Egremont Crab Fair Special

by Rachael Grealish, photos by Robert Haile, Colin Cartmell-Browne & Alan Cleaver

Reigning strong: Maddison Robb won the crown from dozens of talented young girls.

STUNT shows, live music, a greasy pole, terriers, ponies, pipe smoking and, of course, the World Gurning Championship returned for the world’s oldest fair. Thousands flocked to Egremont on the weekend of Friday, September 16 and Saturday 17 to be part of the 249th Egremont Crab Fair.

Celebrations for the fair kicked off with the crowning of the Crab Fair Queen, on Friday September 9. Dozens of young girls danced and tried their hardest to compete for the role, but Egremont 12-year-old Madison Robb, nabbed the crown – with Leah Milton, age 12, from Egremont as reserve.

On the run up to the fair there was a variety of other activities, such as the darts competitions, clay pigeon shooting and the 6km multi-terrain race. Leading up to the weekend itself the main worry for committee was the weather getting out nice – since the flash-floods and raining in previous weeks – but luck was on their side and the sun was shining, with high-temperatures on both festival days.

Friday Night

Thrills and spills: Youngsters loved the excitement of the fairground ride

Thrills and spills: Youngsters loved the excitement of the fairground ride

CRAB Fair truly kicked off on the Friday evening with the annual wheelbarrow race.

This year’s race had fewer competitions than last, with two adult teams, but four youth teams.

Each team had to race down Egremont Main Street, starting at Egremont Rugby League Club.

Each team had to stop for a drink at each pub on the way – beer for the adults and orange juice for the children.

Mathew Bewsher and Wayne Rayson retained their title as three-time winners of the race.

Matthew said: “I wasn’t sure we were going to do it for a minute, but we made it.”

Following the race, local talent took to the stage to kick off the entertainment before the pipe-smoking competition took-place in front of the main stage.

Of the five competitors that took on the pipe-smoking challenge, one was disqualified for spitting out his tobacco.
But none were a match competition veteran Alan Johnston who won his 29th title.

He joked: “If I win next year it’ll be my 30th win – maybe that’s when I should retire?”

Dancing in the Street kicked off with Jennifer Ball covering some classic and modern pop hits – but really excited the kids of the audience with her final song of the evening, Frozen’s ‘Let it go’ – sung alongside stage companion Frozen’s Olaf.

Next up was Johnny Wright – from boy band Frixon.

His fast-beat covers and mixes got the audience going and his Justin Bieber covers got the girls swooning.

Electrifying: Kitty stole the show with an electrifying performance - before technical difficulties arose

Electrifying: Kitty stole the show with an electrifying performance – before technical difficulties arose

For a final song he brought Jennifer Ball back on stage for a stunning spontaneous duet.

The entertainment wasn’t only hosted by Stella the Fella, but he took to the stage like a fish to water; performing an array of 70s, 80s and 90s favourites.

The Midnight Soul Sisters demanded the attention of the audience with their powerful voices and Motown classics.

Midnight Soul Sisters’ bandmate, Lara, said: “The audience were electrifying, just amazing to perform to, one of the best we’ve had it was so much fun.”

Girls Seduction took to the stage – but it wasn’t to be as half way through their set there were electrical difficulties, but that didn’t stop their enthusiasm.

After much anticipation, headliner Kitty Brucknell, stole the stage with an electric performance – though it was cut short due to technical difficulties, leading to Kitty staying for the Saturday night.

Saturday Day

Elegant equestrians: prize-winners riding the boundary

Elegant equestrians: prize-winners riding the boundary

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.

Saturday morning of the fair also saw the Main Street flocked with early risers.

Among the early risers were families with young children.

Many of the events of Crab Fair are centred around children, starting with the Children’s Street Racing at 9am around Egremont.

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.

Heading to new heights: James Cuthbert climbs the pole. Picture by Simon Walker

Heading to new heights: James Cuthbert climbs the pole. Picture by Simon Walker

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.

Following this the Queen made a royal appearance during the parade – waving at her subjects in the sunshine – vehicles at the parade included the local fire service, vintage vehicles, including cars, motorcycles and tractors.

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

There was even an appearance of superheroes (and villains) for youngsters.

A popular activity with children was Ben Burford’s Smiley Train, which was always packed with excited kids.

One of the stalls on the Main Street was Calderwood House.

