Video: Ancient Heathfield event heralds arrival of spring

Cuckoo fair, Heathfield
Cuckoo fair, Heathfield

Spring is officially here. How do we know? Well Dame Heffle opened her basket and let the first ‘cuckoo’ out on Saturday.

Heathfield’s Heffle Cuckoo Fair dates back to 1315 when the Bishop of Chichester obtained a grant from Edward II for an annual fair and weekly market to commemorate St Richard, a former Bishop. It was a livestock trading show and produce market with all the accompanying funfair events.

The fair has grown over the years and is the high point of celebrations at Cade Street, east of the town. Nowadays it raises money for Friends of Demelza, the children’s hospice.

Dame Heffle traditionally released a cuckoo from her basket – now the role of the cuckoo is played by a couple of obliging homing pigeons. On Saturday there was a parade led by Heathfield Community College’s Batacuda band who were accompanied by costumed students carrying larger-than-life-sized models of magical creatures.

Dame Heffle (Pam Fuller) and Pat Clark, chair of Heathfield and Waldron Parish Council rode in a carriage drawn by a miniature traction engine.

Also in the parade, dancers the Knots of May, town crier David Burroughs with his grandson Louie (“he’ll be taking over from me soon,”) energetic cyclists from the Bexhill Classic Cycle Group and the Heathfield Silver Band.

Once at the Cade Street fields, children from St Richard’s Primary School sang Kipling’s famous Heffle Cuckoo Fair song. Hundreds of visitors enjoyed stalls, demonstrations, woodturning, classic cars, novelty and agility dogs, an ingenious ferret game, a gypsy caravan and a parade of tractors.

Organiser Audrey Milton said: “I know we say this every year, but it was the best ever. We’ve raised about £4,000 so far – all for Demelza. Now we are having a good rest.”