A service of thanksgiving for the life of John Purling, former RNAA chief executive and president-elect of the Aylsham Show, will be held at Norwich Cathedral on Monday, May 15 at 1.30pm.

A leader of the country’s agricultural show industry, Norfolk born and raised John Purling, died suddenly at home on Friday last week (April 28) aged 69.

The former chief executive of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association implemented major changes in his 18 years at the Costessey showground.

He had been elected at the Aylsham Agricultural Show Association’s annual meeting in January as president for the 2018 show.

In accepting the honour, president-elect John Purling had praised the vision of the founders and said that Aylsham Show was highly regarded.

A former chairman of Britain’s 532-strong Association of Shows and Agricultural Organisations, Mr Purling said that Aylsham was noted as one of the most generous to local charities. And it had managed to attract show sponsorship too of more than £26,000, he added.

Mr Purling, who lived at Witton, near Norwich was chief executive of the RNAA between 1994 and 2012. He and his wife, Ena, had also judged many of Aylsham Show’s food hero awards in the past couple of years.

In his 18-year career as the RNAA’s general manager, he began the process to make optimum use of the 375-acre Norfolk showground and to generate sustainable income from more events throughout the year.

Running what he always described as “the country’s best two-day agricultural show” was a challenge he relished. As reported at the RNAA’s half-yearly council the day before he died, it now earns a significant six-figure income from non-Royal Norfolk Show activities. 

When an emergency RNAA executive was held in late March 2001 during what was to become the world’s worst epidemic of foot-and-mouth disease, his leadership was to the fore. At that two-hour meeting, he urged cancellation of the show for the first time in its 150-year history. 

And as a showman, always with an eye to promote the best in Norfolk, he said that the county had Britain’s best and biggest two-day show. He had the figures to prove it. In his 18 years at the Norfolk showground, six shows had more than 100,000 visitors, with a record 105,629 gate during the 2006 presidency of Anthony Duckworth-Chad. 

He retired in 2012 alongside show manager Sarah de Chair, who stepped down after 12 years. A final grand ring spectacle with the Household Cavalry and parade of show stewards was staged in their honour. 

He went to Duncan Hall School, Scratby, and then Shuttleworth agricultural college before a career in the animal feed industry. He joined Ipswich-based Pauls and latterly Harrison & Crosfield, in the Far East and spent 10 years abroad including three years in South Africa, four years in Hong Kong and in Papua New Guinea. 

In 1992, he returned to the UK becoming sales director of specialist food flavourings firm, Edlong Company.

He was a keen golfer, playing at Bawburgh, just yards from his office. And for 17 years, he was a Norfolk committee member of farming’s charity, the RABI (Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution). Sally Mitchell, secretary, said that he threw himself into fund-raising annual golf days for the charity.

A non-executive director of the Thursford Spectacular, he was president of the Strangers’ Club in Norwich in 2015. He supported the Emmaus homeless charity, based at Ditchingham.

He liked music, again playing his grand piano when time allowed at his Witton home, near Norwich. But he also devoted time to his grandchildren, who loved to listen to his stories or share his love of shooting and fishing.

He is survived by his widow, Ena, two sons, Matt and Tom and daughter Catherine and six grandchildren.

A private funeral will be followed by a service of thanksgiving at Norwich Cathedral on Monday, May 15 at 1.30pm.

Michael Pollitt

Retiring president Simon Evans thanked members, supporters, exhibitors and volunteers for their efforts in the association’s 70th year.

The year began on a serious note after recording a substantial loss but those visiting the 2015 show had a thoroughly good time.

Mr Evans said that again pre-show competitions were a success. Congratulations to Norfolk Quail Ltd, of Great Ryburgh, in the Norfolk Hero Food and Drink Competition and to the individual food hero, Catherine Temple, of Wighton, near Wells.

Thank you to Jacinth Rogers and the Food Hero Team for the organisation and next month, the 2017 competition will be launched.

The Norfolk County Farm Business competition was won by James Chapman and partners, of Martham. We enjoyed a great tour of the award-winning farm enterprise – thank you. And well done to Roger Combe, of the Bayfield estate, for winning the conservation award. Again, thanks to Robert Mitchell, his committee and the judges and stewards for such a well organised competition.

The day at Fakenham races was another “lovely and enjoyable day.” Thanks to members and sponsors and the organisers, Marian Williams and David Hitcham.

A celebration of June 10, 1946 – the 70th anniversary of the association – featured a dinner, with song and music at North Repps Country Cottage. It included great singing from guest soprano Jayne Jones and rising young star from Little Barningham Olivia Watson. Thanks to Michael Pollitt and Paul Corfield for their help.

And next the big weekend. “Never have I taken so much interest in a weather forecast! But the weather was perfect and the team, including Tim Elwes and vice president John Wootten had ideal conditions for setting the stage.

The pre-show dinner dance was one of the biggest hits as months of planning by Jo Coxford came together in spectacular fashion. A presentation anniversary cake provided by Graves, also celebrating their 70th year in business, was most appropriate. The donation of a diamond raised nearly £2500 to add to the evening’s surplus of £10,000.

