Garstang Show has been a highlight of Lancashire’s life for more than 200 years, John Grimbaldeston looks back at the event’s early years.
William Hutton, poet, historian and Birmingham bookseller, passed through Garstang on his way to visit Hadrian’s Wall in 1801.
Its appearance was somewhat unprepossessing, it had: “Four streets, or rather one, for the other three do not deserve the name; has about two hundred houses, thirteen of which are public, and fifteen hundred souls.
“Our arrival was on the evening of the Fair-day, Saturday July 11 1801, which becoming rainy, we were amused from the windows with the country lasses, large as troopers in their best array, with their garments tucked up to avoid the wet, which exhibited limbs of a gigantic size, well adapted for working, running or kicking.
“The men also bore the same characteristics; and we could scarcely forbear concluding, the human race was of a superior size.”
Yet 12 years later, this small village inhabited by giants began an institution which has continued to this day. In 1813 the first agricultural show was held.
Prizes, or “Premiums” as they were known, were awarded for various crops and stock, and there were thirteen sweepstake prizes for stock: sweepstakes would be small financial prizes generated from the entry fees.
One of the premiums was for longhorn bulls, and a reporter for the Preston Guardian claimed that Robert Bakewell’s longhorns, foundations of the so-called agricultural revolution, were of Fylde origin. This was about the time, however, that shorthorns were taking precedence over longhorns as they were more efficient in producing both milk and beef.
Interest in agriculture was growing throughout Lancashire, and through the 1830s other more highly populated towns instigated their own exhibitions and Garstang’s suffered from the competition: Goosnargh, North Lonsdale, Ashton (Lancaster) and Preston all formed their own societies.
Garstang’s early shows thus became irregularly attended and were abandoned in 1840, then revived in 1850, but only intermittently successful until in 1885 when the Fitzherbert-Brockholes and Wilson Patten families became involved. Organisation was put on a sounder footing with representatives from the surrounding villages within a ten mile radius forming a committee.
The Royal Oak Hotel became the focal point for committee meetings and the showfield was behind the hotel on the site now occupied by Sainsbury’s. Classes around the turn of the nineteenth century were for cattle, heavy horses, light horses, sheep, pigs, poultry, pigeons, eggs, cheese, butter and grain and roots.
The centenary of the first show was held in 1913. Appropriately, Mr Fitzherbert – Brockholes was the president, and the crowd was swelled by holidaymakers from Fleetwood who had travelled on the Garstang to Knott End railway.
The Preston Guardian writer mused on the changes over the 100 years: the mosses had been drained and turned into good cropping land, farmers had become businessmen as well as farmers, they met in associations, “and by rubbing shoulders with each other become more intelligent and smarter men.”
The Great War had a huge effect on the landed classes in the Garstang area. In the immediate aftermath three estates were broken up: Garstang Manor Keppel estate was sold by auction in 1919, and although most of it was property in the town, some smallholders were able to buy their properties.
In 1922 the Wyresdale Park estate was sold by auction, and then the Nateby estate; land in Bonds, Winmarleigh and Nateby was sold and many tenants took the opportunity to buy their farms.
Though the structure of farming changed irrevocably after the war, for the Garstang Show the 1920s were a particular time of expansion.
Regular classes in the 1920s included cattle, pigs, heavy and light horses, goats, sheep, poultry, pigeons, rabbits, cavies, horticulture, cheese, butter, eggs, honey and farm produce; and traders began to realise the value of having stands to advertise and sell their products, which meant that more and more space was needed. In 1921 machinery was included and Ford automobiles and Fordson tractors were exhibited.
By the 1930s the original field at the Royal Oak was becoming over-run and a new site was established in 1938 at the Jubilee or Cricket field, which had room for exhibits and car parking. For the first time at a local show there was overnight cover for the animals.
The show organisers were always open to new ideas: in 1938 an attraction was a women’s football international between England and Scotland. May Helme of Garstang was England’s goalkeeper and captain.
The match was followed by show jumping and other sporting events. The organisers maintained a reduced show during the war years, only missing one year, and immediately in 1945 “re-established itself on its pre-war scale as one of the outstanding countryside attractions in the northwest,” according to the Lancashire Daily Post. Attendance was more than 19,000.
In 1957 the Country Princess competition was introduced. Heats were held in local dance halls in the surrounding villages and winners competed on the day of the show.
The first Country Princess was Christine Lang of Cleveleys. Her sister Brenda was also a finalist in 1960, at the tender age of 15.
Traditional classes remained popular, especially the region’s favourite animal, the Shire.
The Hull family are still closely associated with the show, and their association with that animal goes back over 100 years.
The show now attracts a wide selection of vintage agricultural vehicles as well as trade stands bursting with modern equipment as the show organisers continue to adapt and survive and provide a combination of the traditional and the modern.
* The 2016 show is on Saturday (August 6)at the Showfield, just off Green Lane East, Garstang.