Pictures by Richard Cave, and additional photography by Mark Bentley. 

A CENTURIES-OLD celebration in Witney is now in full swing as thousands prepare to flock to The Leys for the second day of the Witney Feast.

Fair organiser Emily Wilson said the fair, which will run until 10pm today, looks as though ‘Disney has come to Oxfordshire’.

Despite rain falling on the fair yesterday and overcast weather expected today, it is hoped that 20,000 people will celebrate the feast’s 774th year.

Ms Wilson said: “We had a wonderful set up with no problems at all and the site looks absolutely magnificent.

“It’s like Disney has come to Oxfordshire. It’s a really nice atmosphere and everybody is very jovial.

“We never feel like visitors when we come to Witney - but rather like custodians. We’ve had a very very warm welcome.”

This year’s feast started on Sunday at St Mary’s Church with a traditional service at 6pm with Bishop of Oxford Steven Croft.

The congregation then made its way to the fairground for a second service at 7pm, with the fair getting underway yesterday.

Run by Bob Wilson’s Fun Fairs, the fair at the Witney Feast is the largest in the town and one of the biggest in the county.

Ms Wilson said that one draw of the event was its use of larger, thrill-inducing rides that are unable to be used during Oxford’s St Giles’ Fair due to space.

The usual rich variety of fairground rides, sideshows, food stalls and activities will be available on The Leys throughout the course of the event.

Leader of the town council Toby Morris said the feast is thoroughly ingrained in the history of Witney and its residents.

He said: “The Witney Feast is part of the fabric of the town and, for anybody who’s grown up and been here for all their lives, it’s a part of them too.

“It’s probably one of my favourite things to do as a town councillor because it’s such good fun and it’s steeped in history.

“As well as being important for St Mary’s, it’s also incredibly important for the Wilson’s fun fair, which has been held at the feast for the past 150 years.

“I was talking to the Bishop of Oxford on Sunday and I said: ‘Have you ever heard yourself singing hymns on a merry-go-round before?’ He said no.”

Despite this year’s fair still running, Ms Wilson said preparations are already in place for next year’s feast, as those involved get ready to celebrate a special anniversary.

Ms Wilson continued: “It feels absolutely wonderful playing a part in this Witney tradition.

“We’re now all working on plans for next year’s feast as it will be the 775th so we want to try and do something really different.”

The Witney Feast started in 1243 when King Henry III granted two deer from the Royal Forest of Wychwood to celebrate the rededication of St Mary’s Church.