These days an animal becomes a national phenomenon when it performs a zany trick on a TV talent show but back in the early 1800s it was the sheer size of a Yorkshire-born heifer that earned it celebrity-like status.
Of course record keeping then was not like it is today and while reports are unclear as too precisely how unusually large the Craven Heifer was, the most accurate deduction from the history books is that this was a beast that measured some 11ft long, 6ft tall and 4ft wide.
Born on the Bolton Abbey Estate, she was so enormous that a special door twice as wide as the norm was built to ensure she could pass in and out of the cow shed.
Such was her extraordinary stature that people would pay to see her as she was put on show whilst being transported to Smithfield Market in London. The story of her legend as the largest heifer ever shown in England lives on today and is now being retold anew, all because of the Great Yorkshire Show.
The county’s largest agricultural extravaganza started out as a touring show and was first held in 1838 - in the same era as the Craven Heifer - on land adjacent to where the Army’s Imphal Barracks in York stands today, in the barrack yard of the 5th Dragoon Guards.
The interventions of world wars and Foot and Mouth disease mean that this summer the Great Yorkshire will be held by the Yorkshire Agricultural Society for the 160th occasion, once again at its now permanent home in Harrogate.
Taking centre stage to launch the event’s latest milestone instalment is the Craven Heifer. Though long gone, it has been recreated in life-size dimensions by Whitby-based artist Emma Stothard, who with the guidance of the show’s chief cattle steward Margaret Chapman, has reimagined the heifer using more than half a tonne of galvanised steel.
Her huge recreation was unveiled for the first time earlier today at Bolton Abbey with the help of the estate’s Duke and Duchess of Devonshire before it was transported nearly 50 miles aboard a specially designed truck to Fulford, York. There, in a nod to the Great Yorkshire Show’s history, it was taken to Imphal Barracks. It arrived with a police escort, accompanied by music played by gurkha pipe player Corporal Samir Rai and was greeted by 50 soldiers of the 2 Signal Regiment, plus a group of cheering schoolchildren from Fulford School and St Oswald’s CE Primary.
“This has been one of my most ambitious projects to date, requiring hours of research with the help of Margaret Chapman,” artist Ms Stothard said.
“We’ve poured over many paintings and different documents charting the Craven Heifer’s size. We wanted the ‘GYSheifer’ to be as lifelike as possible. It’s been exciting to bring the Craven Heifer back to life for everyone to get an idea of how big she really was.”
Speaking at Imphal Barracks, show director Charles Mills said the GYSheifer was a “wonderful” creation as he looked ahead to this year’s Great Yorkshire.
“There will be plenty of surprises but I have got to say, especially when we have got the Craven Heifer behind us, some of the world’s best livestock you will see anywhere, certainly in this country. We are actually full to capacity with huge waiting lists.
“We have some great main ring attractions with the ever-exciting Lorenzo (the flying horseman), and Lizzie Jones singing, there will be so many different things to see as always. Every section of the show has tried to be reinvented ever so slightly.”
The Craven Heifer was a Shorthorn breed and, fittingly, the UK Beef Shorthorn Championships will be held at the 160th Great Yorkshire, one of three national cattle breed shows to be held during the event.
SCULPTURE GOES ON TOUR
Emma Stothard’s huge GYSheifer is embarking on a tour of the region in the run up to the Great Yorkshire Show which will be held between July 10 and 12.
The sculpture’s first stop is Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield on Friday. On May 26 it will be at Malton Food Lovers Festival, on May 31 at Yummy Yorkshire in Huddersfield, on June 2 at Wold Top Brewery in Driffield and on June 10 at Our Cow Molly farm shop in Sheffield.
The public are invited to post their selfies with #GYSheifer on Twitter. The best picture from each location wins a family tickets to the Great Yorkshire Show.
Tickets for this year’s show are on sale now, see greatyorkshireshow.co.uk