THE NW SHOWS RICH
HISTORY OF SUCCESS
WESTMORLAND County Show is not an event on the scale of other major county shows like those in Devon, Lincoln or Norfolk. But talk to showgoers and livestock exhibitors the length and breadth of Britain and the Show earns praise and respect for retaining the traditional values of agriculture and the rural communities that are its foundation.
"Its a show for farmers but we are happy for everyone else to come along," says new show society chief executive Rodger Read.
But the show has also attracted attention for another reason – its bank balance. It currently stands at £2.3m – in the black. Rather a nice feeling to know that a rain-soaked show day – as in 1998 – and a lower attendance isnt going to empty the coffers.
Westmorland County Show achieved its healthy financial status following the sale of its showfield on the outskirts of Kendal in 1990. The seven-acre site was sold to supermarket giant Morrisons for £2m. The money was invested at the high interest rates prevailing at the time. Between the sale of the site and the purchase of a new venue, the deal was done leaving virtually the whole original lump sum intact!
The show and its permanent offices are now based at 90-acre Lane Farm that was purchased at Crooklands close to Kendal. While the farm provides the venue for the one-day show each September, it is the intention of the committee – under the current chairmanship of Cumbrian livestock farmer John Geldard – to use the location and the funds available to create a much wider role for the Westmorland County Agricultural Society.
"Agriculture and the rural way of life will always be at the top of our agenda but we are already underway with several other schemes.
"We want to establish part of the farm buildings as a rural resource centre where a host of skills and practical information can be passed on to farmers and country dwellers.
"Anything from computer literacy and help with farm diversification projects to developing food-related businesses will form part of the programme," says Mr Read.
And in addition the farm itself will be used as a "classroom" to teach skills such as hedge-laying.
He admits he has a hard act to follow. He took over from Chris Lambert who had been secretary of the show society for 25 years. Mr Lambert, widely respected for his administrative and visionary skills across a wide range of rural matters in Cumbria, sadly died just before he was about to hand over the reins.
"He was a very popular figure who epitomised what this show society is all about – farmers and country people. Im sure he would have been pleased with the way we are continuing to develop many of his ideas."
When the show society was founded – on August 24 1799 at Dallam Tower, Milnthorpe – there were about 10 other agricultural societies in existence. The nearest was Manchester and the only one to the north was the Highland. At the time the cattle in the district of Kendal were mainly Longhorns and Galloways.
Sheep are the backbone of much of Westmorlands farming and the sheep section at the show continues to attract big entries – almost 600 head. A hundred years ago shepherds would lean on their crooks to revel in some good Cumbrian "crack" about the finer points of Shropshires, Leicesters, Horned Crag, Rough Fell and the indomitable Herdwick.
At this years show the scene will have changed little. Although stalwart breeds like the grey-coated Herdwicks and heavily-fleeced Rough Fells will continue to capture the real flavour of the regions sheep farming, Swaledale and Blue-faced Leicester devotees will be out in force reflecting the importance of the Mule to the income of Cumbrias hill farms.
While dairy and beef support brings in well over 300 head of cattle, the livestock section has become a great end-of-season gathering for goat exhibitors who swell the goat tent with almost 200 entries.
This years show should attract over 15,000 visitors. Competition in this 200th anniversary year will be intense. Fortunately the only trophy that competitors will have to fight over will be one guaranteed to draw a huge crowd.
Bouts of Cumberland and Westmorland Wrestling will see men in the familiar white vests and leggings heaving and throwing their opponents to the floor as they have done at this show since its inception. The winners bruises will be soothed with a cheque for £500 and a coveted title the sports 14-stone World Championships.
"We have an important role to play by supporting those working and living in the Cumbrian countryside and also educating those who come to see a slice of rural life at the show. They may only get a glimpse of what we are about so we want to make sure its a day they will never forget," says Mr Read.
* A history of the show From Fell and Field has been written by local historian Roger Bingham. Price £9.99. Available from Cicerone Press. Tel: (015395) 62069.