Moreton Show celebrates its 70th anniversary
PUBLISHED: 14:06 05 August 2019 | UPDATED: 14:06 05 August 2019
Septuagenarian Moreton Show is showing no signs of slowing down, says Tom Knight
A 70th birthday might suggest to some that it's time to take things easy but that will not be the case with Moreton Show when it celebrates this special anniversary on Saturday, September 7.
This quintessentially English agricultural show has been a fixture on the Cotswolds calendar since 1949 and chairman, Ed Hicks believes it will continue to grow. He maintains that farmers and countryside lovers will still be gathering on the 165-acre Batsford Estate showground in 2049.
"I can see Moreton Show celebrating its 100th anniversary because it will continue to evolve and there will always be people who want to see it develop and remain part of our way of life in this part of the Cotswolds," said the 54-year-old father of three, who has lived and farmed in Barton-on-the-Heath all his life.
Unlike so many of his predecessors, who were elected chairman of the Moreton-in Marsh and District Agricultural and Horse Show Society - which organises Moreton Show - after many years of being involved in the running of the event, Ed admits to being something of a newcomer.
He said: "My father used to exhibit at the show and I always went to the show but I never thought of being part of the organisation. That only happened with the encouragement of James Coker, who's a friend and neighbour, who also happened to be chairman of the show.
"I agreed to help out in 2013 and worked with the livestock committee and within the space of three years, I was asked, quite out of the blue, by Steve Parkes to be his vice chairman. You could say it was something of a meteoric rise through the ranks. I couldn't believe it and it took me three months to give him an answer because I had to think long and hard about whether I knew enough about the show. I had to then do a lot of work alongside Steve to understand how this amazing show works."
Now in the hot seat, Ed sees his job as supervising Moreton Show's continued development. "I arrived on the scene at a time when the show was undergoing a lot of change and I want to help make the show more financially sustainable in case of bad weather or cancellation. We also need more young people involved.
"The key is for Moreton Show to maintain its agricultural roots while also embracing new technology and making sure that we're delivering what people want to see when they come to a show. It's a difficult balance to maintain."
That balance between the traditional and the new has been at the heart of Moreton Show since the post-war years, when three local societies merged with the aim of staging an event that would improve the breeding and rearing of livestock, hunters and heavy horses and the standard of farming and farm crafts. Those aims haven't changed.
The first show, on the same site at Old Farm in Dorn it has occupied ever since, proved to be the biggest event to have been held in the North Cotswolds, drawing a crowd of 2,000. Admission was five shillings (25p) and the show made a profit of £150. By way of contrast, the 2018 show brought around 25,000 people through the gates while the accounts of the society - which has been a registered charity since 1966 - showed a turnover of almost £462,000.
A new book, Moreton Show - Celebrating 70 Years, traces how the event has moved through the decades and the people who have contributed to its success. Until 2010, for instance, the show was largely put together by just three secretaries. 'Bunty' Pearman was the first and he virtually ran things until 1970, when the indomitable Georgina Attwood became secretary. Known by everyone who knows her as 'Babs' she was in charge until 1995. That's when Tim Gardner, the former Warwickshire District Valuer and Valuation Officer began his 15-year tenure as secretary.
All three of them had to keep their head when Moreton Show faced its toughest challenges. There were cancellations because of foot-and-mouth disease in 1952 and 2001 and, when a month's rain fell on a single day in 2008, the show was called off with only 24 hours' notice when the showground was reduced to a quagmire.
Talk to Babs and Tim about Moreton Show's most testing time, however, and they recall the late summer of 1997, when the show was postponed by 24 hours as the nation mourned the untimely death of Princess Diana. When the scale and magnitude of the funeral arrangements planned for Saturday, September 6 became known, the Moreton Show Council took the decision to move their event to Sunday for the first time in its history. Long before the age of the internet, social media and mobile phones, the team at the Moreton Show office took to the telephone, fax machine and even the postal system to alert exhibitors, sponsors and the local media. According to Babs, who was still very much involved with the show, the delay was welcomed by virtually everyone and the show was a success despite everything. "I don't know how we got through that week," she recalled. "I think I lost a stone and Tim lost two."
Moreton Show has always been quick on its feet, ready to adapt and seek new challenges, which is how it has thrived.
Last year's show was a huge success with glorious sunshine and was best summed up by the Olympic Dressage gold medallist, Carl Hester, who judged the Supreme Horse Champion. "There's something very special about a show like this," he said. "It's a heavenly day out."
It is also something Ed Hicks wants to preserve and grow and he knows that the show's own history suggests he should take nothing for granted. "Moreton Show has evolved into a very high-quality event and when people come, they're seeing the very best that the countryside can offer," he said.
"But we can't ever allow ourselves to feel that somehow we've got this right. We must keep those links with the agricultural and business community strong. It's a work in progress still."
Happy birthday, Moreton Show!
Tickets for Moreton Show are available now from a variety of local outlets, as well as online, and there are considerable savings if you buy before show day. Show day prices, with savings in brackets, are Adults £19 (£16), Children £8 (£6) Family Tickets (2 adults & 3 children) £50 (£42).
For all the details, go to moretonshow.co.uk or call 01608 651908.