The History Of Bakewell Show

Over two centuries, the face of farming has certainly changed beyond recognition from when Bakewell show first started. Known affectionately as ‘The Little Royal,’ the show has quadrupled in size and has only gone from strength to strength. It has a well-deserved reputation as being one that of the best attended, most well organised and the friendliest show in Britain. It is organised by Bakewell Agricultural and Horticultural Society today, but it had changed its name on several occasions over the years, and has its roots in the very first meeting of farmers and landowners all those years ago, making it one of the oldest agricultural shows in the UK.

It has not always been an easy journey, battling a number of crises over the years and facing financial ruin in 1909, when the Dukes of Rutland and Devonshire agreed to underwrite the event due to the devastating recent foot and mouth outbreak at the time. It was actually one of the few shows to go ahead in the country, but it did so without any livestock or animals whatsoever.

Over the years it has evolved from a strictly agricultural event, where local farmers vied with the gentry for championship titles, affectionately competing with all classes. All manner of wealthy and not so wealthy animal lovers came together in friendly competitive combat. It reflected the diversity of farming and the countryside at the time and was truly groundbreaking.

Bakewell show dates back to 1819 when Mr Wooton Burkinshaw Thomas of Boythorpe called a meeting of 12 landowners and farmers who all met in the Angel Inn in Chesterfield to discuss the depressed state of farming after the Napoleonic wars. They decided to form a brand-new society called the ‘Scarsdale and High Peak Agricultural Society’. The aim of the society was to campaign for a tax on imported produce and to then stage an annual competition for farmers and breeders of all classes of livestock in the whole of North Derbyshire.

The very first show was then held at the Angel Inn in Chesterfield on the 5th July 1819, and it had 18 classes for livestock, which include horses, cattle, sheep and pigs, and a class all by itself for the ‘Most Industrious Farm Labourer’. The history books state the show was well attended and it was decided the show would alternate between the Angel Inn and the Rutland Arms in Bakewell.

In 1827 the society changed its name to ‘Derbyshire Agricultural Society’, which reflected the members who came from further away. Then the Duke of Rutland built a new cattle market in Bakewell and it was decided to move the show to the place it resides now. It was a time when farm machinery was coming on in leaps and bounds and the new society encouraged the demonstration of machinery at the annual show.

In 1836 it changed its name again to the ‘North Derbyshire Agricultural Society ‘due to the membership of its more southerly members. A few years later the’ Bakewell Farmers Club’ was born which met monthly to discuss improvements taking place in agriculture. In 1849 the Farmers Club staged its first show with entries mainly from the founding members, the Furness Brothers.

In the mid-1850s ‘The Bakewell Farmers Club Show’ was so popular that they changed its name once again, to ‘The Chesterfield and East Derbyshire Society’ – by then we’re sure the visiting population must have been dizzy! This period saw the introduction of poultry, which required the show to be split with produce and poultry undercover and the livestock classes continuing in the cattle market. The first dog show was introduced in 1878 with over 130 entries and the following year the show moved location to Bakewell recreation ground. It took place slightly earlier in the year and resulted in record numbers. It was also the time that rabbits and geese were shown for the first time.

Foot and Mouth disease descended in the early 1880s, which led to one of the only three occasions when Bakewell Show has been cancelled in all its history. The next year in 1884 it was back to best and the quality of livestock entry was up considerably. Due to the increase number of entries, the date was once again changed to the first Thursday in September, but unfortunately, this didn’t work due to adverse weather conditions at the time.

During the 1890s, the society grew due to its popularity of shire horses which drew in crowds from miles around and a merger with Bakewell Horticultural and Industrial Society was agreed and this saw the beginning of the horticultural exhibitions which have become part of the annual show.

The History Of Bakewell Show – The 20th Century

With dwindling pig classes being cancelled, the several years at the beginning of the 20th century started a small decline in visitor numbers to the Bakewell Show. Several members suggested the society should be disbanded, but the farmers rallied round, many unselfishly returning their own prize monies which showed a wonderful bond they shared. The Dukes of Rutland and Devonshire pledged to support the show financially for the foreseeable future. The show continued until 1914 just before the breakout of the First World War but started up again with the very first children’s competition, an essay writing contest, in 1920.

In 1925 the show had got so big it outgrew its site and in 1926, the show moved to its present location on Coombs Road and changed its name for the last time to Bakewell Agricultural and Horticultural Society. The Young Farmers Clubs which were established in the Hope Valley, Matlock and Bakewell in the 1930s was celebrated by the introduction of calf classes for club members only which still take place today but as open classes.

With the show being cancelled once again between 1940 and 1945, during World War II, this was the last time that the show didn’t take place. When it resumed again in 1946, the society changed the range of classes making the show increasingly popular and in 1955, there was the biggest record attendance for one day show visitor numbers ever recorded.

During the 1960s and 70s, the one day show became so successful and show offices were erected in 1965 to introduce new sections for fly fishing and crafts. In 1980, it finally became a two-day show and continued to grow and develop. This decade saw the introduction of the floral Art section separating the horticulture and the floral art into the two sections as it is today. The year of food and farming in 1989 saw another section introduced called, yes, you’ve guessed it, ‘ Food and Farming’

The aim was to support and promote British food and produce competitive classes for cheese producers of the surrounding area. In 1993 a Village Green Area was added to the showground for traditional craftspeople and has now always included a programme of musical entertainment and attractions. A major reorganisation of the showground was needed in 1998 due to the Agricultural Business Centre being built. This was the same year that the show made it onto the World Wide Web with a dedicated multipage website, which became an increasingly important tool as the 21st century beckoned.

Bakewell Show – Present Day

The friendly atmosphere, the farmers, the cattle and the good nature which surrounded Bakewell Show from its origins, still occurs. To this day, the first few years of the new millennium were difficult for Bakewell Show with the country once again hit by foot and mouth disease. The committee had a dreadful time deciding whether to go ahead without animals or cancel it for a year as it did in the 1880s. They decided to go with the former and opened the show, one of only shows in the country to take place, with great success. The animals were replaced with more variety acts and there would giant boxing kangaroos like ‘It’s A Knockout’. All farmers who would normally have attended as exhibitors were sent tickets for a day out and a special ‘Open for Business’ marquee was erected to allow local businesses affected by the foot and mouth disease to promote themselves totally free of charge to the shows visitors.

When the epidemic was finally over, the show went ahead as usual but it was hampered by disastrous flooding in the weeks before in 2002. Tons of gravel, wood chips and stone were tipped onto the walkways and water pumps were used to take away excess water. Tracking was brought in to keep the car parks open. The show days were thankfully dry and record crowds attended, but the extra outlay on the wet weather measurements made it a financial flop.

2007 arrived and the dog show was granted Premier status by The Kennel Club, which meant all Best of Breeds would qualify for Crufts. This increased visitor numbers no end and saw record entry numbers in 2008 and 2009. The Premier status was lost in 2010 but there is hope to regain it in the future. The horse section is still very popular today, holding qualifiers for several national events and in 2008 Bakewell show decided to start holding some of the larger qualifying classes on the Tuesday afternoon, to free up more time for the popular ring schedules of the Show itself. This has become a permanent fixture with most Tuesday dedicated to horse classes, weather permitting.

Bakewell show really has gone from strength to strength and visitors and residents of the Peak District can’t wait to see the new line up each year. Each show is different, with old and new faces alike, but there is always something new to see. One thing that doesn’t change though, thankfully, is the atmosphere of the place. It is fun filled, family friendly, and generally one or two days out in the summer where you can sample the best of the Peak District and have a great time.