Rachel Holliday, of Calderwood House, said: “There has been an excellent response from the community. It has been a well organised event, the sun is shining and everyone is having fun while raising money for Calderwood House. It was great to see the residents (of Calderwood House) out this morning litter picking with the rest of the community.”

During the afternoon Rachel moved the stall up onto the field where she, and other Calderwood House staff, were selling Calderwood House branded coffee.

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.

The 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.

Saturday night and World Gurning Championship

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Keep calm and gurn on: 2016 World Gurning Champion, Adrian, finally takes the gold

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.

Young Millie, from Egremont, won gold with a dance – she was later awarded a special prize for overall performer.

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 second 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.

“I just can’t explain the welcome you get from the local people – it’s just bloody brilliant. There’s nothing that can compare it, nothing. The Crab Fair is just something for me to look forward to each year.”

The main event took off with the Junior World Gurning Championship – where, after dozens of youngsters took part 7-year-old Georgia Lister came out victorious, winning for the first time.

Reigning champs (from L-R): 16-times winner Tommy Mattinson; 2016 champion Adrian, from Coventry; Ged Eccles; Womens 3-times champion, Claire Spedding; and Junior champ 7-year-old Georgia Lister.

Reigning champs (from L-R): 16-times winner Tommy Mattinson; 2016 champion Adrian, from Coventry; Ged Eccles; Womens 3-times champion, Claire Spedding; and Junior champ 7-year-old Georgia Lister.

Georgia was part of the perfect mother-daughter duo as her mum, Claire Spedding, retained her title of Women’s World Gurning Champion for the third time.

She said: “I’m really proud of my little girl, I didn’t help her, she just did it all on her own.

“I’m really proud of winning for my third time – entering and being part of it is just really fun and great to come down and take part. Clair won the title in 2013, 2015 and this year – only missing out taking part in 2014 as she has just given birth.”

Kitty Brucknell made up for her performance getting cut short on Friday by performing an array of covers and originals to a crowded Market Hall, along with judging the events of the evening.

She said: “It’s been lovely, the crowds and the audiences were great, it’s been so much fun just being here and being a part of a really traditional and old fair.”

History gained a new face for the ages as there was a new winner of the World Gurning Championships.

After taking part for over a decade and only ever making it to second place, Adrian from Coventry became the World Gurning Championship winner. Adrian drives up from Coventry each year to take part, but had never won – until now.

He said: “I just never thought it would happen, I never thought I would get here and win. And to beat such legends I’m just absolutely made up, it’s brilliant – so chuffed.”

Tommy Mattinson – who’s won the gurning 16 times – was in to win after being beaten by Gordon Blacklock in 2015 – but Tommy was placed 2nd and Gordon didn’t place in this year’s competition.

Ged Eccles placed 3rd again this year, the same as 2015.

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.

Contestants had came from all over the UK, including London and Scotland, to take part in the tradition.

Oscar Byrne had travelled all the way from London to compete.

He said: “Coming to the gurning is quite a family thing for a long time and it’s always been an ambition and I’ve always wanted to come and compete. It’s thanks to my girlfriend; she made it happen and I’ve had a brilliant time.”
Ginge Fullen, who came from Scotland, took part in the gurning as part of a bid at a world record.

The Gurning World Championships was his 23rd time taking part in a world championship competition – his intention is to take part in all the ‘silly’ or traditional world championships in the UK.

Ginge currently holds a world record for climbing the highest mountains in 170 countries.

He said: “I heard of this and I really wanted to take part, all the competitions I take part in are silly, traditional or fun and this one has just been great.”

At the end of the evening Kevin Brown paid tribute to Arthur, a committee member who died this year, and commended the hard work of all of the committee members – with a special note to Stuart Flemming, aka Stella the Fella, for making Dancing in the Street happen on Friday evening.

The Egremont Crab Fair has been going since 1267 and gurning itself has been a fixture of the event for centuries.
Callum Scott, Crab Fair committee secretary, said: “It’s been a really fun and a really great Crab Fair. It’s seemed to have drawn in more crowds and that’s great.

“We’re just looking forward now to the 750th, which we want to be huge. We’re just hoping for more committee members to help us really celebrate the Crab Fair next year.”

Next year the fair will celebrate its 750th anniversary.

Check out other photos from the weekend in our slideshow below:

  • A new member? Paw Patrol joins in with Mokyfit