Cotswold town calls foul on fair: Gypsies gathered at Stow-on-the-Wold are alarming the Volvo-driving classes. Will Bennett reports

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The Independent Online
THE SMELL of horse dung mingled with truck diesel fumes and the stench of cooking beefburgers. Outside a pub in Stow-on-the-Wold yesterday, broken plastic beer mugs littered the ground.

In the narrow lane that links the Cotswold town to the village of Maugersbury, more than 2,000 gypsies were drinking, gossiping, hailing old friends and haggling over the price of horses.

It was a shambolic scene not at all in keeping with the pristine streets of Stow. Those shopkeepers who had not closed for the day stared at the chaos with a mixture of horror and resignation.

Stow is picture-postcard land. It has a restaurant called the Epicurean Bistro, a glut of antiques shops and its houses are straight from the pages of Country Life. The divide between its people and the gypsies, who have gathered twice a year for the past century for one of Britain's biggest horse fairs, is total. For a few days the world of the Volvo meets that of the Ford pick-up.

Three hundred yards from the car park of the Bell Inn - packed yesterday with drinking gypsies - Maggie Cox runs a neat shop which sells designer clothes and hires out ballgowns. Mrs Cox said: 'I am unhappy about the fair and most of the shopkeepers are. Some of the gypsies are gorgeous but some are not. The kids come in here with their chips and they are uncontrolled.

'The young lads who come in here with their girlfriends can get very stroppy. It is aggravating and I lose a lot of business and so I am actually considering closing down next time the fair comes here.'

There is doubt about the future of the gathering which has developed from a general fair established by Royal Charter in 1476. Cotswold District Council has issued enforcement notices to prevent the gypsies parking their caravans in two fields at Maugersbury.

The biggest field was bought by four gypsies last year and they have effectively become the fair organisers. The council says that they are breaking planning regulations by parking there as well as causing problems for local people.

Maggie Brown, chairman of the council, who inspected the fields yesterday, said: 'If a suitable ground could be found for the fair I would be very happy. Unfortunately the travellers don't want to use such sites. At the moment it is too near Stow and Maugersbury.'

Superintendent John Parsons, the divisional police commander, said: 'You get some minor shoplifting offences and one man drew a knife in a pub on Tuesday, but we have not had major problems. You get a lot of human excrement in the hedgerows which the locals get upset about.'

The gypsies believe the council's real aim is to close the fair. Joe Buckley, from Kent, said: 'They are just trying to stop it by back- door methods. There's nowhere else to go and if we park on the roads the police will be on to us.'

But he had more pressing concerns than the battle which the gypsies' lawyers said they will take to the European Court of Human Rights. He needed to find water to wash the mare he planned to sell.

That done, he would join the crowd outside the Bell where a youth was 'flashing' a horse, leading it at a fast trot to impress buyers. It was bought by a man peeling pounds 50 notes from a wad. There was not a credit card to be seen.

(Photograph omitted)