Adam Henson: Why county shows are a delight of summer
Countryfile's Adam Henson celebrates the joys and excitements of the local county show, a tradition going back generations for British farmers
June is the midsummer month, the time for tennis tournaments, strawberries and cream and, this year, a national celebration for Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, marking the longest reign in British history.
June has always been a red-letter month in the Henson household though, for a completely different reason – it’s when we head off to our local county show and wave the flag for local food, farming and all that’s good about rural life. There are dozens of these events across the country every summer and most are still known as agricultural shows, despite being a diverse showcase for everything from business and the arts to sport and technology.
My local show, the Royal Three Counties, is particularly special in that it brings together producers, competitors, entertainers and tens of thousands of visitors from Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire on what must be the best show site in the UK, nestled amid picturesque countryside with the magnificent Malvern Hills as a backdrop.
I have been going to the Three Counties Show since I was a little boy and, over the years, I have been a spectator, competitor, judge and, for the past few years, an ambassador. Before me, my Dad had been a regular visitor since the 1950s, when he was a student at agricultural college in Cirencester. In those days, the Three Counties, like most agricultural shows, had no permanent home, visiting a different venue every year.
In the late 1800s, the Hereford Show, as it was originally known, occasionally set up shop in Welsh towns, such as Abergavenny and Brecon, but the best example must be the Bath and West of England Show of 1933, held in Wimbledon. As the newsreels of the day proclaimed: “Country life – on London’s doorstep!”
There is plenty of old show footage online these days, some of it well over 100 years old. It’s fascinating that the importance of the livestock classes and the pride and passion shown by the competitors is the same now as it was then. That’s why I love the summer-show season so much. It’s a unique combination of sheer pleasure, total dedication and 12 months of anticipation, with the honour of a rosette or a silver cup for the very best.
But there is much more going on at a county show than family entertainment and livestock showing. It’s a chance for farming families who often live and work in isolation to come together, share their experiences and exchange ideas, informally and face to face. I can’t tell you how many people I have met on my travels whose only break away from the farm all year is three days at their local agricultural show. It’s more than simply a public event; it’s a crucial support service.
This year that role is more important than ever, as many shows are returning in full for the first time since the summer of 2019. In fact, the Association of Show and Agricultural Organisations (ASAO) is calling 2022 ‘The Year of the Comeback’. Post-Covid, there’s a great deal at stake and everyone will be hoping that the weather, the economy, as well as public health, will be on their side.
Certainly there is no shortage of love for Britain’s county shows and, with a history dating back to at least the 1760s, they have a remarkable track record of survival. So, see you at the show!