Excitement builds in Otley as England's oldest agricultural show returns after three-year hiatus

The oldest one-day agricultural show in the country returns to its position as the curtain raiser for the summer season in Yorkshire next month and just the thought of it brings a smile to the face of show president and dairy and sheep farmer Nick Houseman.

It will be three years since the last Otley Show and it will be the 211th since the first show in 1796. Nick said that the show, which attracts over 15,000 if the weather is fine, is something that everyone looks forward to and that it still holds an extra special place in the hearts of Wharfedale farmers and farmers far and wide.

“For farmers who don’t generally have holidays this is their holiday. Everyone in the countryside around Otley and Wharfedale has missed the show and many of us won’t have seen each other throughout the past three years. It brings us all together. It will be brilliant to be back.

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“I’ve been coming since I was a little boy and I’m 70 now. That’s well over 60 years. I remember seeing a lot more farmers wearing braces in those days back in the sixties. JB Liddle, one of the greatest livestock showmen, was my uncle and I used to watch him at the show.

Otley Show committee

“There weren’t any Holsteins or Limousins in the show rings at that time. The big dairy breeds were Friesians, Ayrshires and Dairy Shorthorns with a few Jerseys and the beef breeds were Herefords, Angus and Charolais.”

Claudia Beutelspacher is the show secretary based in the Otley Show office just over the bridge from the showground heading into town. Claudia started as assistant show secretary four years ago and said she understands just how much the show means to both the farming and non-farming community.

“I got a real insight into how important Otley Show might be when we had to cancel it. Such a lot of people were asking about it and two people who enter the handicraft competitions created their own, independent online shows raising funds for charity.

“Where our office is situated people are constantly coming in and buying tickets and telling us how excited they are that the show is back this year.”

Claudia said the show relies upon the huge army of volunteers right the way through from car park attendants to the executive committee.

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“Mark Lofthouse is chair of the showground committee. He tells me where things can go and organises all of his team. There is so much work done throughout the year and the week before the show it is buzzing with activity.

“Our new show chair is Jane Crossley who also heads up the horse committee and we have many local farmers on the sheep and cattle committees including David Wilson, chairman of the sheep committee, and Frank Broadhead, chairman of the cattle committee.

“Martin Lister who is the landowner of the showground is always involved too and directs traffic on to the showground.

“There are many more as we have so many classes from baking to tug o’ war and handicrafts to terrier racing. Our main ring attraction is a quad bike stuntman who we had booked for 2020. We also have alpacas and our popular giant tortoises.”

Claudia said that the financial impact of missing the 2020 and 2021 shows has been minimised by prudent housekeeping but that there is a need for new volunteers to come forward.

“When we cancelled the show in March 2020 I was so absorbed in my secretarial duties that I hadn’t been paying much attention to the news, but a week before the lockdown announcement came, the executive committee met and it was off.

“We immediately started planning for a special show in 2021 but then the Delta virus put an end to it.

“The first cancellation was the most expensive because we had already booked everything. We were bound by contracts and we were only eight weeks from show day. We didn’t do too badly in 2021 as we had minimised our expenditure.

“Where we have some gaps to think about is because we’ve had a few who have retired from the committees. Under normal circumstances we would have had new people coming in to replace them already but that hasn’t happened. It’s a challenge for us to find replacements.”

Nick said that he is very hopeful Otley Show comes back with a bang on entries in the livestock classes.

“We haven’t a clue what entries we are going to get but Otley Show has always been seen as the opener to the season and many showmen and women look forward to it for that reason.

“Everyone wants to bring their stock. Our dairy numbers are still very good despite there not being as many dairy farmers in this area. And our sheep numbers just keep getting bigger.

"There are now so many breeds, including rare breeds, that all add to the show.”