CHATSWORTH COUNTRY FAIR: Organisers share their secrets

Chatsworth Country Fair.        
Visitors buy sweet treats from the food hall.
Chatsworth Country Fair. Visitors buy sweet treats from the food hall.
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With the 35th Chatsworth Country Fair just a couple of weeks away (September 2-4), the organiser behind the first ever fair in 1981, Andrew Cuthbert, shares his secrets of what makes it such a popular event.

The number of visitors to the first fair in 1981 was around 50,000. This figure is now closer to the 90,000 mark with the fair increasing to three days a few years ago to accommodate the swelling crowds.

Chatsworth Country Fair.

Chatsworth Country Fair.

Andrew said: “I would arrive a fortnight before the event in the park with my caravan to mark out the ground with white pegs. I would always allow an extra day and a half to be greeted by all my Chatsworth friends, who would call on my caravan to offer their help if I required it.”

Sarah Green, who is part of the team organising the fair this year, said: “The site is roughly the same size now. The mapping is a little like doing a massive jigsaw puzzle – except that when you remove a piece it always seems impossible to squeeze it into another slot, by the time you’ve figured it out you’ve squeezed someone else out.”

The Red Socks is a team of volunteers that play a vital role in the running of the fair. In 1981 there were 15 Red Socks but now there are 60. Notable members include former fair president and Olympic rower, Matthew Pinsent CBE, and his late brother Thomas who both volunteered as youngsters.

Andrew explained: “I could not have done it all without the help and cooperation of my wonderful band of voluntary Red Socks. They do not only make the show tick but also take a share of the proceeds for the Red Sock Trust which they in turn give to so many deserving charities. Over the years, the Red Socks must have given well in excess of a million pounds to charity.”

Chatsworth Country Fair.          
Visitors are given a masterclass in fly flishing on the river Derwent.

Chatsworth Country Fair. Visitors are given a masterclass in fly flishing on the river Derwent.

Food has always been a key staple of the fair and has grown hugely in popularity. In 1981 there were approximately 20 food stands, and the most popular snack sold was ice cream. Now sausages top the bill and there are close to 100 stands including the Fine Food Village.

Animals have always been a focal point. Around 300 animals took part in 1981 including falcons, foxhounds, sheepdogs, dressage horses, lurchers, and ferrets. Possibly the most unusual animal was an antelope in 2002, when regimental mascots were invited to come.

Sarah said: “In 2002 we invited as many regimental mascots as we could get to come. Sadly this was the peak of the foot-and-mouth outbreak so it became a difficult task. The regimental mascots ranged from horse, pony, wolfhound, ram, goat, and even an antelope.

“Nowadays it is very difficult to have visiting farm animals due to the laws regarding movement of animals following the foot-and-mouth outbreak. For the first time last year Animal Encounters brought all sorts of strange and exotic creatures from snakes and scorpions for people to see and handle.”

Chatsworth Country Fair.
The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire make the aquaintance of a Siberian Eagle Owl before officially opening the fair on Friday.

Chatsworth Country Fair. The Duke and Duchess of Devonshire make the aquaintance of a Siberian Eagle Owl before officially opening the fair on Friday.

BBC gardening favourite Alan Titchmarsh, England cricketer Michael Vaughan, International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) president Seb Coe, BBC Countryfile presenter Adam Henson, Olympic rower and Red Sock Matthew Pinsent CBE, and GB Olympic heptathlon star Jessica Ennis-Hill complete the illustrious line up of fair presidents.

The Guards Free Fall Parachute Display Team opened the fair in 1981 made up of one person each from the Household Cavalry, Grenadiers, Coldstreams and Scots Guards. This year, the Grand Ring will be led by The Household Cavalry Musical Ride, Imps Motorcycle Display Team, and The Red Arrows who first appeared at the fair in 2010.

The number of trade stands was about 160 in 1981, compared to over 350 this year. Brocklehursts of Bakewell is one of a handful of traders believed to have attended every single fair.

“I think my biggest challenge was when, on the eve of a fair, I learnt that our supplier of lavatories had gone bust and could not deliver,” Andrew said. “After many frantic phone calls I managed to procure another supplier who began delivery at 4am on the morning of the first day with the last being delivered at about 9.30am whilst the public were arriving.

Chatsworth Country Fair.

Chatsworth Country Fair.

“Another challenging and bad memory of the fair was the clear-up following the big flood on the weekend of Princess Diana’s death. It rained so heavily that when it was time for the Gurkhas to give their display I offered to cancel it. However, the Pipe Major told me rain and eight inches of standing water was not going to put them off from coming into the Grand Ring and giving their best. And they did.”

Andrew added: “My happiest and most memorable times have always been at the opening ceremony on the first day and the church parade on Sunday afternoons with all the scouts, cadets and Mums and Dads surrounding the military Bands playing.”

Tickets for Chatsworth Country Fair are £25 for adults per day and free for children under 14-years-old.