Thursday, 3 May 2012

Article - The history of the Newark and Notts County Show

NAPOLEON was on his intended march to world domination when a group of Notts farmers answered a national call to boost output.

The year was 1799, William Pitt had just levied a new tax to help the fight against Bonaparte and produce from the land was becoming ever more important.

Answering an appeal from the Board of Agriculture, the original Newark Agricultural Society was formed to display and promote farming in the county, becoming only the third of its kind in the country, behind the Manchester Show (1796) and the Liverpool Show (1797).

Newark was also the first to be staged each year as it grew out of the centuries-old Newark May Fair, making it an important date on the farming calendar.

However, it was a small affair by comparison to today's event.

In the early days only two trophies were awarded...both for sheep.

The 2012 schedule has entrants fighting for the silver in categories covering livestock, equestrian, vintage vehicles and floral art.

Presidents of the society have reflected the industry of the area. Names like Branston, Gilstrap, Cherry-Downes reflected brewing and notable names from farming in the county included Platt, Dennison, Sheldon, Forman-Hardy, Hollingworth, Hallam, Fillingham and Pentecost to list but a few. Industry and commerce representatives have also been well to the fore. Nor has the Newark-based show been without its titled patronage. Earl Manvers, The Marquis of Titchfield, Lord Barnby and Lady Anne Bentinck all held office as president.

Perhaps more important has been the post of secretary, remarkably a position held for 70 years by only two families.

In 1926, farmer and schoolmaster James Crocker was secretary, followed by his son H J "Jack" Crocker from 1951 to 1969 when Neville Armitage and his wife Ann were uniquely appointed joint secretaries. They retired in 1996, after 27 years' service.

Ex-army officer Adrian Johnston was then appointed in the new post of chief executive with the task taking the society into the new millennium.

From 1878, Newark Show had competition from the Nottinghamshire Society which established its showground at Wollaton Park.

But for some reason, the Notts society struggled while Newark thrived and, in 1958, it was rescued by a merger, creating the Newark and Nottinghamshire County Show that we know today.

The venue changed several times over the years: Sconce Hills, Winthorpe Park and the Cross Keys Paddock in London Road were all used before the society paid around £20,000 in 1964 for the old Winthorpe Airfield.

Backed by cash from steel millionaire and philanthropist Sir Stuart Goodwin, the site was developed and in 1982 it hosted its first show.

The passage of history has not always been smooth.

No shows were held during the two world wars, several years were lost due to animal diseases, and the coal strike of 1921 and the 1926 General Strike also seriously affected the event.

But the biggest blow struck on an April morning in 1993 when fire engulfed the members' pavilion and much of the society's office accommodation.

In less than an hour the single-storey cedar wood structure was burnt to the ground – only a month prior to the show.

Hard work by staff and volunteers cleared the site and a marquee, in hastily-landscaped surroundings, gave visitors little idea of the catastrophe that had occurred.

Only a year later, a new brick-built members' pavilion replaced the wood structure.

In 1994, work started on The Cedric Ford Pavilion, named after the president of that year, to acknowledge his outstanding work on behalf of the society.

That new pavilion, together with the newly-rebuilt Sir Stuart Goodwin Pavilion, transformed the showground into one of the best corporate entertaining and function facilities in the county, capable of accommodating up to 500 guests at exhibitions, conferences banquets and receptions, as well as providing the catering hub for the annual show.

The show has come a long way over the past two centuries, from an event to show off a few cattle and sheep, to a major player in the local economy.

This year's show, which will be staged on May 12 and 13, is certain to enhance its reputation and position.

For more information about the show, contact 01636 705796, e-mail or visit the website


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