Without the commitment of hundreds and probably thousands of volunteers Yorkshire’s summer agricultural show season just wouldn’t happen. In a world where the phrase ‘health and safety’ has become synonymous with massive insurance costs, the annual turnout of farmers, farming families and country people to ensure their show’s longevity should rightly be applauded.
If you’re stuck in a tailback trying to get into a showground car park or getting hot under the collar because things aren’t going your way at the show, spare a thought for those who have spent the past weeks preparing sheep pens, roped off areas, banging in stakes or who are on the gates. Every single one of them has given their time, often countless hours, for nothing more than the odd cup of tea and satisfaction that their local show is still taking place.
Egton Show celebrates its 130th show on Wednesday August 21 and the man who has been gatekeeper on Gate 2 for the past 45 years won’t be there this year. That’s because a higher office has beckoned and Ben Hutchinson of Primrose Farm, Ugthorpe, who farms with his son David, is show president.
“I was very pleased and proud to be asked,” says Ben who finally sold his dairy herd of 70 Holstein Friesians on their 100-acre farm last spring, after decades of milking with his father Thomas before him, and grandfather Joseph Brown. He told me he doesn’t particularly miss the cows now, being 76 years old, “but I do miss the cheque”.
“Not being on the gate for once I might get to see a bit more of the show at last.
“Normally me and the other lads on Gate 2 only get to see the show in a few half-hour bursts as we each take short breaks. I’ve been coming to the show all my life and this will be the first time where I will be able to take a proper look.”
Ben will be straight back to helping once the show is over too, as the next day he is one of the tidy-up team, another role that visitors coming to shows never see and which also involves many volunteers.
Dave Flintoft, of Bransdale House, Glaisdale, has stewarded the butcher’s lambs classes with his wife Barbara and started out by stewarding dairy cows. He’s been attending Egton Show for more than 50 years and is on the show committee.
“I’m more of a general helper. The fortnight before I’m often at the showground setting up. I used to help with the turning out of the sheep when they arrived at the show and I helped my dad, Gordon who was involved initially with the sheepdog trials at Whitby Show before it folded. I remember showing pigs at Egton with dad. We had a herd of 15 Landrace X Large White breeding sows. We came out of them in the mid-80s.”
Dave also came out of milking cows, but much earlier than Ben. The move they both made is indicative of the massive change that has taken place since the end of the Milk Marketing Board in the mid-90s. Where once the Esk Valley area was awash with dairy farmers, there are now less than a handful. Dave tells of his reason for leaving dairying.
“We had dairy cows until 1997, originally Ayrshires and then British Friesian followed by Dutch Holstein, with a herd of around 50 on our 100 acres, but the cost of putting in a new parlour and other capital expenditure meant the figures didn’t stack up.
“This was a very big milk-producing area and the dairy classes at Egton were always strong. At one time it was said Egton Show had more Ayrshires than were at the Great Yorkshire Show, but sadly those days are long gone.
“We’re still a very strong agricultural show. I help put up the sheep pens and we have a great show of all breeds. We have fabulous competition in the Swaledales, Bluefaced Leicesters, Mules and Texels and we also have many rare and minority breeds that are well represented.
“Our horse, goat and cattle entries bring farmers and stockmen from throughout North Yorkshire and our sheepdog trials, wrought iron and farrier displays and farmers market show just how vibrant this part of the North York Moors and North Yorkshire coast has become.”
Nearly 100 miles away, Malham Show takes place on Saturday, August 24, where Rob Thacker is now show secretary for one of the most beautiful show settings with views of Malham Cove from the showground.
“Malham Show is a real community effort,” says Rob. “I’ve only lived here five years and attended my first show four years ago, so I’m a relative newcomer. It is the many others who have been volunteers for years who deserve all the praise for putting on such a fabulous show that I’m proud to play my small part.
"It is the complete country show with fantastic classes for livestock including dairy cows, pedigree cattle and sheep, food and craft marquee, fell races, gun dogs, main arena activities.”
Television programmes have brought fame to some of Malhamdale’s farmers in recent times and both Neil Heseltine, with his Belted Galloways, and Chris Wildman, with his Town End Farm Shop, are great supporters of Malham Show.
“Drystone walling is a feature of the Dales and particularly around Malhamdale,” says Rob. “Visitors can enjoy how to do it properly by watching our demonstrations from experts.
“The show brings everyone together at 4.30pm when we have an auction of produce. It can be hilarious, is always great fun and we raised £760 last year for Manorlands Hospice. Sam Bradley of Skipton Livestock Market will be our auctioneer this year.”
Rural communities rely upon local people to run far more than just agricultural shows.
As Rob says: “There are many more worthy people than I who have given and continue to give selflessly for the good of Malhamdale and Malham Show.”