It’s Showtime!

3 September 2018
Ben Pentreath

From Italy, back to the green of England. It’s been amazing how a couple of weeks of normal temperature and a bit of rain make everything completely green again. 

Last week it was the Melplash Show – which is really, to say, the Bridport show, for those of you who might have mistakenly driven up to the tiny village of Melplash, on the road to Beaminster. Charlie worked furiously to get all his entries together. I arrived on the train from London as he was just getting back home the night before the show.  The following day he had to be there at 7 in the morning, for stewarding duties…. I took the dogs for a walk and spent the morning at home catching up after a week away in Italy.

I arrived in time for the Grand Parade. Always so wonderful to see the fantastic farmers of Dorset and the surrounding counties, working so hard to look after their incredible herds and flocks. 

The face of happiness:

Shire horses leaving the arena:

Prize giving:

Then we went to look around.  The honey tent is always amazing:

(Those are beeswax cakes, in case you were wondering)

In horticultural produce, there was an inspection of the cups….

We nipped in to Homecraft briefly, where the cups were being awarded – I adored this poodle.

For some the excitement was too much….

In other areas, very careful study was underway….

Back in Horticulture.

That’s Charlie’s prize winning heaviest Marrow….

This, meanwhile, is Ashley Ball’s six foot long courgette….

Which did indeed win unusual vegetable, and quite rightly.

Here’s Charlie with the marrow.
Ashley’s award winning mixed stand: Prize giving!  Smiles all round.

The Melplash is amazing, and for those who haven’t read them, do have a look at my blogs from this year and the previous, which go into a bit more detail.  But now, the following day, for something completely different.  The Great Dorset Steam Fair – the 50th anniversary.

Our friend Ruth Guilding, who all readers will know for her incredible blog (and eponymous instagram) The Bible of British Taste had texted us saying “I want to go and see the gypsies… are you game?”.  Yes we were.  Ruth came to stay for the night, and we had a happy evening at the Parsonage toasting Charlie’s successes and putting the world, generally, to rights.

We thought we were being clever to get up early the following morning. We were not early enough.  We got stuck in an enormous queue of cars around the Blandford bypass, where we waited, I suppose, inching forward, for an hour and a half.

As soon as we arrived we realised it was worth the wait.  Before we had even entered the fair, A Steam ploughing match was in progress.


You quite quickly realise that the steam world is well fortified by tea.

Inside, there are literally thousands and thousands of engines and machines, of all shapes and sizes. There are a lot of men in overalls, and a lot of large cans of Brasso.

I wish you could here the incredible tunes of the famous Gavioli Steam Organ. 

I think it was still early – that explains the empty seats.  As well as the Victorian to 1930s rides, there are brilliant modern fairground attractions too. A friend told me of the experience of driving past the steam fair at night, with all these machines lit up like Las Vegas. I’d like to see that.  I liked the fact that Simon Cowell is in the horror bus.

Hit the hammer, boys:

Wood cutting machinery area:

Straw baling area:

Tea in Mugs is a good name for a cafe, especially these days:

Horse ploughing competition:

Details everywhere;

Shepherds hut area.  All original, all amazing. 

The true Dorset face of the hurdle man.

The tractor area:

The random steam engine area:

The junk area. Total heaven.

Madonna or Gorilla anyone?

We found Charlie a McCormick Tractor….

A dancing James Brown?

Unicorn rides?

And then the main arena.

The site of hundreds and hundreds of steam engines charging around at high speed was tremendous. 

Refilling the boilers:

Incredible. A deeply refreshing lack of health and safety in evidence too; yet everyone managed to stay alert and out of the way…

The air was thick with steam and smoke and the pungent smell of burning coke; the smell of the industrial revolution. This was the first time in my life I’d really experienced this. You suddenly imagined what the air around the great 19th century railway stations, or in the potteries of Stoke, must have smelled like. I’ve read about it, of course, but never quite thought about it in this way.

The commentary was sublime, as was the commentary caravan.  

Talking of caravans, there is another whole spectacle, and that’s the vast caravan parks of steam enthusiasts surrounding the fair itself.  I’d never seen anything quite like that either.  Immense, and wonderful.  

Eventually, we tore ourselves away.  If you have never been, make a pilgrimage. it is insane, so fun, so beautiful.  And, lots of gypsies, should you fancy them too.

Back home, Charlie’s garden is at pre-autumnal peak.

