Best in show as Turriff prepares for the big event

The north east saw some tremendous events in the 19th century, not least the Turriff Show which made its debut in 1864.

The latest show is taking place on August 4 and 5.

The 1860s and 70s are jam-packed with rich and enthralling history – and that includes the founding of the Turriff Show.

Queen Victoria sat proudly on the throne, Greyfriars Bobby stood faithful at his master’s grave, the Cutty Sark took to the Clyde, Alexander Graham Bell patented the telephone, the Tay Rail Bridge was opened – the list of defining moments is endless.

But while those events made lasting marks on Britain’s cultural heritage, the north east of Scotland was experiencing a momentous era of its own. King’s College and Marischal College merged to form the modern University of Aberdeen, Inverurie Town Hall and Banff Chalmers Hospital opened, and Hall, Russell & Co was established as a shipbuilders in Aberdeen.

One that must not be forgotten, though, is that 1864 was the founding year of the Turriff Show.

This year sees the Turriff Show’s 155th anniversary. The loyal committee that has directed the show over the years has developed it year on year, producing what is now Scotland’s largest two-day farming event on the calendar.

Run entirely by volunteers – with the exception of one highly valued show secretary – the show attracts around 30,000 visitors to the heart of Aberdeenshire, as well as hundreds of exhibitors who enter more than 1,550 livestock classes each year, ranging from the best cattle, sheep and horses to working dogs and poultry. That’s despite the falling numbers of people directly involved in modern day farming.

At Turriff, competitors vie for their share of the staggering £88,000 in prize money, as well as for the 320 trophies on offer.

There are even vintage vehicle classes, as well as trade stalls with handcrafts, baking, jam, garden vegetables and flower arrangements with entertainment from Highland dancers.

One of the latest additions to the line-up is a gin and Prosecco bar which, unsurprisingly, delighted the punters in its inaugural year. In 2018, it showcased some crisp, local gins, and being added to the repertoire this year will be a variety of local brewers who will join the other north east producers in the food and drink pavilion.

Many of the local farming families, including the Sleigh family from St Johns Wells and the Mair family from Kinnermit,have been involved with the Turriff Show for generations, and their names are now as much a part of the show’s history as its silverware.

The earliest win for the Sleigh family at the Turriff Show can be traced back to 1902 for a Clydesdale gelding. Since then, the family have won close to 100 championships with their North Country Cheviots, commercial sheep and Shetland ponies. Winning the overall horse and sheep championship
in the show’s centenary year, 1964, was an impressive feat.

But it is their enduring enthusiasm for the show that is to be most admired. In the early 80s they won six championships in a single year – turkeys, geese, commercial sheep, North Country Cheviot sheep, Shetland ponies and working collie dogs were but a few of their successes.

John Sleigh was the president of the Turriff Show last year, following in the footsteps of his great grandfather who took up the reins decades before.

The show has clearly been an economic asset to the area, and the committee – the Turriff District Agricultural Association – also support a number of local charities, events and organisations, including the Royal Northern Countryside Initiative (RNCI), Grampian Supermatch Ploughing Association and the Black Beauty Bonanza – one of the largest shows of Aberdeen Angus calves and yearlings in the country.

Back in 1864, the show was staged on a Tuesday to coincide with mart day in the town, and since 2002 it has been held annually on a Sunday and Monday in early August. This year’s event will be in full swing on the 4 and 5 August.

As in the 19th century, locals from Aberdeen City and the shire continue to flock to the Turriff Show in celebration of the north east. It is events like these that act as a wonderful reminder of the diversity of this corner of the world – from the bold beauty of the Aberdeen Angus to the quirky agricultural traditions of days gone by. Let’s hope it continues to thrive for centuries to come.