Crab Fair and World Gurning Championships 2017 Special

By Rachael Grealish
Photos by Robert Haile and Colin Cartmell-Browne

THE world’s oldest fair has been hailed a success as Egremont Crab Fair returned for a momentous 750th year.

Faces only a mother could love: All the 2017 World Gurning Championships (from L-R) seven times Gordon Blacklock, Crab Fair Queen Melissa Herbert, Winner Adrian Zivelonghi and 17 times winner Tommy Mattinson.

Thousands flocked to Egremont, from all over the world, on the weekend of Friday, September 15 and Saturday 15 to be part of the event.
Celebrations for the fair kicked off with the crowning of the Crab Fair Queen.

Youngsters were invited to the annual Queen selection disco, on Friday September 8 at the La’al Club, in Egremont, to dance for the title of Crab Fair Queen.

On the evening 12-year-old Connie Doogan, from Keswick School, danced her way in to the position of Reserve Queen – but it was Melissa Herbert, 13-year-old West Lakes Academy pupil, from Egremont, that took the top spot as Crab Fair Queen for the fair’s momentous 750th celebrations.

On the run up to the fair there was a variety of other activities, such as the darts competitions, clay pigeon shooting, 6km multi-terrain race and the dent fell race – which returned after 14 years.

Both races started on Egremont Main Street, near the memorial, on Tuesday, September 12, and even though the weather was against the runners, plenty turned out for both races.

Sam Stead, from Keswick, put his best foot forward, and up the hill, placing first in the fell run with a time of 59.27 minutes.

Tiffany Penfold, 18, from Egremont, completed the multi-terrain 6k and was first woman to cross the finish line.

On the day of the runs Egremont Main Street was closed off for a Victorian reenactment, complete with horses, an auction and a blacksmith.

Organiser, Callum Scott, said: “The Victorian reenactment was great, it represented Crab Fairs of old, so goes along well with the anniversary.”

Friday night

Crab Fair truly kicked off with the annual ‘Dancing in the Street’ – hosted by Egremont’s own Stella the Fella.

A scope of local and out-of-town talent took the stage, including Inspire Dance Group.

The group was definitely a performance of the night for some as 21-year-old St Bees resident, Katy Taylor-Hamilton took to the stage following the recovery of her heart transplant.

Crowds were kept entertained until it was time for the pipe smoking competition, which took-place in front of the main stage.

Of the seven competitors that took on the challenge none were a match competition veteran Alan Johnston who made history by winning his 30th title.

He said: “It’s nice to have won – I keep all the clay pipes from my wins and this is my 30th. It’s a great traditional competition.”

Runner up was Howard Kitto and in 3rd was Mark Doran.

Performers Kelly Wilde, Angie Brown and Bupsi returned for another year and were joined by Sonia.

X-Factor 2011 runner-up group, Union J, finished off entertainment for the evening with some of their hits.

The fairground was open for people to enjoy and stalls were available to browse on the main street.

One fair-goer, Jarrod Green, 21 from Cleator Moor, said: “It’s been an excellent night, the acts have been great and it’s been a fantastic turnout.”


SATURDAY was an early start for the Crab Fair with the equestrian events kicking off at 9am.

This was followed by the riding of the boundary – an old tradition in which the horses and ponies are paraded around the perimeter of Egremont for all to see the successes..

It wouldn’t, however, have kept to tradition without the blessing from the High Sheriff the Rev. Richard Lee who blessed the event on Saturday morning.

Crab Fair has many traditions – including the climbing of the greasy pole – in which children and adults attempt to climb the greasy pole, on Egremont main street, as high and as quickly as they can.

Stalls were lined up on the street and entertainment was provided by dancers, local talent and Mokyfit on the main stage after the parade.

Crab Fair is believed to be one of the oldest fairs in the world – dating back to 1267 when the Lord of Egremont started a tradition of giving away crab apples, from where the fair gets its name.

Tradition continued again this year with the Parade of the Apple Cart.

The committee and the Crab Fair Queen threw hundreds of apples into the crowds – this included several ‘golden ticket’ apples, in which the lucky holders of the tickets were in with a chance of winning an iPod.

The festivities continued on the sports field with the terrier, ferret, pigeon, vegetable and craft judging.

Other activities on the field included Cumbrian wrestling and the Jez Avery daredevil stunt show – who left crowds with their hearts in their mouths.

The sports field had an extra special twist to it this year with the launch of the Egremont music festival, Crab Fest.

Headlined by funk-rock band, Late Night Legacy, the band’s frontman, Ryan Kitto, is Egremont born and bred was excited and nervous to play in his hometown.

