Corby Pole Fair: Thousands turn out for ancient festival held once every 20 years

Viking re-enactors at the Pole Fair. Credit: ITV Anglia

Thousands of people have gathered in a Northamptonshire town for the return of an ancient festival held every 20 years.

The Corby Pole fair dates back to the 13th Century, when Queen Elizabeth I granted the town a charter in 1585, but some say it's after the monarch was rescued from a bog by villagers. 

The day starts with the bells of St John's Church in the Old Village ringing out to wake all the villagers for the celebrations, before the reading of the ancient charter at 6am. 

Puppets parade through Corby Old Village. Credit: ITV Anglia

The event attracts around 20,000 people, showcasing Corby's heritage, historical re-enactments, Viking traditions, dancing and the reading of the Royal Charter.

Historically, the Pole Fair has included the challenge of the Greasy Pole, where local people try their best to climb a greased telegraph pole for a chance to win a joint of ham.

Due to changing health and safety regulations, organisers say they are unable to hold an open competition this year. Instead, a ceremonial pole has been put up.

The event has been going for centuries. Credit: ITV Anglia

Denise Westwood, Chair of the Pole Fair Committee, hopes this year's event will inspire a new generation to get involved in the next event.

"My first one was 1962 and now I am running this one. It is a hard task but it it so fun.

"The big 20 year gap gives the event a certain resonance, because if you have something every year you go every year. But you remember it when you have been there 20 years ago.

"The whole village gets closed off to traffic. We have Vikings in the village, jousting, music, people acting out stories, competitions and a free picnic for children."

So why is the Corby Pole Fair held every two decades? Nobody knows.