Reepham Rotary Club’s art show preview and showjumping under Sue Peasley’s added to the sense of expectation for Monday.

Monday, August 29, 2016 – What an amazing day with near clear skies and gentle breeze. “I was treated to a tour of the showground with Karen by president’s steward Mark Little.” During the early morning tour of the cattle, sheep and goats. I think Mark had a harder one prising me away from each section in order to keep me on schedule.

“I met so many wonderful people on the day, those who take control of organising specific areas as head stewards together with stewards, helpers and exhibitors without whom such a spectacle could not be put on and shared with our visitors.”

By mid-morning, thousands of visitors were flocking around the cash trading stalls, livestock judging rings, enjoying the horse classes, flower exhibition, countryside area and trade stands.

The organisers were determined to put on a great show. “I am delighted that all involved rose to the challenge and provided a wonderful day’s entertainment – all kept safe with the help of our health and safety officer Rob Lewis.”

The food and farming marquee with its educational area including the show history and a second year of the Show Stopper Beer competition organised by team Corfield was another success. The food marquee even ran out of stock as so many visitors arrived and the cookery theatre organised by Kit Papworth and Caroline Culot goes from strength to strength. The whole area looked after so ably by Clare Buxton.

Finally I would pay tribute to Simon Greenfield and Marian Williams. Simon does his very best to control traffic movements onto the showground which is very challenging when all the stars align to make Aylsham Show the most popular place to be in North Norfolk on Bank Holiday Monday while Marian sees everyone through the gates in an organised fashion.

“It was an honour and privilege not only to be a part of the team putting this year’s show together but as president to be in a position to see and enjoy what a wonderful show we have resulting this year in a very appropriate surplus of £70,000 in our 70th year.” .

So thank you members for your support, it makes the show what it is and enables us to go forward into our 71st year in good health.

Simon Evans

Aylsham Agricultural Show President 2016

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Charities and good causes shared a total of £31,500 at the latest cheque presentation evening at the Aylsham Lodge Hotel.

A highly-successful one-day August Bank holiday show had generated a sufficient surplus to make a distribution possible after two years of losses caused by poor weather.

Retiring show president Simon Evans welcomed representatives from across north Norfolk and rest of the county on Tuesday, January 17. And he thanked everybody for coming along and especially for all the hard work done by so many for the Aylsham Agricultural Show Association.

Mr Evans, who was also later re-elected chairman of the association’s council, was delighted to have the opportunity to hand out so many cheques to 36 different organisations and charities. And given that the association had lost money in two of the previous years during the presidencies of Phillida Hurn and Tony Bambridge, it was great that the association was back on track.

He invited representatives to receive their cheques, starting with Reepham Rotary Club. The club’s president, the Ven Arthur Hawes said that three charities had been chosen for support this year and the £2,500 would be split between Prostate Cancer, Mind and Sobs, which supports families in the aftermath of suicide.

A £2,000 cheque was then presented to the Norfolk Army Cadets and Rebecca Medler highlighted the opportunities for youngsters, which would now be possible.

Cheque presentations

Cheque presentations

Two £1,500 cheques were presented – with John Shenton, of the Rotary Club of Aylsham, saying that three charities would benefit, the British Red Cross (Norwich branch), the East Anglian Air Ambulance and the Alzheimer’s Society. Peter Rusher, on behalf of East Anglian Children’s Hospices at Quidenham, said that a total of 131 children had been helped.

A total of 16 awards, each of £1,000, were made plus 16 cheques, each of £500.

£1,000 – A cheque to Aylsham & District Flower Club was accepted by Heather Monks, who said that the funds would help to support the work of the Cavell Nurses Trust.

Other cheques – Aylsham Boxing Club, Aylsham Youth Club, Norwich & District Group of Riding for the Disabled said that the funds would mean that young more youngster would not be able to take part this spring.

Awards were made to farming charities, Jimmy Fowell, a former AASA president, received a cheque as did Philip Talbot, of the Farming Community Network.

The Alzheimer’s Society and Marie Curie, which provided 33,000 hours of home care, both received £1,000. Retired doctor Piers Reinhold, who is chairman of YANA Project, which aims to raise the profile of mental health in farming and the rural community and prevent suicide, was given £1,000.

Cheques were presented to the Diabetes UK, North Norfolk Group, and Aylsham & District Care Trust, the East Anglian Air Ambulance, Blood Wise, the Norfolk Heart Trust, the Norfolk & Norwich Association for the Blind and Nelson’s Journey.

And £500 cheques were presented to the following – Aylsham Football Club; Sainsbury’s North Walsham fund raising for Mundesley Coast Watch; 3rd Aylsham Guides; North Walsham Young Farmers’ Club; The Market Surgery, Aylsham; Aylsham Recreation Ground; Aylsham Community Partnership; Benjamin Foundation; Fishing 4 Schools; Happisburgh Owl Trust; Multiple Sclerosis; Thornage Hall; SSAFA; Blickling Church; 1st Aylsham Scout Group; Banningham Crown Defibrillator.