He said: “I’ve played in front of thousands, but there’s nothing quite like playing in your hometown, in front of people you know and Crab Fair is just amazing to perform at.”

Other bands and acts on the line-up were: Reptilians, The Black Guards and Northern Threads, among others.

Taste Cumbria was another new addition to the fair this year with local produce stalls set up in the Castle grounds and a demonstration tent where Gary McClure cooked up tasty treats.

Crab Fair teamed up with McClure and the four local primary schools – St Bridget’s, Bookwell, Orgill and Thornhill – to take part in cooking practicals.

Saturday Night

SATURDAY night in the Market Hall may not sound glamorous – but on Crab Fair it’s the place to be.

A truly family event, it kicked off with the junior talent contest.

Youngsters prepared their best a cappella songs to be in for a bid at winning the contest.

Crab Fair Reserve Queen, Connie Dougan, won gold with a dance.

The horn blowing, hunting and comic songs contests were a crowd favourite adding to the tradition of the fair.

‘Dave the Wig’ travelled from Lancashire for a second time to take part in the Crab Fair and came second in the comic and hunting songs contest.

He said: “This is my third time coming to the Crab Fair and I just love it. The atmosphere, the people the warm and friendly welcome, it’s just so brilliant.”

The main event took off with the Junior World Gurning Championship – where, after dozens of youngsters took part 6-year-old Bookwell pupil, Lexi Park came out victorious, winning for the first time.

She said: “I’m really chuffed to have won, I entered last year and got second. I didn’t practice a lot, but I tried really hard.”

Claire Spedding retained her title as Women’s World Gurning Champion, her fourth win and third consecutive win.
She said: “It means a lot to have won, I’m very chuffed and excited to have won on the 750th year. I don’t ever practice and the competition is really tough.”

Ms Spedding asked the audience to raise a glass to the late Anne Woods had won the competition 28 times before passing away in 2015 – the crowd was then encouraged to dance to the song ‘You’re gorgeous’ in her memory.

Contestants for the women’s gurning came as far as the US as Angelique Newman, from Hawaii, and her best friend Catherine Everett, from Philadelphia, headed to Egremont especially for the fair.

Miss Newman said: “I came over here 10 years ago and heard about it and thought that sounded quirky and so we decided to come and take part this year – the fair has been so much better than I expected it to be.”

Miss Everett had more luck as she placed third in the ladies gurning.
She said: “I’m actually really impressed with myself for placing. The entire experience has been excellent and really awesome.”

Several gurning legends turned out to pull a face for the chance to win, the men’s gurning but it was the 2016 winner Adrian Zivelonghi who retained the title of men’s World Gurning Champion.

Mr Zivelonghi, 50, from Coventry, said: “I’m over the moon to have won, I think why me? I don’t like fame and I don’t do it well, but it’s amazing, I still can’t believe it.”

Runner up was 17-times winner Tommy Mattinson, from Aspatria.

In third was seven-times winner, Gordon Blacklock.

He said: “I really enjoyed entering the gurning, I’ve never missed one since I started coming to Crab Fair and I’m happy to have placed.”

Gurning is when contestants put their head through a braffin (horse collar) and ‘snarl like a dog, look savage, distort the countenance’.

Those with no teeth have a natural advantage in the contest, because they can move their jaws further up.
Some toothless gurners have even been able to cover their entire nose.

The Egremont Crab Fair has been going since 1267 and gurning itself has been a fixture of the event for centuries.
Crab Fair Committee Chairman said: “I think the 750th celebrations have gone very well indeed – it’s definitely been a success.

“The weather, though we had a little bit of rain, was ok for September and we’ve had thousands turn out for the fair.

“This year has been a momentous year and I think we’ve done it proud – we went bigger, adding in new events, like Crab Fest, and that’s been a huge success.

“Crab Fair couldn’t happen without the team of volunteers that make it happen and a lot of hard work has gone into making all this happen, it also couldn’t happen without the people of Egremont who attend all the fundraisers throughout the year and, of course, the main event.”

Mr Foster also thanked all the sponsors and supporters, including Egremont Town Council and Copeland Community Fund.

Copeland Mayor, Mike Starkie, attended various events at Crab Fair, to support the traditional festival.
He said: “The 750th Egremont Crab Fair certainly lived up to expectations, it was a fabulous event and the relatively small group of volunteers who have worked so hard to deliver a first class event have succeeded and deserve huge credit.

“It was without doubt the best Crab Fair of my lifetime and has laid a great foundation for the future of Egremont Crab Fair to continue to prosper and become one of the best small town festivals in the country.
“This weekend a vision and hard work have come together to deliver a fantastic weekend of celebration, well done to everyone who was involved.”