A chat with exhibitors and organisers at Heathfield Show, Heathfield - Sussex

PUBLISHED: 16:59 15 June 2010 | UPDATED: 17:20 20 February 2013

A chat with exhibitors and organisers at Heathfield Show, Heathfield - Sussex

A chat with exhibitors and organisers at Heathfield Show, Heathfield - Sussex

With the Heathfield Show bigger and better than ever, Sussex Life talks to some of the exhibitors and organisers behind the event which is now the largest one-day agricultural extravaganza in the south of England

With the Heathfield Show bigger and better than ever, Sussex Life talks to some of the exhibitors and organisers behind the event which is now the largest one-day agricultural extravaganza in the south of England

Douglas Andrews

I suppose it was a bit of a silly question, really. There isnt really a typical day for me, Douglas laughs.
We make and repair wooden wheels for carriages, carts and veteran cars, and we also make and repair the vehicles themselves.
After a four-year apprenticeship with David Bysouth at Three Cups, Douglas continued to work there until taking over the business in 1997. Ten years later he moved the workshop to the current Heathfield site, and hasnt looked back since.

Its been a bit quiet this winter, but were ticking along, he says. Theres two of us here, and Ive been exhibiting at the Heathfield Show ever since I started. Its just up the road, and we get to see our customers and the same people again and again; its nice from that point of view.

For Douglas, the biggest problem is working out what to take to the show to demonstrate.

Ive had times when Ive had to get things finished for customers for the show at the moment I dont know what Im going to take up there. Ive got a set of four wheels I might be able to spoke up that should work about right. It depends on what work Ive got in, and although Ive got a set of demonstration wheels, its better to work on real stuff.

As far as the typical customer goes, its a broad church. We get all sorts of people, says Douglas. We do a lot of veteran motor car wheels for collectors and museums. Ive done work for the Royal Engineers at Chatham, and we also do a bit of work on windmills and watermills. I made the water mill at Winchester City Mill, and Ive also done some work at Windmill Hill in Hailsham; we find ourselves doing all sorts of things others cant do, like framing for motor car bodies, steering wheel rims, bespoke furniture even ironwork Ive got a forge here too.

With only around 20 firms in the country as competition, it looks like Douglas might have his hands full for years to come, too.
So whats the show like for a wheelwright? I dont get much chance to wander about, unfortunately he says. Thats one of the problems of having a stand; I try to, but you dont always get a chance to walk around and enjoy the show.

David Unsworth White
Ground contractor

When you turn up on show day, youre unlikely to give much thought to the infrastructure of the site. But have a good look around, because the organisation of the show is almost a year-round job for a number of committees.

David Unsworth White is the ground contractor, and also part of the family that owns the site the show is on.
I met my future wife on the show council - we had both been dragged into the show by our parents years before. It was started just after the war and run by the local NFU branch to raise money for the local hospitals, and it got bigger and bigger.

Run on the current site since the early 1960s, the showground totals 46 acres, not including the car parks.
Obviously this affects the way we farm it, says David. I got involved with the show when my father was secretary back in the 1960s, and Ive been involved on and off ever since.

With six committees and six sets of meetings throughout the year, the show is a logistal masterpiece. Two weeks before the show date, a work party arrives at the showground, and begins marking out all the stands and the rinds and erecting rigs and crowd barriers. The week of the show exhibitors begin to arrive and they need to be supervised but, as David explains, theres plenty of volunteers on hand to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Were very fortunate that weve got a lot of people who have been doing this for a long time, so theres a vast pool of experience. Weve always managed to get youngsters involved in it, and that makes a big difference because they come in with ideas.

Thats why the show has survived, he says. Weve moved with the times, and were always looking for new ways to develop.
With health and safety a constant concern, show day for David isnt a particularly relaxing affair: Im wandering around all day just keeping an eye on things, he says. On the day, if Im lucky and nothing goes wrong, I dont have too much to do. After the show we have all the clearing up to do, which takes about a week or so, and we also have the Burwash Souts come in on the Sunday to go litter picking, which is a great help.

Sue Watson
Show Chairman and
cattle exhibitor

For cattle exhibitors, preparation for the Heathfield Show starts early in the year, with an animal selection process. Sue explains: We look out for cattle that are elegible in about January, and then we pick them out, nurture them, shampoo and dry them, walk them and train them.

To the untrained eye, cattle look much alike but to the enthusiast, theres plenty to look for. We look for something with a leg in each corner, laughs Sue. Theres got to be some growth and something about them a presence. They often stand above the rest. When you look at one, you know.

A hotly-contested battle showing cattle is something Sue was introduced to at an early age.
My parents used to show Guernsey cows at Heathfield, and we were dragged along as children. Its a tradition more than anything.
The show is a bit of a shop window really; people can see the quality of your stock. Ben, our herdsman prepares the cattle which go to the show on the Friday, and then looks after them overnight and shows them on show day.

Sue hopes to watch but, as she explains, being Show Chairman in addition to an exhibitor can make things fairly hectic.
The week prior, Im on the showground all week. Im generally making last-minute decisions; we start preparing for the show the week after the previous one. Its a great commitment, but one has to have a passion for it. Theres a core of people giving up their time and expertise to make sure its the success it is, and thats what makes it work. Ive got an amazing team.

In terms of the future, Sue is also confident that Heathfield Show, still the largest one-day agricultural show in the South, is not only secure but is a developing entity.
A couple of years ago I had a vision of re-introducing pigs, and in three years weve gone up from 10 pens to 43 pens, so theres huge growth there. Weve maintained our agricultural content, and theres a real passion for the show. Weve got a good product and people love the show; its a place to party, see people, meet old friends and meet new ones.

Visit the Heathfield show on Sat 29 May, and make sure you put next year's date in your diary Sat 28 May 2011. If you want to support the show, you can apply to become a member which offers exclusive advantages on show day. For more information about the show and how to get tickets, see our website sussex.greatbritishlife.co.uk

Heathfield is near the junction of the A267 Eastbourne to Tunbridge Wells route and the A265. It is about 16 miles from Eastbourne.
It has no railway station. The last passenger service to the town was in June 1965.
The Showground is approximately 2 miles east of Heathfield on the A265.
Satnav: TN21 8XJ

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