Moreton Show 2017: Where the sheep are the stars
PUBLISHED: 12:46 14 August 2017 | UPDATED: 13:19 14 August 2017
Steve Parkes steps up as the new chairman of Moreton Show, this year taking place on September 2
Steve Parkes’s sheep are a woolly and starry flock. They have met HRH Prince Charles, they have starred with Adam Henson on BBC Television’s Countryfile, appeared with Penelope Keith in a series about English villages and walked the Cathedral cloisters with the Bishop of Gloucester.
Their owner is the new chairman of Moreton Show and, as someone once employed as the Princess Royal’s first farm manager at the Gatcombe Park estate in Gloucestershire, he takes the celebrity life of his sheep in his stride.
“My background is working class,” he smiles. “I’ve mixed with people from different worlds all my life and I like to think I can talk to someone from a council house exactly the same as someone born in a manor house. I treat everyone with equal respect.”
Steve, from Stow-on-the-Wold, will be at the heart of Moreton Show, the country’s biggest one-day agricultural show for the next two years. Like the show itself, Steve is also 67 this year. He has worked in farming for more than half a century and is one of the country’s leading breeders of the rare Cotswold Lion - the Cotswold sheep famed for its golden fleece. He is used to breeding champions, having twice won the breed’s champion trophy with Longhorn cattle at the Royal Show in the mid-1990s.
Born in Charlton Kings, where his family lived for six generations, Steve loved the countryside as a youngster and studied agriculture at Hartpury College, near Gloucester before working as a cowman on dairy farms throughout Gloucestershire.
He later worked on a beef farm in Uxbridge, where he watched as the new M25 cut a tarmac swathe through the middle of the farm, before returning to work in the Cotswolds at a farm in Naunton. This is where he first worked with Cotswold sheep and reared English Longhorn cattle.
An advert in the situations vacant column of Farmers’ Weekly saw Steve receive the Royal call-up from Princess Anne’s farm on the Gatcombe Estate. As the estate’s first farm manager, it was Steve’s job to set up everything. “There were no buildings, no cattle handling facilities, no internal fences – I oversaw it all,” said Steve. “I had to buy 200 Wiltshire Horn sheep and I probably exhausted the supply in the UK. Now the breed is much stronger. The fact that Princess Anne bought them probably added to the breed’s popularity.”
Quietly spoken with a glint in his eye, he added: “She was a lovely boss. It was a privilege to work for the Princess Royal.”
From royalty, Steve next worked for The Bard when his vast knowledge of farming and heritage breeds was put to good use on Mary Arden’s Farm at the Shakespeare Birth Place Trust in Wilmcote, near Stratford-upon-Avon.
Last year, one of Steve’s sheep won Champion of Any Native Breed at the Royal Berkshire Show and his beautiful sheep often get the call from TV and radio producers. He recently appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Farming Today, when his sheep helped re-open an ancient Cotswold Sheepwash renovated by Rupert and Amanda Ponsonby at Sarsden Glebe, near Chipping Norton.
“The sheep seem very relaxed about appearing on TV and radio,” laughed Steve about his rare breed sheep. “They’re wonderful, big plodding, docile animals and lovely to work with.
He was invited to join Moreton Show’s organising council some 20 years ago, when the organisation was in need of some young blood. Over the years he has served his dues and sat on more than a few committees. For all his achievements, however, Steve admits to being ‘gobsmacked’ on being asked to serve as vice-chairman when Katherine Loyd, of Seizincote, began her two-year stint at the helm of the Moreton-in-Marsh and District Agricultural and Horse Show Society in 2015.
Steve’s background in farming and the showing of champion sheep and cattle made him the ideal choice to succeed Katherine as chairman of the show, which this year takes place on Saturday, September 2, on land owned by the Batsford Estate just outside Moreton-in-Marsh. But Steve had his doubts and needed persuading to take on the role. It was his daughter-in-law who convinced him that he would regret not seizing the chance to put his stamp on a show that has been part of his life for more than 35 years and vital to the way of life in this corner of the Cotswolds since 1949.
“It’s a great honour to be chairman of Moreton Show,” said Steve. “I feel really proud to be part of such an historic countryside show that’s at the heart of Cotswolds agriculture.
“Farming has been my life and, through working with Moreton Show, I’m able to help promote farming and farmers.”
His right-hand woman at home and at the show is his wife Lynne, who is treasurer and livestock secretary for Moreton Show. They have two children and four grandchildren.
“‘Farming, showing and the countryside are part of our family life,” said Steve.
“We’ve always loved going to Moreton Show. It’s kept its roots firmly in agriculture and the countryside and because I have children and grandchildren it’s great to see how the show has developed as a brilliant place for shopping and family entertainment.
“There’s something of interest for everyone – from Tractor Ted to a champion Hereford bull. People from towns and cities love the see the countryside. I think the popularity of Countryfile has increased the interest in food and farming. And of course, for country people, it’s a great day out.”
Moreton Show is now in its 67th year and it has evolved from its origins as an agricultural show to become much more. It’s now a wonderful mix of farm animals, farm machinery, show jumping, horse showing and 350 trade stands, selling everything from tractors to trendy wellies.
This year sees a relaunch of the show’s Membership Scheme. The new Members’ card comes with discounts in local shops and businesses and there is a revamped Members’ Area at the show, sponsored by Butler Sherborn, offering breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. “We want to boost the membership of the society by giving people something special to be part of,” said Steve.
Moreton Show is on Saturday, September 2.
Tickets are: adults £18 on the day (£15 adv); children (5-15) £8 on the day (£6 adv); family (2 adults and 3 children) £48 on the day (£40 adv).
Visit www.moretonshow.co.uk/show-tickets or call 01608 651 908.