Michael Gamble, this year’s Aylsham Show president, will be familiar to anyone who has taken home one of the fantastic floral displays from the annual event.
For many years Michael has wielded the gavel and auctioned off the arrangements at the end of the day, helping the August bank holiday Monday show raise even more money for good causes.
Michael has been an auctioneer and valuer all his working life since joining agricultural auctioneers and rural property specialists Irelands in Norwich and Aylsham at the age of 17 in 1965. The firm is a long-standing supporter of the Aylsham Show.
Farming and rural life is in Michael’s blood. Born in Wymondham, he is the son of an estate manager. He qualified as a chartered surveyor in 1970 and the following year enjoyed the trip of a lifetime when he was chosen as one of six Young Farmers’ Club members from across Britain to spend a year in Australia, working on sheep farms in New South Wales and South Australia.
“It meant mutton was on the menu for 20 out of 21 meals per week but it was a marvellous experience!” Michael recalled.
A year after returning to Britain and his job with Irelands, Michael married Mary and the couple set up home first in Deopham, later Wicklewood and most recently, in Hingham.
In 1976 Michael became a partner in Irelands and the following decades saw him immersed in country life.
“We were very much livestock auctioneers – in Norwich and North Walsham – when I first joined,” said Michael.
“In the spring of the year the weekly sales at Norwich market would see upwards of 1,000 finished cattle a week being offered for sale with Dutch and Belgian buyers regularly attending together with buyers from all over England.”
Sadly, Norwich Cattle Market closed with the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in 2001, and the firm decided to surrender its lease.
Time and technology also radically altered the way Michael carried out his surveying work. At the start of his career land was measured and painstakingly plotted by hand on scale maps. Now computerisation has meant the work can be done much more quickly, efficiently and accurately.
And the way farms are sold has also changed since Michael began work. Today most change hands by private treaty and negotiation but Michael remembers when nearly all were sold at auction, drawing the crowds to places like Aylsham Town Hall and the Royal Hotel, Norwich, on a Saturday afternoon.
One sale which stands out in Michael’s memory is that of the contents of Gunton Hall, between North Walsham and Cromer, in 1980.
It followed the death of the Hon Doris Harbord whose grandfather, the fifth Baron Suffield, had been a great friend of the Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII, who would stay at Gunton Hall while Sandringham was being redeveloped.
The five-day auction raised well over £1m (equivalent to almost £3m in today’s money) and Michael remembers that everything from valuable oil paintings to pairs of wellington boots went under the hammer.
Michael retired from full-time work in 2014, when Irelands joined forces with Arnolds Keys, and he now acts as a consultant for the firm.
He has also stepped down from other roles including 41 years as a JP in Norfolk, a board member and former chairman of governors of Easton College, and a member of the management board of the Morley Research Centre.
Nowadays he has a little more time to enjoy his hobbies of golf, shooting in winter, bridge and gardening and time to spend with his wife and family. He and Mary have have two children – son Ben, a chartered surveyor in London, and daughter Johanna FitzGerald, a Matishall GP. They also have five grandchildren.
Michael said he had felt “incredibly proud and very honoured” when invited to be president of a show which had raised hundreds of thousands of pounds for Norfolk charities and other good causes in its 72-year history.
“It’s a fabulous day at one of the prettiest showgrounds in England, looking down over Blickling lake,” he added.
“It’s an opportunity for families to have a day out in Norfolk at the end of the summer holidays where they can get close to livestock learn more about rural life, where their food comes from, and enjoy all the other entertainment too.”