Meeting set show on road

The Great Yorkshire Show in 1954
The Great Yorkshire Show in 1954
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For more than 150 years the Great Yorkshire Show has stuck to a simple mission statement; to showcase the best that Britain’s farmers and countryside has to offer.

This year more than 130,000 people will flock to Harrogate for the event, now the most prestigious event in the English farming calendar.

They will be joined by Ministers, farming leaders, the country’s foremost cattle breeders and a host of businesses and organisations whose work keeps the English countryside the envy of the world. So it is hard to believe that the entire enterprise was conceived in a small room at the back of a York pub.

The meeting, held at the Black Swan Hotel in October 1837, was led by the Third Earl Spencer and was designed initially to discuss the future of the farming industry.

The net result of this meeting was the formation of the Yorkshire Agricultural Society – a body which was to pursue the objective of improving and developing the industry, alongside organising an annual agricultural showcase. The Great Yorkshire Show was born.

A plaque commemorates this meeting on the site of the pub on Coney Street. The first show was held in the Fulford area of York the next year. In an era before cars and ease of national travel, it is perhaps testimony to its early stature that its early shows attracted more than 6,000 visitors.

Although now settled on the purpose-built showground off Wetherby Road in Harrogate, the first few decades of the show’s life saw it travel around Yorkshire, being held at some 30 towns in all three of historic Yorkshire Ridings.

It was in 1950 that the decision was taken to build the show a permanent home, so ending its wanderings.

The innovative layout of the showground was a trend-setter at the time and was emulated elsewhere in the country. In the early 1990s the showground was given a much-needed multi-million pound revamp and now hosts the Yorkshire Events Centre and Pavilions of Harrogate, which are used throughout the year.

It is perhaps testimony to the event’s organisers, the Yorkshire Agricultural Society, that the show has steadily increased in popularity in recent years, despite the decreasing profile that farming has suffered in recent years.

The record attendance was set in 2006 when 135,111 people went through the entrances, with last year’s show coming 25 visitors short of equalling it.

Members of the Royal family are frequent visitors to the event and the society’s chief executive Nigel Pulling last year said that the show was enjoying “a golden period” at present.

On the strength of its attraction to visitors, this period shows no sign of ending any time soon.