in many people’s mind should be in no place at all or Any Place But Here.

The horses and their owners come riding out of a medieval past. Like all ghosts, they come at their appointed hour and arrive whether welcome or not. They cross the little River Sticks that lies at the edge of the common and cross over onto the wide green that surrounds the village. The 20th of May is sacred to the travellers fair. On this day horses of all shapes and sizes may be found anywhere in the village. They rise almost out of the ground  on which they leave their  generous droppings. A sharp equine scent seeps through the air. Ponies evict cars and cross  empty roads to crop the verges under newly darkened  trees. Children scream in delight from mechanised tea cups that fling them in high circles above the roofs and chimneys of the surprised houses. Horses put their head through pub windows and gaze at the people within; the animals are ridden, driven and sold against a background of carnival, music, noise and disquiet.

Locally it is a well held belief that all the crime that ever occurs in such a tranquil spot will only happen on this one unlucky day. Personally it is my well held belief that these horses bring magic and misrule , an unstoppable energy and drive that perhaps explains their 800 year presence in this part of Hampshire. But who is responsible for this troublesome, delightful fair? You may well ask, and I suspect dear reader, that that old devil, Old Nick may well be behind this.

In 1120 the new church of St Nicholas was built on an old pagan site. Its battle against the old religion had been hard fought and never completely won.  St Nicholas, better known now as Father Christmas, was a patron saint of just about everyone including merchants and thieves.  In 1087, the remains of St Nicholas were 'translated';   his bones were moved from  war torn Turkish Myra to present day Italy where they now rest. His move is still celebrated in the Greek Orthodox Church on May 9 - the 20th in the western new Julian Calendar.

Now in the year of our lord 1269, with a fanfare of trumpets, enter Henry 3rd of England. You may flourish, curtsey and twirl -but not too much please. Henry was by 1269, deeply unpopular, an anti-Semite and power was slipping through his fingers. His quarrel with Simon de Montfort ensured the beginning of a parliamentary system and the king himself would be dead only three years later in 1272. Yet in the dying years of his reign he saw fit to award Shiddenfield a Royal Charter that ensured a May horse fair in perpetuity. A fair that was tied to the feast day of St Nicholas and can be shifted by one day only to avoid being held on a Sunday when all should be at prayer.

So the stallions, the geldings, the mares, the foals at foot, the nags, the fleet footed, the coloured drays, the merchants and thieves crept out from gnarled cribbed and crooked, dark lettering of a royal page, the horses trotting out of the written word and into the highways and byways of Shiddenfield.

Once there was a young woman. She does not exist anymore. She ran like a hare through her troubled present, shape shifting, jumping, leaping into her future .  She landed in Shiddenfield and found the fair hitched forever to the little village. Created for spring by the spirit of Christmas,  a resurrection of bones, tied to a King and old Nick: beautiful horses harness their energy and drive to gallop out of times past, through time present and courageously on into their future and ours.

The hare ran to many places, she ran from place to place until she came to this place. The one place that can be called home.


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