New role for Nidderdale show stalwart Ken Blakey

Ken Blakey is a retired farmer and president-elect of Nidderdale Show. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Ken Blakey is a retired farmer and president-elect of Nidderdale Show. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Enlisting new blood for any kind of organisation can occur in many different ways, but former farmer Ken Blakey remembers his call-up to Nidderdale Agricultural Society and Nidderdale Show was a done-deal before he’d even agreed.

“Joe Stoney came into my yard one morning and said, ‘We had a meeting last night at the showground. I should have come and asked you beforehand if you’d join the committee, but we’ve put you on anyway.’ As he was leaving, he said, ‘Oh, and by the way, you’re a cattle steward as well.’”

Ken Blakey, president elect of Nidderdale Show which returns on Monday. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

Ken Blakey, president elect of Nidderdale Show which returns on Monday. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The die was cast on what became 30-plus years of show committee and cattle stewarding involvement that saw Ken become chief cattle steward for 18 years. He stepped down from that role a couple of years ago and is now president-elect, a role he will take up following Trevor Stoney’s tenure in 2021.

“It will be a privilege. I will probably be one of the few who has been asked to do it who is not Nidderdale born and bred. I’m from Grassington in Wharfedale, which isn’t too far away, where my grandfather Fred used to be a haulier in the days of horses and carts. He would also maintain the roads before the days of Tarmacadam roads. The Blakey family has lived in Grassington for many generations.

“My dad took on Low Cross Farm on the Hebden road out of Grassington in 1936 and I was born three years later. We had 70-plus acres, milked about a dozen Shorthorn and Friesian cows and had sheep. When we went up to 16 dairy cows in the 50s and had a new shippen it seemed very big.

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“I took over from my father in 1969 and we finished up there with 24 cows before I left in 1983 when I bought Corn Close Farm a mile out of Pateley on the Ramsgill road.

“Whereas at Grassington our farming was all over the place, with plots of land everywhere and home being in the village, at Corn Close everything was more or less in one block and we lived on the farm. It was 75 acres and better land.

“I’d stuck with dairying, bringing the stock with us. The plan was to go out of sheep and milk more Holstein Friesian cows but when milk quotas came in they held us back. We had been assessed on what we’d been doing at Grassington more than what we were capable of doing over in Pateley.

“We had stuck with Milk Marque after the Milk Marketing Board went but came out of dairying in 1998 as there was just too much uncertainty in the milk market.

“The main livestock market we’d gone to when I’d been in Grassington was Skipton, but over here I went to Bridge End at Otley and Pateley Bridge marts. I went to Bridge End with dairy cattle, a few stores and sheep. I took a few beef stores to Pateley.

“We’d upped our numbers to around 34 dairy cows. When we came out of milking I went on to fattening cattle as well as keeping sheep. I bought stores from Pateley Bridge, Skipton and Masham at around 14-16 months and would take them to 20 months. I’d have around 80 at any one time, mainly Limousin, Charolais and Belgian Blue X.

“We’d changed from horned Swaledale sheep to a Mule X Texel flock and now that’s what a lot of farmers are keeping in the dale. Things have changed. There are less dairy farmers and less farmers overall. There are more suckler cows than there used to be.”

Having suffered from asthma and with no family line to follow into farming, his two daughters Janet and Catherine having pursued other careers, Ken and his wife Joan called it a day on the farm when Ken was 63.

“I was bad on my breathing. I’ve had asthma all my life and the hay would hit me when I followed it in. If I’d carried on I wouldn’t have been able to walk up the road by now. I missed farming in the beginning after we’d left it behind but I’ve always kept in touch with it through the show, the committee and I regularly pop down to the auction mart. There’s a lot of good stock at Pateley Mart. This is still a very good dale for beef cattle.”

Ken was no stranger to agricultural shows, as Joe Stoney would have known. He’d been on the Kilnsey Show committee before venturing over to ‘the other side’, swapping Wharfedale for Nidderdale.

“I ran a tractor driving competition at Kilnsey for a number of years and I kept on with the show committee there for a few years before I decided I’d prefer to have a day out, going back to walk around the show and meet old friends rather than the regular show day involvement.

“By then I was already getting more involved with Nidderdale Show too.

“As many others will tell you, when you’re a cattle steward that’s all you see of the show, and that’s no bad thing as Nidderdale attracts tremendously good cattle. What it has always done for me has been that it has broadened my outlook.

“When we first moved here I didn’t know many people, but being involved with the show committee helped with the local farmers and as a steward you also get to know more people from different areas, you make them welcome and become good friends over the years.

“I started stewarding the dairy classes then leaned more to the beef side. I took over as chief cattle steward from Alan Foster of Markington.

“We have such a fantastic range of breeds at the show and the cattle parade is probably one of the best in the county. Lining up in front of the grandstand has to be a proud moment for any cattle exhibitor.”

Nidderdale Show takes place next to the River Nidd in Pateley Bridge on Monday September 23.