The Hog Roast, the Beltie & the Swaledale Ewe - A Kilnsey Story

Shows lie at the very heart of Dales culture. Originally local in scale, and agricultural in outlook, many have grown over generations to become the bustling festivals we know today, appealing to farmers, day-trippers and tourists alike. Celebrations of Yorkshire Dales life, they also provide an informal meeting place for local folk - on the show field and in the beer tent over a glass or three - after a hard day's catch up! And these days, the celebration is by no means restricted to tried and tested traditions of prize heifer judging and inter-community Tug-of-War competitions. An afternoon's amble round any show field will yield a cornucopia of diversions in the sun (and occasionally rain), including displays of farming machinery, climbing walls, bouncy castles, and, for the newly parched, cafés offering those everyday commonplaces of modern culture, Lattes and Cappuccinos!  

Three shows continue to thrive in our own corner of North Yorkshire  - Gargrave, Malham and the largest, Kilnsey - and all take place annually over a ten-day period towards the end of August. Amongst very many others, each boasts attractions which would have mystified  show-goers of a century ago, including tractor handling, drystone walling exhibitions and educational activities for children. 

Published author Victoria Benn, who will be appearing at our Writers' Meet Up event on the 26th February, fully recognises the importance of preserving stories of our local heritage for posterity.  In her enthralling new book, Studs & Crooks: The Hidden History of Kilnsey Show, she takes an incredibly detailed look behind the scenes of the eponymous show to reveal its earliest origins, the hidden workings behind an event whose grand scale massively upstages its village location, the people who helped build its reputation, and, of course, the eccentric characters who have graced the show field over several generations !

Victoria recently talked to Settle Stories about Kilnsey Show and the people who made it:

Q.  Tell us a little about your background, and what first brought you to the idea of writing a book about Kilnsey Show.

My background is pretty long and varied!  My first career was as a Training Consultant which meant I wrote all sorts of training courses and company literature for many different corporate clients. I loved writing and I loved the variety of my job, but I also had a secret yearning to write more creatively.  The opportunity to have a stab at creative writing arose about five years ago, and luckily, things took off for me quite quickly.  I’ve written quite extensively for the Craven Herald and Yorkshire Post, as well as having features published in The Dalesman, Down Your Way, Yorkshire Living, Northern Life and The Big Issue North. The icing on the cake of course has been the writing and publication of my first book, Studs and Crooks.

The idea for Studs and Crooks wasn’t mine, it was Jamie Roberts, who is one of the directors of Kilnsey Park.  Jamie’s the third generation of his family to live and work at Kilnsey and he’s also very passionate about preserving Dales culture and history.  He’d read some of my features about life in the Dales, and he also realised that I had my own strong connections with Kilnsey Show through my parents, particularly my dad, who has commentated on the sports and iconic Crag Race over 35 years.  Jamie and I worked together on the planning of the book, with myself taking the roles of researcher, interviewer and author, and Jamie editor and publisher.

Q.  Such a thorough account of the show's history clearly demanded a monumental effort of research.  Were you obliged to rely on 'word of mouth' in some instances, to fill the gaps occasioned by a lack of documentary information ?

Studs and Crooks is partly a researched book; with the full history of the show and the events leading up to the first show thoroughly researched and documented in the introductory sections. The main part of the book however is made up of people’s stories.  I went out and interviewed real show stalwarts to gather their first hand memories and stories about the show, and to find out how they came to be such a key part of the show’s illustrious history. These first hand stories are like ‘mini autobiographies’ and bring real Dales’ colour, humour and warmth to the book.

Q.  The show continues to be a huge affirmation of Dales culture in all of its colour and vibrancy, and your book documents the annual celebration in what is now the 120th year of its history. How important do you think it is to commemorate the cultural achievements of the show for posterity?

It’s hugely important! Jamie and I are both incredibly passionate about seeking out and preserving the social and cultural history of the Dales. People’s incredible stories and memories about different times and changing times will die with them unless they are captured for future generations and audiences.  With regards to Kilnsey Show and our book, we thoroughly believed that capturing all the anecdotal information, such as the stories about  the high jinks and escapades in the beer tent, were as important as documenting the changes to the show’s schedule or recording the list of show Presidents.

Q.  And finally, in light of the success of Studs & Crooks are there likely to be any more Dales-themed books in the future ?

Hopefully!  That’s all I can really say about this just now… but as I said earlier – capturing and recording the social and cultural history of the Yorkshire Dales is something we both believe to be incredibly important, so all being well something along those lines will appear in due course!

Meet the author Victoria Benn and 2 other local authors at our Event Local Writers Meetup on Sunday 26th Feb. Tickets are just £2. More info & booking, click here