The following day, we met up with our friends Gracie & Adrian, who have featured in these pages so many times as the brilliant publishers of Little Toller Books, and custodians of the equally brilliant charity, Common Ground.  They had our mutual friend, the artist Ed Kluz, staying. Watch this space for an interesting Ed/Little Toller/Dorset project next year…. but in the meantime, here’s the best show of all.  We went to the pub in Cattistock on an incredibly wet and windy day, to discover the village veg show in the skittles alley at the back of the Fox and Hounds. Superb. 

E. Cox had basically grown all the prize vegetables: 

For various reasons I didn’t actually make it to Dorset this weekend, but it was the Dorset County Show.  Charlie did brilliantly!  The giant marrow struck again, of course, and firsts in floral art and dahlias.  Amazing!

Cream wedding anniversary cake anyone?

16 comments on this post


What a wonderful post, I missed the Steam Fair, hope to go next year. I think the photographs are painterly and wonderful.


We went to the Steam Fair on Monday – it was extraordinary – I’ve never been to anything like it. Totally crazy event and utterly wonderful. Loved the chorus of hoots, whistles and blasts that echoed around the show ground for about 15 minutes as we were leaving just before it finished. Oh and the endless stream of traction engines that crept through Salisbury at 5mph for the entire weeks before and after the show weekend!


I wonder what Thomas Hardy would have made of these shows; and the crop of white caravans as far as the eye can see. Charlie’s dahlias and arrangments are fantastic – big veg, not so much. Guess it’s a bloke thing. All the best, Nicola

Deby (in Canada)says:

Oh Ben!!! …. every photo in this post deserves a careful look…so much life and history and love…
I must arrange to bring Phil to the Steam Fair – he would think it the best thing ever…
vast congratulations to Charlie and love and misses to you both
Deby xxx


On a Tuesday tha feels like a Monday (Labor Day Weekend phenomena) I have the justice hearings on for the US Supreme Court and was beginning to feel overwhelmed with gloom, till i checked my weekend email and found Inspiration! Whimsy, history and community still exist as proven in all your photographs, not to mention beautiful clouds. Thanks for the buck up for the week and so always grateful you take the time to share your lovely artistic visions. Congratulations to Charlie for his well deserved wins. Onto Fall and holding onto. a bit of hope.


I absolutely love the sheep 🙂


I will never be able to look at a cauliflower again and not think of that poodle.


What a blog! I love the photos of the Melplash Show. I love the entries, the animals and the faces of the people. The Steam Fair is amazing. I could almost feel the rumble of the earth in the photos of the tractors. Thank you, thank you for sharing. Congratulations to Charlie on his impressive first places!!! Who ate the cake?!

Teddee Gracesays:

I grew up on a farm in the Midwest USA so really enjoyed the steam machinery photos. My father preferred to farm with old hand-cranked McCormick tractors. I think he was one of the few farmers in the area strong enough to actually turn the cranks to start the engines. Thanks and congrats to Charlie!


As always, so lovely and picture perfect!


Congrats Charlie on the prize wins! That marrow is amazing! Incredible steam show and shepherds wagons.

Teresa Personsays:

A feast for the eyes


Oh Ben ! – you really have spoilt us with this brilliant blog – has to rank as one of the best ever ! Thank you.


Dear Ben & Charlie,
Congratulations Charlie for all your amazing vegetable and flowers, it’s so fantastic, all the photos are a big pleasure.
Love his giant marrow and also the amazing courgette and this poodle ! Such proud people and beautiful animals …… I still remember your blog last year !
And WOW, such a fantastic steam fair, it is absolutely wonderful, Charlie’s name on a tractor 🙂 One show after the other, so many experiences ! Thank you for sharing with us, your life is so beautiful !
Wish you a very good week, autumn is in the air, everything changes, what a nice time !
Yours Birgit from Germany 🙂

Helen Fryerssays:

Not seen such a good selection of interesting faces since Ulverston Dickensian Festival where everyone looked, rather surprisingly, Dickensian. Think they’d all taken their teeth out for effect!

David Sanderssays:

Gosh, Ashley’s 6ft long courgette certainly seems to have impressed the ladies… sorry, I couldn’t resist that.
What a stunningly, impressive array of steam traction engines and the shire horses are quite majestic. The Melplash Show is a very long way, away from New Zealand, but I would be very keen to see it. The only other agricultural and pastoral show that I have seen in England was on the Isle of Wight, which was a lot of fun, but this show is absolutely fantastic.

Amazing photographs, Ben. Thank you.

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