The return of the Derbyshire County Show
- Credit: Ruth Downing
Unless you have been hiding behind a hay bale, you will know that the countryside and farming have never been more popular.
With celebrities like Kelvin Fletcher and Jeremy Clarkson popping up on the small screen to demonstrate that a farmer’s life is a bit more complicated than Old MacDonald’s, we are beginning to appreciate the sheer hard work that brings the food to our plates.
And, largely due to the pandemic, we have all been spending more time in the great outdoors, with long walks in the countryside reminding us just how wonderful the rural landscape on our doorstep is.
It’s this appreciation of all things bucolic that means this year’s 140th Derbyshire County Show could be the biggest and best yet and, after a two-year hiatus, there’s no one looking forward to the event more than Edward Hicklin.
The show, he explains, is in his blood. His very earliest memory is sitting in the back of his grandad’s truck at Elvaston Castle and helping to knock pegs in to mark out the showground together.
‘It must have been in the seventies,’ he recalls.
‘My Grandad was the director of the show at the time. The thing I remember most were the characters and people that were involved then – it felt like one big community, and everyone knew each other.
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‘The show has been a big part of my life since I was eight years old, it’s in my family’s blood, and the same is true of many farmers in and around Derby and Derbyshire – it’s one of the biggest events on their calendar.’
A fourth-generation farmer, today Edward is chair of the Derbyshire Agricultural and Horticultural Society, which organise the historic event.
‘The show started life in 1860 as a way for local farmers to display their livestock and we still have a strong agriculture and horticultural element to it, including 130 cattle and just as many sheep,’ says Edward, whose farm is just outside Chellaston.
‘However, it is much more of a family day out these days, with something for everyone. Of course, we’ve still got cattle, sheep and shires and all the things people don’t have ready access to and it gives us in the industry a great opportunity to talk about how our food ends up on our plate and acts as a shop window for the wonderful produce that is grown locally.
‘But we have to evolve and recognise there are lots of things you used to have to travel a long way to see which are now available at your fingertips, with the touch of a button, thanks to advances in technology.
‘So, we try to put on a broad range of attractions that appeal to young and old, a real family day out with vintage cars, fairground rides, local food traders as well as more than 1000 animals and 500 different breeds, from bees to bulls, joining us.’
While this year is the 140th show, there have been a several occasions when the event has been cancelled – during each world war, the foot and mouth epidemic, when the showground was flooded and – in the past two years – Covid-19.
‘Two years ago, our plans were coming along nicely, with a lot of the schedules for various classes - like floral art and the dog show - already in place,’ says Edward.
‘It was only really in November last year that we took the brakes off and got going again as we still weren’t completely convinced we’d be able to put a show on. We were nervous – we’re a charity and nobody gets paid, we’re all volunteers and we don’t have masses of money behind us.
‘With that in mind, it was really important we give value to the county show and not waste time and effort. But now it’s full steam ahead and we’re picking up the show we should have had in 2020.
‘It’s not easy to come back after a two-year absence and it’s a real credit to our team here that they’ve been able to persevere - despite uncertain times - and have that grit and determination to carry on.’
This year’s event, held at Elvaston Showground, has all the usual attractions including livestock displays, heavy horses, vintage cars and tractors, light horses, craft stalls and floral displays.
And new for this year will be Shetland pony racing, giant tortoises and a performance from the lumberjack sports team the Welsh Axemen.
Helping Edward and the committee organise the event is newly-appointed show secretary, Claire Bowman.
Although not from a farming background herself, Claire is a keen horsewoman and has been visiting the show for more than 40 years.
‘The secretary’s role is a huge job and very diverse, but I feel I am starting to get to grips with all sorts of things that I had never expected I’d need to know – like arranging portaloos, marquees and heras fencing,’ she smiles.
‘Work to organise the show starts around eight months beforehand and we have spent a lot of time looking at introducing some elements we believe are fundamental in moving the show forward and making it more sustainable – for example online ticketing.
‘While all the traditional rural elements are returning, we have also brought in new attractions such as donkey rides, Shetland pony racing and alpacas, which visitors will be able to take for a walk.
‘We have Last Man Standing – which is a bit like the TV show Total Wipeout – and a big climbing wall, as well as performances from the Welsh Axemen and Stanage Stuntmen.
‘I really think this year’s show will be that perfect blend of the old traditional favourites, with enough new elements to entertain every member of the family.’
Claire and Edward hope the runaway success of reality TV farming shows such as Amazon Prime’s Clarkson’s Farm, BBC One’s Kelvin’s Big Farming Adventure and Channel Five’s Our Yorkshire Farm, will inspire members of the public to come along.
‘In lockdown the countryside became more well used because people were getting out and about, looking over hedges and chatting with people they bumped into,’ adds Edward.
‘Not only were more people exploring the local countryside on their doorstep, there was also a huge increase in families rearing chickens and growing vegetables and I think that has sparked a new-found interest in the rural way of life.
‘It’s been a difficult two years, but it feels as if we may be coming out of the pandemic with a greater appreciation of farming, which is brilliant.
‘It is extremely hard work and we cannot do it without our fantastic volunteers who give up hundreds of hours every year to do everything from publicise the show to run the car parks, but it is an important date on the Derbyshire calendar.
‘And visitors will join us in celebrating not only the prime of the region's agricultural industry but also enjoy demonstrations, food, shopping and much, much more.’
This year’s event is being staged on June 26. Tickets purchased in advance cost £10 adults, while under 16s are free of charge. Tickets are available at www.derbyshirecountyshow.org.uk. Car parking is free.
Words by Sarah Newton