Home Page A new Haverhill Show will do just that - show what Haverhill now is 03/05/13

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Matthew Hancock
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Hart of the Matter

There are many ways of testing the strength of a community and Haverhill shows up well in most of them, but the one that has puzzled me for more than two decades is its inability to put on a decent carnival/show/gala, whatever you like to call it.


It’s not as if one had far to go to see some good models. Leaving aside Saffron Walden’s amazing triennial carnival, you could just nip up the road to Kedington in a month or so for the Meadowlark, or drop in on the Hadstock Show, or the Thurlow Show.


Haverhill Show has struggled since the demise of the parade of floats. The same has hit many a show and, I believe, finally reached Kedington in recent years.


It was certainly true that the parade put excessive strain on the marching majorettes - indeed, on any one on foot – when it lined up at the Rec, paraded through the streets and then up Wratting Road to the Little Wratting showground. On a hot day the poor little mites could drop like flies.


Moving the event to the Recreation Ground ought to have made it better, but it was done too late, because by then there was no parade and no fancy dress. The move had been resisted for years because of the effect it would have on the amount of money the event could raise.


At Little Wratting – and before that, at Hanchet End – the showground was enclosed and you had to pay to get in. That was the prime method of fund raising and most years a couple of thousand pounds would be handed over to LAMP H to keep it going, which was quite a lot of money in those days.


In more recent years, despite inflation, the total was still much the same, if that, because the Rec is a public area and you cannot charge people to enter it, so the cash had to be raised in other, more difficult ways.


This in turn meant that, in order to give LAMP H anything decent, the show could not afford to buy in a big attraction, like the old days of camel racing, dogs jumping through hoops of fire, or TV star Black Beauty.


With no big attractions it became more difficult to sell the show to the crowds and it degenerated into a giant car boot sale, because that is one of the few things that guarantees a reasonable turnout.


Another big change, which in turn led to the show moving, was when it was disconnected from the horse show which used to be a major part of it. That in turn had produced a lot of people from some distance away who, having come for the horse show, then looked around the rest of the showground and, in some cases, spent money.


Haverhill had a highly successful Gala (pronounced ‘Gay-la’, for the uninitiated) in the 1950s, when it was a town of just a few thousand people, which involved sports as well as fancy dress, held at Hamlet Croft.


After this had petered out, the Haverhill Show Society was formed to put on a Show each year in support of LAMP H (that stood originally for the Local Association for the Mentally and Physically Handicapped, in case you don’t know) and, like many Haverhill events, it was extremely successful to begin with, but difficult to sustain.


When I began reporting in Haverhill in the 1970s it was in its heyday, with a huge parade of decorated floats, led by the town beauty queen in a special vehicle. It’s not my choice of entertainment, and being required to attend as part of one’s work didn’t help, but they could be very enjoyable days.


Above all they showed a community in action, all pulling together to have fun and to help the less advantaged. Thanks to the horse show, the cross-section of town and country was such that you get at no Haverhill event nowadays.


A wet year dampened enthusiasm for the floats, but the parade dwindled on for years before being finally put out of its misery by health and safety regulations.


There have been a few washout years, like last year, and nowadays there’s no money from them as in the old days when the event was insured and we had all the excitement of calculating exactly when the rain fell to see if there would be any payout if it was called off.


If the latest move to revive the Show succeeds it will display what sort of community the Haverhill of the 21st century is. Business people can talk it up all they want, but the truth will out at such events, which are fixtures in the regional calendar.


It would be nice if it is a product of the business community and the town council working together. However, it has to be for the community and not to reflect the views or profiles of certain community leaders.


The nearest I have ever come to shouting out at a council meeting happened this week when one town councillor said he would object very strongly to alcohol being sold at the event.


I have rarely heard a comment further removed from reality or from the community the council purports to serve. A beer tent is an absolute essential for such a cross-community event to be successful. They all either have one or have a pub on the site. The Rec, of course, has no pubs anywhere it near any more.


If there are concerns about behaviour, then it shows lack of faith in the community. Alcohol flows as freely as friendliness at the big market square events. This sort of puritanical comment is, I hope, out of place in modern Haverhill.


Back in the day, I remember one washout year when the Show was cancelled during the morning because of the mud. The company caravan, with drinks cabinet, intended for hospitality to the visiting public, was already on site. Although no public attended, we still managed to empty it before the caravan was towed off the site at 5pm. Happy days.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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