Presentation is the characteristic that Allan Duffield will be casting his eye for at next weekend’s Masham Sheep Fair, where he will once again be acting as judge of the Wensleydale classes.
Allan, at the sprightly age of 86 years young, assists his son Richard today at Sunley Woods Farm near Husthwaite, tenanted from Newburgh Priory Estate. This is where he and his wife Margaret took up the tenancy in 1967 and Allan is still going strong.
This week he’s been ploughing on part of the farm’s additional tenanted acreage at Hovingham, next Saturday he will be judging at Masham; and at Countryside Live in Harrogate later in the month he will be back showing.
“We’ve doubled the farm’s acreage since Margaret and I came to Husthwaite from having initially had a smallholding at Staveley near Boroughbridge. We had a milk round for the first six years of our married life having wed in 1960.
“Sunley Woods is largely an arable concern, growing wheat, barley and oilseed rape, with breeding pigs sold as weaners and a flock of around 250 breeding sheep, mainly Lleyns and Texel X. Margaret and I live in the village since handing over the reins to Richard ten years ago. We’ve been very fortunate to have him take over and run the shop. I’m just his boy now.
“I was born just two miles away in Carlton Husthwaite and brought up with livestock. My father and grandfather milked cows at South Kilburn Parks Farm.”
Allan started his pedigree Wensleydale flock through the late Sydney Weighell from Islebeck in 1982 and had his first longwool champion at Smithfield Show the following year. It was the start of almost 20 years of showing at Earl’s Court.
“Sydney came to Sunley Woods one day to buy some potatoes as he earned income trailing them around fish and chip shops. He mentioned that some of his old girls, Wenseydale ewes, would do well up here. He used to go down to Smithfield and it was through him I started going with a very dear friend Roger Field who judged at Masham Sheep Fair last year. We both showed Wensleydales. I had the longwool champion at Smithfield three times and met the late Queen Mother. I’d also go to the Royal Show at Stoneleigh, the Great Yorkshire Show and a few local shows with quite a bit of success.
“Countryside Live is now the only event I still do, but another dear friend Ernie Sherwin is determined to get me to show at the Great Yorkshire again. Although I keep them now more to look at and only have five ewes where I used to have 20, I think I might like to give it one last fling so I’ve had the tup in with my remaining ewes ready for lambing in late January. You never know. Maybe just one more shot if I can. As long as I’m healthy I’ll keep them going. I’ve been fortunate I don’t ail much.”
For now though, Allan is gearing up for next Saturday. “Judging Wensleydales at Masham Sheep Fair, or any show, is all about the presentation. I like to see a clean, well maintained fleece. When you’re judging you go through the whole routine of teeth to the technical qualities and you make sure everything is shipshape before coming to your decision, but presentation is important.
“It’s the fleece that seems to be keeping the interest in Wensleydales as they are sought after by spinners and weavers all over the world. Margaret and I once won the lustre wool class of all England from the British Wool Marketing Board in Bradford.
“One of the best things about showing is that you meet some really nice people and you make a lot of friends. The years we went down to Smithfield were very special and you’d meet up with so many good people.”
It could all have been so different during Allan’s formative years when as a boy he recalls seeing the action from the skies.
“My brothers and I would lean out of our bedroom window and see bombs dropped and tracer bullets being fired as we were close to the aerodromes near the A1. If I close my eyes, I can still picture the tracer bullets that were like a red dotted line across paper. One German plane was shot down by machine guns based at Searchlight Field on Beacon Banks, which became my Wensleydale flock prefix. The tracer bullets once shot a guardsman on the train that was on the railway line to Coxwold. There was a bomb dropped at a farm entrance but nobody knew about it until the next morning.”
Fortunately, Allan and his family were unscathed and farming has remained in his blood.
“I think I’d do it all again if I had the opportunity. Margaret and I are both born from farming stock, her parents farmed at West Tanfield. We’ve lived through some very changing times and goodness knows what’s going to happen with Brexit, but I’m looking forward to judging on Saturday.”