Fire, rain, spiralling costs and bird flu - Great Harwood Agricultural Show must go on after 155 years

"The ground has been heavily waterlogged all winter and it’s only just dried out"
-Credit: (Image: Rachael Irod)


Fire, rain, spiralling costs and bird flu. These were just some of the challenges organisers of the Great Harwood Agricultural Show faced in the days leading up to the event on Spring Bank Holiday.

Steven Horrocks, chairman of the show which has been a fixture in the Hyndburn calendar for 155 years told the Hyndburn Lead about what he faced. “It never ceases to amaze me that in the run up to it it’s absolute chaos but come show day everything clicks into place and it runs like clockwork.”

The portaloos arrived last Monday and it was only a matter of hours before “a group of kids” broke on to the site and attempted to set fire to them.

"The marquees have gone up since and now we’re worried about whether local kids are going to spoil the show for the masses,” he said last week. “We’ve put up some security cameras and we’ve informed the police so we’re hoping they’re going to put extra patrols on.”

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Lancashire Police told The Hyndburn Lead they have investigated the report and that the Neighbourhood Policing Team would “make contact with the organiser to talk about security and to try and avoid any further incidents”.

But the site was busy with an army of volunteers working around the clock over the next few days, so Horrocks hoped would-be arsonists will be deterred. They weren’t just contending with rouge kids, however. The volunteers, which number more than 50, were battling the torrential rain which battered the Great Harwood Showground on Whalley Road to set up for the event.

In 2019 heavy rainfall “totally ruined” the show
In 2019 heavy rainfall “totally ruined” the show -Credit:Rachael Irod

In 2019 heavy rainfall “totally ruined” the show but the Great Harwood Agricultural Society invested £70,000 in drainage on the site this year and Horrocks was hopeful it would do its job.

“The ground has been heavily waterlogged all winter and it’s only just dried out so another downpour, with the water table being so high, could potentially upset our show,” he said last week. “But this time of year it dries up really quickly so we’re hoping that even with the rain we should be fine by Bank Holiday Monday.”

The extreme weather – which was predicted to be between 70-90mm in the days leading up to the show – speaks to climate challenges facing farming more broadly. One of the wettest winters on record and a wet start to the spring has left many farmers with waterlogged ground.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs lifted restrictions on poultry at the end of March
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs lifted restrictions on poultry at the end of March -Credit:Rachael Irod

With crops under water and livestock’s health at risk, the National Farmers Union have said flooding and extreme weather linked to climate change is threatening UK food security. They have called on the government to compensate flooded farmers and support domestic food production.

Last month a survey by the NFU found farmers’ confidence is at its lowest ebb in 14 years. Extreme whether is a factor as well as the loss of the EU’s basic payment scheme subsidies.

Bill Bruce, an 88-year-old farmer in Blackburn, has also has his livelihood threatened by alien flu this year. He’s run the poultry exhibition at the Great Harwood Agricultural show since the late 1990s and has been attending since the 1950s, when he’d show cattle with his father.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs lifted restrictions on poultry at the end of March but left Bruce little time to organise his display. No poultry was exhibited at Great Harwood Agricultural Show for the second year in a row as a result.

“We’ve had Covid and bird flu and with the costs of cages and the like I’ve lost half my exhibitors so even if we’d have had the option I’d have daren’t go ahead with it,” Bruce told The Hyndburn Lead.

Last month a survey by the NFU found farmers’ confidence is at its lowest ebb in 14 years
Last month a survey by the NFU found farmers’ confidence is at its lowest ebb in 14 years -Credit:Rachael Irod

“I’ve got the championship cup for poultry at Great Harwood Show from 1906. Poultry was huge at the show in those days.”

Things have changed, Bruce says, at the show in general over the decades.

“It’s a very commercial show now. I’m worried that it’s no longer really an agricultural show. The way that it’s gone it will end up as a three ring circus and a carboot.

“There’s no grand parade anymore. But I can’t say anything wrong about it really. Last year I went and walked about a bit, because I wasn’t busy in the poultry tent, and the crowds were entertained. That’s more what it’s about now. It’s the public you’ve got to suit so I can’t complain but I do worry about it.”

It was Bruce who first roped Horrocks into the show some 20 years ago – literally.

Things got woof in the run up to this year's event
Things got woof in the run up to this year's event -Credit:Rachael Irod

“I started by organising the tug of war and I’ve been chairman now for five or six years,” he says. One of the biggest changes Horrocks has seen since he first became involved is the cost of putting the event on.

“Back then it probably only cost £20,000. This year the marquees alone are £20,000 just to hire. Toilets are £3,000-4,000 and then there’s staff costs on the day. And all of a sudden the shows costing £50,000-£60,000.

“We managed to keep the entry fee down to £10 for an adult but next year they’ll have to go up.”

But last year, “for a first time in a long time” the Great Harwood show managed to turn profit, Horrocks says.

“Everything that we do make we plough back into the infrastructure of the show. Land management doesn’t come cheap either.”

Great Harwood Agricultural Show
Great Harwood Agricultural Show -Credit:Rachael Irod

“It takes some organising,” he said. “We plan it all year. It’s a mammoth task and most of it goes unseen. But it’s a huge benefit to the local economy.

“The event brings people to the local area from all over. People pop in for a drink at the Park Hotel or the Game Cock Inn – it brings business everywhere and it puts Great Harwood on the map.”

You can see more features and in-depth news on Hyndburn from The Lead in your inbox here. You can read this article ‘Beating the weather, torched toilets and bird flu to connect 10,000 people with agriculture’ on the Hyndburn Lead’s website.