WIDELY recognised as the biggest heritage and cultural show in the world, the Great Dorset Steam Fair will be celebrating its 45th anniversary this year.
The inspiration for what has become one of Europe’s largest outdoor events resulted from the meetings of vintage machinery enthusiasts at the Royal Oak Pub in Okeford Fitzpaine near Blandford.
Local farmer Michael Oliver, museum owner Ted Hines and several members of the Dorset Steam and historic vehicle club decided to put their ideas into action with a steam party in Shaftesbury back in 1968.
Enthusiasts were encouraged to bring along their engines and tackle for a small gathering on a patch of land adjacent to Ted’s museum in Shaftesbury to raise money for a cancer charity.
The first proper show took place in fields near the village of Stourpaine in 1969 and attracted around 2,000 visitors for an entrance fee of four shillings for adults and two shillings for children.
Numbers rapidly grew to 50,000 and now the world-renowned show regularly pulls in more than 200,000 people.
This year the five-day event runs from today to September 1 at the 600-acre site in Tarrant Hinton. Organised primarily by the Oliver family, founder Michael was awarded an MBE in 2004 but passed away in 2009 leaving his son Martin to preside over the biggest steam and vintage show in the world.
The dairy farmer’s boyhood love of the Somerset and Dorset Railway lay behind his initial vision for the steam fair.
Martin was only a small boy in short trousers at the first show, but he can still remember certain aspects of the early shows, with his father very much at the helm.
He said: “I don’t think anyone could have predicted the huge scale the fair has become today, especially as it grew in popularity gradually year on year, but Dad always knew it would be successful.”
Great Dorset Steam Fair stalwart, Stephen Hubbert, has been very involved in the event since the very beginning and insists the first year remains his favourite.
The 69-year-old said: “The first show was definitely the best, just because we all knew each other and it had a much smaller and friendlier feel.
“I remember distinctly that we were given a ploughman’s lunch which was a completely new experience and there was a beer tent and we went on the fairground rides until midnight.”
The historic vehicle enthusiast brought along with him an engine called Nellie, named after a famous music-hall star called Nellie Wallace. Stephen wrote a book about the Steam Fair called 40 Not Out to celebrate the 40th anniversary and he organised a re-creation at the Tarrant Hinton site.
He was also friends with Founder Michael Oliver since 1966 and said: “He had a tremendous wit and was wonderful at telling jokes.
“The more people around him, the more jokes he told, he was just an amazing man.”
Michael decided to hold the Steam Fair on the undulating landscape at Tarrant Hinton in 1988 and since then the show has seen massive growth, welcoming a record 60,000 visitors on its busiest day last year.