Farming: Royal Highland Show gains a ‘new’ historic trophy

It’s a tale worth telling – the story of the “newest” trophy to join the already impressive ranks of the cups, rose bowls, salvers, quaichs and other assorted silverware which is awarded to the winners of the livestock competitions at the Royal Highland Show.

John Mcdiarmid presents the ‘new’ cattle interbreed trophy to Andrew Reid
John Mcdiarmid presents the ‘new’ cattle interbreed trophy to Andrew Reid

And while it might not quite have been an Antiques Roadshow yarn of something found in the loft, apparently it did spend some time residing, albeit carefully boxed, in a farmhouse attic after the bank storage fees proved too costly.

Gifted to the show by the Mcdiarmid family of Mains of Murthly, Aberfeldy who felt the show was its proper home, the “new” trophy arrived with the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland (RHASS) just in time for the 200th anniversary of the Highland Show, which first took place in 1822.

But this, the “newest” of the society’s trophies, which will from now on be awarded as a perpetual trophy in the overall beef interbreed section (one which had always been lacking a suitable cup), was actually crafted in 1864, only a few years after that very first show.

John Mcdiarmid relates that the magnificent piece of silverware was donated back at that time by the Fletchers, a family visiting form Australia. It was believed to have been given as an expression of their thanks to the many families across the length and breadth of the country who had welcomed them onto their farms during what had obviously been a grand tour of Scotland.

In true Victorian style, the trophy has been crafted in the highly ornate manner popular at that time and is bedecked with a microcosm of the important elements of farming life back in those days – many of which still hold sway today. Or, as one photographer more prosaically put it, it looked like they had thrown just about everything Scottish at it.

Crowned with a lid resplendent with a horned cow and a pair of sheep, the extravagant theme continues with ornate leaves, drapery, a trio of Blackface ram heads amongst other Scottish emblems – and is supported at the bottom by a set of curling stones and associated brushes.

But there’s no denying that it’s a magnificent work of art – one which Alain Wright, the society’s house and heritage officer who looks after the RHASS’s entire collection of trophies reckoned would take an expert silversmith craftworker about two and a half years to replicate – provided one capable of carrying out such an intricate task could be found.

So, as the trophy, bedecked with a streamer of Mcdiarmid tartan, made it’s reappearance on the beef interbreed showring, freshly polished and looking a million dollars as it glinted in the midday sun, it was perhaps understandable that he was more than a little nervous.

And, with bulls tipping the scales at well over a tonne passing within feet of the table upon which it was displayed in the ring during the interbreed competition to decide who would gain this crowning accolade as the crème de la crème of the show’s beef breed champions, you could see his point.

And the competition, too, was a gripping affair – with the judge, Flintshire vet and renowned Chaorolais breeder, Esmar Evans adopting the deliberation of a Great British Bake Off final as he narrowed the choice down to his shortlist of six.

But, just to add the drama, having bred the Chaorlais bull in the line-up, he had to call in the umpire, weel-kent former auctioneer, David Leggat, to select the animal worthy enough to have their owners name appear as the first on the brand new plinth commissioned to match the trophy.

Leggat swiftly confirmed what most round the ring believed - that the powerful Charolais bull, Maerdy Morwr, owned and shown by AJR Farms near Ellon was indeed the deserving ‘champion of champions’.

And I am happy to relate that, following a further few moments of anxiety for Mr Wright as the photographers capturing the victory called for the trophy to be held higher and higher , the new prize did make its way back safely to the trophy room – where it was quickly given a restorative polish.

*For completeness, the Limousin champion from the Jenkinsons in Penrith gained the reserve interbreed title in the competition while over in the sheep lines the Charollais gimmer from Ben Radley’s Loaningfoot flock lifted the interbreed title while the champion of the newest class, the Dutch Spotted, a one-crop ewe from Ali Jackson’s TipTop flock took reserve.

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