The only Yorkshire agricultural show to carry on unique tradition of hay-throwing contests dating back to 1884
Punching above its weight and throwing above its height have always marked Sykehouse Show near Doncaster as the kind of traditional, agricultural show that has continually bounced back after having been stymied by wartimes, foot-and-mouth or latterly the pandemic.
Fortunately, it has always had strong-willed, determined people at its helm, giving time freely, as with many other local shows, to ensure that it carries on its wonderful record since having first started in 1884.
Village resident Jan Threadgold has been involved with the show for over 60 years and spent 30 of those as show secretary, a role she is still having trouble fully shaking off; Simon Nichol, another village resident, has been show chairman for 10 years.
Simon is a farmer’s son from Leavening in East Yorkshire and has a small flock of Easycare sheep. He ran an animal feed delivery business from the village until he and his wife Karen retired in 2013.
Simon said: “It’s like having a classic car stood for three years doing nothing. It takes a bit of starting up again. We’ve lost some of those who would have come with a tradestand or exhibit, either purely because some are no longer with us or have sadly gone out of what they were doing, but we’ve managed to bring it back to life with a lot of effort from everyone and we’re delighted to be back.
“We’ve lots of good things at this year’s show, but what I’d really like to see for future years and the show’s longevity would be new blood. We have wonderful volunteers who we couldn’t put the show on without, but we could do with some new volunteers too. We need people to put a new slant on things, give us innovation."
The show has been held at Poplars Farm since 1970, having had a wandering life through the village previously.
Simon said the status of Poplars Farm as the show venue is wholly down to the generosity of the local farmer who used to farm there, David Fox.
“Without David’s generosity there quite probably wouldn’t still be a Sykehouse Show. When David retired he sold the farm but he kept the field so that the show could still take
place. He’s still very involved with the show as vice president. Without David and our team of volunteers we’d be sunk."
Jan said the way Sykehouse Show punches above its weight is in its cattle and sheep classes.
“We are only a little show. We attract around 3,000 on show day, but we have a good selection of beef cattle and sheep. We have around 30 cattle with classes for commercial and pedigree and a number of showmen and women competing that will take their stock to the bigger shows.
“Our sheep include native and non-native breeds, rare breeds and pedigree Jacobs thanks to Jacob breeder John Fozzard. Peter Ellis and his family also bring a selection of other breeds from their nearby Skylark Farm. John is organising something different this year that I think he’s calling Housewives Choice where ladies from the crowd will choose their own favourite sheep in the show."
Where Sykehouse Show throws above its height is with their unique sheaf tossing competition, a traditional highlight of the show and run by many years by local farmer John Duckitt and now by his son Mark.
Simon said it has always been a highlight of the show.
“I don’t know of any other show that does it. It all relates back to the times when pre-mechanisation in farming farmers and farm labourers would have to toss sheafs high for stacking straw.
“The bar is set at six metres and it is a 14lb bag of hay that has to clear the height with everyone competing having three attempts. Those that clear the bar then go forward to the following rounds where they have to clear an increased height until we get the winner. It’s usually around eight metres that does it."
While Sykehouse Show is still about livestock and countryside life Jan said it has geared itself towards entertaining all of those who come, rather than simply being about winning trophies for cattle and sheep.
“The number of people in this area actively involved in farming is far less and we recognise the need to educate and entertain about agriculture and give people a good time. We are trying to cater for everybody, but the show is still predominantly farming and rural related.
“We have tug-o’-war between Doncaster YFC and an All-Comers team for everyone who wants to have a go on the day. We have a wonderful dog show, dog agility, gundogs, lots of horse classes, heavy horses that the show started with, horse drawn machinery from Richard Haigh, we’ve Annabelle Bradley with her ‘have-a-go’ forge, willow weaving, a birds of prey flying display, classic cars and vintage farm machinery, trade stands and craft stalls with baking, flowers, floral art, vegetables and fruit, and live music."