Hunton Steam Gathering: How a pub landlord's passion project became one of Yorkshire's biggest events
David Robinson, then running The Countryman’s Inn at Hunton, is a steam enthusiast with a love for the traction engines, showman’s wagons and fairground rides of yesteryear.
His first rally 36 years ago was held on land behind the pub loaned by a local farmer, and with the help of fellow collectors, he managed to rustle up a number of vintage vehicles for display. That first weekend attracted 1,000 people, and since then the Hunton Steam Gathering has continued to exceed expectations.
Mr Robinson’s motives have always been charitable, and the fair raises money for a number of local good causes. In 1985, it was the laying out of the village play area and green, and over the years donations enabled benches to be bought and litter bins to be provided. A footbridge over the beck was paid for with steam rally funds.
Proceeds have also been given to larger organisations such as the Yorkshire Air Ambulance, Wensleydale Railway, local schools, Scout groups and parish councils.
Now in his 80s, the former farmer and haulier, who collects the vintage tractors and thrashing machines his father, a mechanic, used to repair during the war, sold the pub in 2002, but remains heavily involved as chairman of the show – which now draws crowds of 100,000 to the field between Bedale and Leyburn it moved to in the early 1990s. It has become Richmondshire’s largest event, growing from a site of five acres to over 80.
This weekend the Gathering returns, still run by 60 volunteers on a not-for-profit basis. The exhibits include 35 steam engines, 60 miniature engines, an original set of steam gallopers and an active demonstration of steam ploughing. There are 200 classic cars, 200 tractors, commercial vehicles and motorbikes.
Over the years, a craft and food market has grown alongside the displays, and there will be a bar, evening entertainment and a fairground.
Working demonstrations include vintage forestry machinery, bailing and chainsaw carving, as well as a ploughing match.
Committee member Ben Jobling said: “Over the weekend the site comes alive with the smell of steam, sounds of vintage working engines and fair organs playing throughout the site to create an atmosphere of nostalgia and bygone days.”
Added founder Mr Robinson, who served the cast of the original BBC series of All Creatures Great and Small during his days in licensed trade: “If you haven’t got anything for the wife, the man doesn’t get there! We try to cater for everybody. We have a craft marquee and food stalls; and for the kids we have a fairground and Punch and Judy.”
Hunton Steam Gathering takes place on September 9 and 10.