Staxtonbury - the music festival on a North Yorkshire family farm famous for its straw bale teddy bears

The giant teddy bears made from straw bales are back strutting their stuff with guitars and drums as one of North Yorkshire’s most iconic annual rural features returns to announce the farm-based family music festival that has earned local and national recognition in its 12-year history.

Staxtonbury will be held at Manor Farm in the village of Staxton, for the eleventh time between June 30 to July 3, home of arable and livestock farmer and music lover Tony Hill and his wife Helen by the side of the A64.

The festival started out at nearby Spital Farm in 2009 and has grown ten-fold from attracting 500 that first time to regularly hosting 5,000 many of whom attend for the whole weekend with camping also available across the 26-acre site.

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Tony said his love of music from Bob Dylan through to REM, Fleetwood Mac and Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds had led to him being keen on supporting the organisers, local men Ray Roberts and Mark Chaplin, in providing a suitable regular venue as the first had been on a one-year deal.

The festival is Yorkshire's GlastonburyThe festival is Yorkshire's Glastonbury
The festival is Yorkshire's Glastonbury

“It was another local farmer who recommended that Ray come to see me. I was quite open to it and we’ve hosted Staxtonbury ever since.

“The teddy bears idea was Ray’s, but it’s my son Tom and another local lad Ants, who has been with us since leaving school, who design them and put them together. They are a great feature and are made out of round bales.

“They are massive and take a lot of putting up. They are standard-sized bales that are spiked together and pegged two to three feet into the ground, held up by tie wraps and straps. They take about a day to get them up.

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“The guitars they hold are made by Tom and Ants from polystyrene and fibreglass. One is a Fender and the other is a bass guitar like the one Paul McCartney plays. The middle one is the drummer and his drum is made from a 40-gallon drum cut in half.”

The straw bale teddy bearsThe straw bale teddy bears
The straw bale teddy bears

Tony said it is the bears being put into place that signals the start of activity at Manor Farm in the build-up to Staxtonbury.

“We put the bears up for the May bank holiday and from then on there’s probably at least half a day’s work every now and again preparing the grass by spraying, cutting and rolling it. The sheep are already off. One year we didn’t get them off too early and Ray and Mark wanted us to take the sheep muck off, but we didn’t.

“I don’t recall anyone complaining, but we now make sure they’re off well in advance.

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“Fortunately, across the rest of the farm that runs to 940 acres of mainly arable cropping we have 150 acres of grass, and that means we have enough elsewhere for our sheep and cattle.

“We try to top the grass really low if we can and rolling it means it is good to walk on.

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“We give it a final go the day before everyone starts arriving. As it is sandy land it also drains well.

“We host Staxtonbury across two fields with one designated for camping and the other for the stages, arenas, food concessions, bars, trade stands and activities for children.

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“It’s a really wonderful festival with great music from lots of local bands around Scarborough, York and Malton plus some that come across from West Yorkshire.”

Tony said he grew up going to other local music festivals and following local bands, while at the same time making his living from farming having moved to Manor Farm from Seamer in 1972.

“I’ve always loved music. I went to see a band called Running On Empty quite a lot at The Pavilion Vaults in Scarborough because a lad from our village was in the band and they were really good.

“I then saw a lot of really great tribute bands like Limehouse Lizzy.

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“My personal favourite band we’ve had at Staxtonbury over the years has been Snatch from Scarborough. They were more of a punk band.

“The one band that has appeared at every Staxtonbury is Blue Alibi, which has a number of ex-policemen.

“Mark Chaplin is one of the members of the band who will be appearing again this year.”

Tony said he has no other business or management role with the festival beyond preparations for the venue, but that he always looks forward to it and that he’s happy for it to be back after its two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

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“All of us on the farm, including Helen, my brother Brian, son Tom and Ants are not involved with the actual organisation of Staxtonbury other than making sure that we have the ground ready, the bears in place, the fencing up and everything tidy and in order.

“I used to spend quite some time going around filling up the various generators on the site but these days aside from the stages and the bars all the concessions now bring their own.

“I can now spend more time relaxing, walking around the festival, talking with the many friends who come every year and enjoying the bands.

“Two years without the festival has meant we’ve got out of the habit a little, but I’m delighted we are back to it this year and we are all looking forward to two full days of live music from noon to 11 o’clock at night both days.”

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Tony said the local villagers in both Willerby and Staxton have always been very supportive.

“Nearly everybody from around here comes to it and both Ray and Mark do an amazing job in getting some fantastic bands.

“They have also raised a significant amount of money for charities across the eleven previous Staxtonburys.

“I’m extremely proud that we can host what has become such a major music event in this area.

“We might never be Glastonbury, but we certainly give everyone a good time.”