And in the Aylsham Agricultural Show Association’s 70th year, a surplus of almost £71,000 was recorded, said the treasurer, David Hitcham.

He told more than 60 members at the association’s annual meeting on Tuesday, January 17 that: “Aylsham Show has been restored to full financial health.” In the latest accounts, it showed a surplus of £70,905 – more than making up for the total loss of more than £31,000 in the previous two years.

Total income had been boosted by higher gate receipts, record support from members and subscriptions, and catering and a fantastic effort by Jo Coxford and her team at the eve-of-show dance, said Mr Hitcham.

And he estimated with the show’s policy of free admission for children, it was possible that there could have been between 17,000 and possibly as many as 20,500 visitors on the showground.

Retiring show president Simon Evans confessed that he had been watching or checking almost every weather forecast in the fortnight, week, days and hours before August Bank Holiday Monday. But the sun shone and by mid-morning the showground was packed and crowds thronged every part of the showground. “It was a great show and thanks to everyone who helped to make it such a special day,” he said.

It also marked the retirement of long-serving secretary, Chris Self, who has stood down after completing 40 years’ dedicated service to the association. His wife, Ann, who has been assistant show secretary for 27 years, was also thanked for her efforts. They were both unanimously elected life vice-presidents.

During his year, the association had also held a memorable 70th anniversary celebration at North Repps Country Cottage, and also staged the increasingly-successful annual Food Heroes event and the annual Norfolk Farm Business competition.

He wished his successor Aylsham businessman John Wootten equal luck with the weather at this summer’s show.

John Purling, the former chief executive of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Association, was elected vice-president. In reply, he said that Aylsham Show was widely respected in the show world as being a leader and that he was delighted to be invited to serve.

As the RNAA’s chief executive between 1994 and 2012, he fully recognised the importance of agricultural shows. And about six million visits were made to the country’s 532 shows each year – representing almost one in ten of the total population.

Mr Purling said that the Aylsham Show was further respected for the size and scale of the event and also the attendance. It also distributed generously to charities and good causes over the years when it made surpluses.

A tremendous Aylsham Show marked its 70th anniversary in style as thousands flocked to the bank holiday spectacular.

And David Hitcham, treasurer of the Aylsham Agricultural Show Association, reported that a healthy surplus has been made.

It had more than made up for the two previous years of losses when the association’s reserves were depleted by about £32,000, he added.

It was also a vast relief that the show was such a great success after the heavy losses in the past two years said the president, Simon Evans, who is also chairman of the association’s council. He thanked the many thousands of visitors from across Norfolk, as a crowd estimated at more 18,000 visitors had clearly enjoyed the one-day show. Mr Evans said that show organisers would re-double efforts to improve access to the showground at next year’s event. He recognised that there had been some problems and traffic congestion.

Even one of his office colleagues and her family had been delayed in the heavy volume of traffic through Aylsham and towards the Blickling Park showground.

Discussions on possible improvements for vehicle access with the showground’s landlord, the National Trust, would be a high priority, he told the 30 members of the ruling council.

It might also be possible to improve the traffic flow with more flexible use of other approach roads to the showground, he said.

A suggestion of encouraging more visitors to arrive by bike was enthusiastically supported. A new secure enclosure for cyclists would be investigated as a further priority.

Mr Hitcham said that the association would be able to make a reasonable distribution early next year at the annual meeting in January once the final figures had been agreed.

However at this stage, he was not able to make a firm recommendation but stressed that the association must aim to build up a prudent financial reserve – given that it cost in the region of at least £150,000 to stage the annual show.

Mr Evans said that arrangements were in hand for the show administration following the retirement of the long-serving secretary, Chris Self and assistant secretary his wife Ann. There would be further discussions at the next meeting of the executive committee on October 18.

John Wootten President of Aylsham Show 2017

Aylsham Show President I am very pleased and honoured to be President of the Aylsham Show in 2017. We moved to Aylsham in 1978, but as a ship’s captain, my job took me abroad for several years. In 1982 my wife’s uncle, John Thornton, then local director of Barclays Bank was President of the Show and he persuaded me to get involved. When illness forced me to retire from the sea, I became Assistant Showground Director to Tom Elwes for several years until 1992. After some years building up Eastern Events, in 2010 I took over as Show Director from Jamie Jamieson. My grandfather farmed at Horsham St Faith and I like to think that he may have visited the show in its formative years. My wife Charlotte certainly competed at the Show in the 1960’s, majoring on the gymkhana. Up until the end of last year I was a director of Revival Productions who have staged very successful concerts in Blickling Park for the past 5 years. All of us who work for the Show have special moments. As Show Director I was always on site by 5 am – a magical time with the mist rising and everything just stirring. The stockmen are washing down their cattle, and sheep are calling to one another. But soon it is all go and you look at your watch and discover it is 2 o’clock in the afternoon before you know it. One of the things I will really enjoy as President is actually being able to see the Show and to meet and thank all the people who make it such a success. The Show is a fantastic organisation where people give their time and energy to raise money for local charities and I am very proud to be a part of it and to be President in 2017.

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