Thousands flock to oyster festival

THOUSANDS of people flocked to one of the headline events of the Colchester summer season this weekend and were transported back to the romance and excitement of medieval times.

THOUSANDS of people flocked to one of the headline events of the Colchester summer season this weekend and were transported back to the romance and excitement of medieval times.

Organisers the Colchester Oyster Fayre Fund, supported by the Colchester History Fayre Trust, promised this year's Colchester Medieval Oyster Fayre would be the best so far. Held in the town's historic Castle Park, it has become internationally recognised in recent years for its wealth and quality of medieval re-enactment and celebration.

And because of its popularity, instead of happening once every five years, it has now become an annual two-day festival.

Grand Marshal Ted Lloyd said yesterday: "We had twice as many people on Saturday as we had last year and the cool weather has been good for us as the people in armed combat do not get too hot and people aren't encouraged to go to the beach instead.

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"Visitors have stayed here for an average of four hours and have found plenty of entertainment. The public have been superb and have been singing the praises of what they have seen. Everything has gone handsomely."

He said next year he would like to increase the number of medieval sideshows run by people in costume to add to improve the fayre side of the event.

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The only thing to mar the weekend was the theft of a pike from one of the stalls. A young boy in the crowd plucked one from a side stall and then ran out of the park, escaping over the fence.

About 4,000 people attended the fayre – sponsored by the East Anglian Daily Times – which boasted a host of attractions, including the spectacle of fighters wearing full armour and brandishing swords, bills and poleaxes taking part in armed combat in the tourney ring.

Another popular offering was the Archer of the Fayre competition, organised by Jess and Theresa Jephcott from Fordham. Costumed entrants from around the country demonstrated the deadly and now rare English Longbow being used with expert skill.

The archers faced a variety of challenges to test their abilities to the limit, including straight forward target archery, hitting a bell to make it ring, shooting a model deer from behind a tree, spinning a popinjay and piercing a cabbage.

The ancient art of falconry was also celebrated and other displays included medieval dancing, recitals of stories and poems, plays and mummers or travelling entertainers to keep the crowds entertained.

A record 70-pitch historic market was one of the event's highlights, with traders from as far away as Poland plying their wares and displaying a range of skills including making puppets, candles, pottery, shoes and musical instruments. To add to the authenticity, some fayre-goers were even accosted by beggars demanding food and alms.

Food played an important role and visitors could tuck into a hog roast or try the speciality sausage stall in the Tudor pavilion. Although Colchester Native oysters are out of season, fresh rock oysters and other shellfish from Mersea Island were available from local growers.

Fayre winners were: Archer of the Fayre, Denis Alston from Wiltshire; lady archer, Pauline Cload (Frog), Berkshire; best spirited archer, Alan Mowditt, Hertfordshire; best dressed archer, Rosie Hardwicke, Gloucestershire; most entertaining archer, Roland Thomas, Gloucestershire; best young archer, Dafyd Craddock, 11; Golden Gauntlet combat winner, Denise Pallett, Oxford.

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