This coming Sunday – 30 July – is the lovely Porlock Horse Show, so it seems like a good moment to re-run a story by Tony James from our summer 2016 magazine, all about the Tuckers at West Luccombe Farm and this time-honoured event. We hasten to add that, as it stands, the forecast for the 2017 show (see poster, below) is looking promising!… (Photo above shows Charmain, John and Edith in the kitchen at West Luccombe Farm, by Andrew Hobbs).
“When I looked out of the window and saw the weather, I just couldn’t believe it,” says Charmain Dascombe (née Tucker). She
shudders at the memory. “We’d never had anything like it. All those poor people… “.
As it proved, it would take more than appalling weather to wash out the biggest event in the West Luccombe calendar – the traditional Porlock Horse Show, which for the past 40 years has been held on one of Charmain’s dad’s fields, and which, in July 2013, blithely carried on as usual, despite unseasonable cold, torrential rain and gale-force winds.
For Charmain, secretary since 2000, it was the culmination of nearly six months’ work and not a few sleepless nights putting together a show which has more than doubled in size since the time four local farmers sat around a kitchen table in 1971 to think of a way of raising money for local good causes. Since then, the show has only been cancelled a few times, including once during the 2001 foot-and-mouth outbreak.
“We lost the sheep classes because of foot-and-mouth and we had to fight quite hard to bring them back,” Charmain remembers. “Now they’re stronger than ever, which is as it should be, because sheep are very important around here.”
The show, like most things in this neck of the woods, has hardly changed in conception over the years – a classic country event with horse and pony classes, a traditional gymkhana, a parade of hounds, Exmoor Horn sheep classes, competitions for stags’ antlers and a dog show with prizes for the scruffiest ‘Doodle’ and the waggiest tail.
But make no mistake, this is a serious show, impeccably organised, with top-class competitors and stock and, while some similar rural events may have languished for lack of interest, the West Luccombe show has flourished. It now has four rings instead of the original two and the dog show has grown to the point where it has its own field.
Charmain has no doubt about the secret of its longevity. “The main aim is to have a really good family atmosphere and for children to have a nice day and to come away with a rosette. That’s the whole point of it really.”
She’s been involved with the show since childhood and her father, John Tucker, has been chairman for the past 25 years. Does he enjoy it? The reply is a cautious, “I don’t know if ‘enjoy’ is the right word.” But Andrew Hobbs and I saw him out there in last year’s wind and rain and he had a smile for everybody. John’s mother Edith, 95 at the time of writing this article, always played an active part in the show and Charmain has this photo of her presenting prizes in 1981.
Not surprisingly, the show becomes the main topic of conversation over mugs of tea in the kitchen of John’s West Luccombe Farm,
a welly’s throw from the show field. It first moved there in 1976 after five years in Old Lane, Bossington, and has been in West
Luccombe ever since.
“The access to Old Lane was difficult and so my father offered a field here,” John recalls. “The problem was that the show was always on the last Sunday in July – it still is – and my father disagreed with that. He was very traditional that way, but eventually we managed to persuade him.
“The show wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for the dozens of local helpers who come every year. Last year was probably the worst conditions we’ve ever had but they still turned up to make the sandwiches, steward the events and put up the jumps. The lovely thing is that
we’re now getting the grandchildren of the original helpers. That must bode well for the future.
“We don’t like meetings so we usually only have two a year – one in January about general organisation and the other to decide who will get our money! I have to admit that Charmain is left with most of the work and that can be pretty stressful, but she does a great job.”
“I never thought I’d hear you say that,” says his daughter with a smile.
The show generates around £2,000 a year for Porlock causes, which have included the cricket and football clubs, recreation ground, the
Visitor Centre, village hall, Christmas pantomime and plants for summer flower schemes.
You’ve got to tread carefully in this tight-knit little world… Charmain’s husband, David Dascombe, is a cousin of Julian Dascombe at Burrowhayes, who got his ten-acre field from John Tucker’s father… Janet Harding, of Horner Vale Tearoom, was last year’s show president and her husband Mike is the treasurer…
Not surprisingly, West Luccombe Farm, with its massive stone barns and impressive buildings, dominates this tiny hamlet. John Tucker has leased it from the National Trust since he was 29, after a Hardyesque turn of events combining good fortune and sadness with risk and challenge.
Since 1940, John’s father had farmed sheep on the family’s 700 acres at Lucott, high on the moor above Nutscale Water, and he was also the tenant farmer of 350 acres at West Luccombe. John took over Lucott when his dad moved down the valley to West Luccombe in 1963. “Then, after my father died in 1979, I approached the National Trust to take over the tenancy at West Luccombe.
“The agent asked if I would take on the ground at West Lynch as well, because the tenant, Tom Rawle, was retiring. That meant that our National Trust acreage would double overnight – from the 150 acres at West Luccombe to a total of 300, with West Lynch. And this was on top of the 700 acres at Lucott. I decided to go for it. You do these things when you’re young!”
Now responsible for 1,000 acres, John had to move fast. “I didn’t have enough stock for the land so I started growing corn, which I had never done before. We grew as good malting barley as you could get anywhere in the country and were getting £160 a ton –
more than you can get now.
“The problem was that because the ground was so stony you could only get about two tons an acre, when it was reckoned you needed double that to make a living. So we gave up and went back to sheep.
“I confess I got a lot more pleasure from that,” says the man who’s now a nationally-recognised judge of Exmoor Horns and whose son Dick, now running the Lucott farm, was judging sheep at the last Porlock Horse Show.
John reckons that Lucott land, much of it at 1,500ft, is ideal for his 1,300-strong flock. It’s cooler in summer and there are fewer
flies. “Exmoor Horns will live off very sparse vegetation and, if you cross them with a Leicester Bluefaced ram to get an Exmoor Mule, they’ll compete with any North Country breed and are easier to handle than Exmoor Horns.”
Life could be tough on the Dunkery slopes but it had its compensations. “When I was living up at Lucott during the winter of 1962-3 the snow was so bad I didn’t go to school from Christmas to Easter,” John says. “It was great. The snow was higher than the hedges and I rode my pony over the tops of gates. They brought us hay with a helicopter and I walked on the ice across Nutscale Water.”
But on this warm evening, winter seems an unreal memory. This year’s show is approaching fast and there’s still lots to do before Charmain, John and their band of helpers can be pretty certain that, come rain or shine, it will once more be a day to remember.
See you there!