When the warning bells about COVID-19 were first sounded back in January, few, if anyone in the north Cotswolds thought for one moment that the ramifications would affect the area’s premier agricultural show scheduled for the first Saturday in September. It was surely too far away.
Like every other public event of any size, however, Moreton Show accepted its fate in early June and took the difficult decision to call a halt to all its preparations. It meant that, for only the fourth time in its proud history, Moreton Show would not be taking place.
Previously, it was foot-and-mouth disease in 1952 and 2001 and then an untimely deluge in 2008 that forced Moreton Show to cancel and – like those years – there was no alternative. Moreton Show chairman, Ed Hicks said: ‘We’d obviously been monitoring government guidelines on social distancing and it became clear that the prospect of staging any big event was still a long way off. Cancellation means that we’re probably looking at losses heading towards £100,000, which counts for little besides the far more significant and personal losses suffered by families throughout the UK.
‘Like events all over the UK, we have to look ahead and consider the future. This is a big show, a major feature of the Cotswolds calendar which celebrated its 70th anniversary last year. We have to make sure it’s still around in another 70 years. We waited for as long as we could before making this decision but it was important to make it in order to offset more losses.
‘Moreton Show is very much a community event, where people meet and trade and learn about the countryside and the rural way of life. It’s heartbreaking for everyone involved because so many people put so much time into making it one of the biggest one-day agricultural shows in the country. Above everything else though, we had to ensure the safety of everyone involved. This includes our visitors, the exhibitors, the traders, members of the society and all the volunteers and staff who work on the show as well as everyone in Moreton-in-Marsh and the wider community.’
The response from across the country was overwhelming, including on social media, where comments included: ‘We as a family love Moreton Show. Thank-you for making a brave and responsible decision. Good luck for 2021.’
The stakes are high for Moreton Show and its organisers, the more elaborately-named Moreton-in-Marsh and District Agricultural and Horse Show Society. As well as being a vital social event in the north Cotswolds, where farmers and the farming community connect with the general public, it’s a registered charity with charitable causes listed as ‘providing the improvement in the breeding of livestock, hunters and heavy horses and improving the standards of farming and farm craft’.
Over the years and especially since 2009, the show has grown to encompass more ways to embrace those charitable aims and educate crowds from across the UK about farming and agriculture in this part of the Cotswolds. Regularly attracting gates of up to 25,000, Moreton Show boasts more than 2,000 animals, including the National Poll Hereford Cattle Show and equestrian competitions in five rings as well as the Grand Arena. Shoppers enjoy the 350 trade stands while the ever-expanding food halls now attract the very best in local suppliers.
Said Ed Hicks: ‘Our appeal lies in being a successful one-day show for all the family while also improving our relationship with farming and rural activities. This is perfectly illustrated in the Farmtastic section, set up a couple of years ago by Simon and Sarah Righton, who run Old Farm, on Lord Dulverton’s Batsford Estate in Dorn, where the show has been set since 1949. In a corner of the 165-acre showground, they’ve established a miniature version of their own farm, complete with pigs, chickens, goats and alpacas. Children and their mums and dads love getting up close and personal with the animals.’
Established in 1949 by locals who knew a thing or two about longevity, the Moreton Show society was built to last. It could have fallen after the first catastrophe in 1952, when post-war Britain was rocked by foot-and-mouth disease but the society took cancellation in its stride. Addressing the annual meeting, the chairman, Major Geoffrey Shakerley said: ‘This is the first serious reverse our society has had to face but owing to the sound principles on which it has been built, we are able to meet the situation with some confidence.’
The same confidence has seen the show come through a few financial scrapes since then. When, in 2008, the show was called off with only 24 hours to go after torrential rain and local flooding rendered the showground unusable, local newspaper reports quoted losses of ‘between £175,000 and £200,000’ and it was widely acknowledged that the show was saved after two difficult years by the generosity of traders, sponsors, suppliers and supporters.
According to Moreton Show vice-chairman and estate agent, Tom Hayman-Joyce, the show’s reputation and resilience have been vital components of its success. ‘Moreton Show has always been light on its feet in responding to calamities and, as a local businessman, I know how much it means to the community,’ he said. ‘Although we won’t have a show this year, farming and farmers will go on and we’re still here to celebrate the rural way of life, support the industry and the people who put the food on our plates. We’re an optimistic and positive bunch and we’ll look forward to being back on the showground next year.’
The key now for Moreton Show is to plan for 2021, in the knowledge that things may never be the same again. Tom Hayman-Joyce will be chairman for that show. ‘The agricultural show has a pivotal role in the life of the countryside and Moreton Show’s date, on the first Saturday in September means that it holds a special place in the summer calendar. It comes after the harvest and just before children return to school. It’s an important marker in the year and it’s one that will be very much missed by so many families, companies and communities in 2020.
‘Moreton Show has its roots in farming and, like our resilient creative and adaptable farmers, our show will rise to the challenges ahead, cultivate a new approach and, hopefully, reap the benefits on the showground on September 4th next year.’