RETRO: Peak District show still a success after 184 years

Buxton Advertiser archive, 1974, part of a parade of farming through the ages that was presented in the main ring at Bakewell Show
Buxton Advertiser archive, 1974, part of a parade of farming through the ages that was presented in the main ring at Bakewell Show
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Thousands of fun-seekers are set to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the 184th Bakewell Show tomorrow and Thursday.

This year’s main attractions will be an eight-foot robot called Titan and spectacular motorcycle displays from the James Dylan’s Stuntworld group. Then there are all the usual animal classes, cookery demonstrations, horticultural exhibits, craft displays and vintage and classic cars.

Buxton Advertiser archive, The cattle ring, Bakewell Show 1920s

Buxton Advertiser archive, The cattle ring, Bakewell Show 1920s

As in the past couple of years, a special equestrian day took place yesterday.

Things were just a little different when the show first started in 1819.

The initiative of local landowners and farmers, the first show was held at the Angel Inn in Chesterfield in July, 1819.

It had 18 classes for horses, cattle, sheep and pigs – and one for the most industrious farm labourer. One assumes that the farmhands weren’t led around the ring like a prize bullock…

The show was such a success that the organisers decided that it would alternate between the Angel Inn and the Rutland Arms in Bakewell.

The event has battled through a number of crises, from facing financial ruin in 1909, when the Dukes of Rutland and Devonshire stepped in and agreed to underwrite the event “for the foreseeable future”, to the most recent foot-and-mouth outbreak in 2001, during which it was one of the few shows to go ahead – without animals.

The early shows had a peculiar aspect, the judging of “extra stock”, entries that would not qualify for prize money, entered by the local landed gentry who did not wish to discourage less wealthy farmers from entering. This in turn led to sweepstakes and private wagers which were settled by the show judge with the winner taking the pool.

In 1878 the dog show appeared for the first time with 130 entries. The following year the show moved location to what is now Bakewell recreation ground and took place slightly earlier than usual, resulting in record numbers. The following year also saw rabbits and geese being shown for the first time.

In the 1890s, a horticultural exhibition was introduced on a trial basis.

By 1925 the show had once again outgrown its site and in 1926 it moved to its present location on Coombs Road.

The show was cancelled due to the outbreak of World War Two and the period between 1940 and 1945 was the last time that the show did not take place.

When it resumed, the society took the opportunity to rethink its range of classes. These changes made the show increasingly popular and in 1955 record attendance for a one-day show was recorded.

Bakewell finally became a two-day show in 1980.

In 1993 a Village Green area was added to the showground for demonstrations by traditional craftspeople, plus musical entertainment and attractions.

A major re-organisation of the showground was needed in 1998, when an Agricultural Business Centre was being built.

The show also made it online in that year with its own website.

In 2002, with the foot and mouth epidemic over, the showground suffered disastrous flooding in the weeks leading up to the event, which threatened its survival.

Tons of wood chip, stone and gravel were tipped into the walkways, water pumps went into action and tracking was brought in to keep the car parks open.

The show days were dry and record crowds 
attended, but the cost of all the wet weather measures made it a financial flop with a loss of £25,000.

However, the show did go on and it remains a major attraction of the Peak 
District summer, with thousands enjoying its friendly atmosphere.