The Horn Fair Song

Bob Lewis: On Autumn Harvest ah09: Bob Lewis: Drive Sorrows Away. Recorded at the Fife Traditional Singing Festival May 2009.

A rare song associated with the ancient Horn Fair still held in the small Sussex village of Ebernoe. The fair is held annually on Saint James's Day, 25 July (Roud 2482).

1: As I was a walking one fine summer’s morn,
So soft was the wind and the waves on the corn;
I met a pretty damsel upon a grey mare,
And she was a-riding unto Horn Fair.

2: “Now take me up behind you, fair maid, for to ride.”
“Oh no and then oh no for me mammy she would chide;
Besides my dear old daddy would beat me full sore,
And never let me ride on his grey mare no more.”

3: “If you would see horn fair you must walk on your way,
I’ll not let you ride on my grey mare to-day;
You’d rumple all my muslin and uncurl my hair,
And leave me all distress to be seen at Horn Fair.”

4: “Oh fairest of damsels how can you say so,
For to Horn Fair I mean with you for to go;
We’ll join the best of company when we do get there,
With horns on their heads the finest at the fair.”

5: “Now they are the finest horns that ever you did behold,
They are the finest horns and they’re gilded all with gold.”
So merrily, right merrily to Horn Fair we did go,
A jolly brisk couple and all in a row.

The Horn Fair tradition is an ancient one - Horn Fairs were at one time quite widespread and included dancing and dressing up with horns as mentioned in the song. In Ebernoe the fair is held annually on St James Day 25 July. The celebration takes place on the village common and starts at 9.00 in the morning with a cricket match between Ebernoe and a nearby village. While the match is in progress a horned sheep is roasted in the field with a sheep presented by Lord Egremont of nearby Petworth Park. The cricket match breaks at midday and the roasted meat is served - the horned skull kept for later. At 6 o'clock sharp the match stops and the horns are presented to the batsman from the winning side who scored the most runs - and the Horn Fair song is sung by the assembled crowd.

Apparently the song dropped out of the celebration in the 1940s as a result of an argument between the cricketers and the Young Farmers who always led the song. Bob's mother was given the song in the 1960s by her friend Mrs Morrish, a farmer's wife from North Chapel not far from Ebernoe. When Bob asked if he could learn the song, he was told he could as long as he never sang it in public. But one night at a barn dance run by the Young Farmers, Bob was asked to sing it - and, since the president of the Young Farmers was also president of the Cricket Club, all past animosity was declared forgotten. And so the song was reintroduced to the annual Ebernoe Horn Fair.

c p 2010 Autumn Harvest :