From modest ambitions to major attraction - Hunton Steam Gathering near Catterick

Thirty-four years ago the villagers of Hunton, between Bedale and Leyburn, were gifted land in lieu of a housing development. The parish council wanted to create a new children’s play area, but had very little money.

David Robinson getting his 1932 Bedford WS wagon ready to take to the Hunton Steam Gathering. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

Pub landlord David Robinson was approached to help raise funds through his and his wife Pauline’s then recent acquisition of what was then The Oddfellows Arms. David later changed the name to the Countryman’s Inn – and the Hunton Steam Gathering began gathering steam.

“I was born in Hunton and the lady who asked was chairman of the parish council. She was the village blacksmith’s daughter and remembered me being born. I asked how much there was in the kitty, which proved very little and investigated how much the proposed play area would cost. When I told her £5,000 was needed for starters I think she was gobsmacked.

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“I said the only thing I knew about was vintage machinery. I’d started collecting old thrashing machines and tractors, particularly international tractors. I got a little social event going as I had an acre or so behind the pub. The lad next door, Richard Dunn, had a farm next to my land, so we used the two fields.

David Robinson getting his 1932 Bedford WS wagon ready to take to the Hunton Steam Gathering. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

“The late Jack Whitwell brought a steam engine, we had seven or eight tractors, half a dozen motorcycles and the local army put on a display. That was it. Our total expenses were £108 and we made about £,1000 towards the cost of the play area. It gave us the incentive to have another.”

David Robinson amongst some of his vintage tractors that he will be taking to the Hunton Steam Gathering. Picture by Gary Longbottom.

The Hunton Steam Gathering cost £31,000 to put on last year and is now an event that attracts 10,000 visitors over two days in September. This year it is to be held next weekend Saturday 7 and Sunday, September 8.

“We have only ever missed two years since we started,” says David, who retired when he and Pauline sold the pub in 2002 after 18 years having previously owned their own farm for eight years. “We missed 2001, the foot and mouth year, and 2008 because the fields we now use were three-foot high in water. We had moved to land to the south of the village in 1994 and became a two-day show in 1995.

“The first year we moved it only made just over £300 profit and I’d always said if it didn’t make a profit I wouldn’t bother again, but somebody must have put the jump leads on it the following year because it went berserk. Last year we gave away £6,500 to charities and local organisations, the year before it was something like £9,000.

“This year we already know it has broken all records for entries. We’ve 180 tractors, 100 commercial vehicles, 105 stationary engines, over 100 motorcycles and we will have the largest number of steam engines ever with over 30. In 1986 we used just five acres of land, now we use 80 acres.”

David, being an ex-pub landlord, understands about catering for everybody and tells of the age-old line he has always employed.

“If you haven’t got anything for the wife, the man doesn’t get there! We try to cater for everybody. We have a craft marquee and food stalls; and for the kids we have a fairground, Punch and Judy, a kids’ tug o’ war with a miniature steam engine and a display by the Catterick Beagles.

“There’s also a well organised tractor run on the Saturday morning and the ploughing competitions are held on the Sunday.”

David’s father Bill was a mechanic and he remembers him repairing tractors such as Allis Chalmers, Fordson and International while he was a young boy. “I was born in 1940 and dad repaired them during the war years. I went into farming from school. I started working for Mr Savage at Manor House Farm in Danby Wiske and then Mr Hurwood at North Cowton.

“I drove Standard Fordsons and grey Fergies at that time and worked on thrashing machines. Later in life I collected thrashing machines when nobody else wanted them.”

In his early 20s David took up driving wagons for the animal feed company Teesside Farmers based in Darlington before setting up his own haulage business with one wagon delivering sand and gravel.

“I sold that business to buy a 34-acre farm called The Lodge in Exelby where we had pigs, sheep and new calven heifers. It was when Pauline and I were lambing in a blizzard one night in about 1982 when we both agreed there had to be something a lot better.

“At the same time the pub became vacant, so we sold the farm, bought the pub and two cottages. We made them all bed and breakfast and had eight letting rooms. It was about the time All Creatures Great & Small was on TV and we had the TV crews in and actors like Robert Hardy, Christopher Timothy and Carol Drinkwater would come to eat in the restaurant.”

Hunton Steam Gathering takes place Saturday 7 and Sunday, September 8.