On the 16th September 1809 the following announcement appeared in the Lancaster Gazette:
“In consequence of a request made to me, as Chairman of the Association assembled at Garstang for the Protection of Property, on Tuesday the 7th September inst, to convene a meeting for the purpose of taking into consideration the propriety and utility of forming an Agricultural Society, as useful and beneficial to the neighbourhood, – I hereby accordingly desire a meeting of the gentlemen who think themselves interested therein at the Royal Oak in Garstang on Thursday the 28th day of September inst at one o’clock in the afternoon.” – Alex Butler, Kirkland Hall, September 9th, 1809
Thus was born the Society, and in 1813 the Society held its first show, a relatively small affair with 13 prizes, “premiums,” for crops and stock, and 12 sweepstake prizes for stock.
The Royal Oak was from the first a staunch supporter of the show. In 1816 the President and about forty gentlemen and farmers dined afterwards at the Town Hall, but then in 1818 for the first time the dinner was held at the Royal Oak, and the show had been held on Chapel Field which belonged to the Landlord, Mr McKie.
Rivalry from other local shows in Goosnargh, Lytham and Gt Eccleston caused entries and attendances to decline. Shows lapsed around 1840, were revived around 1855, though concentrated mainly on horses. Only with the amalgamation of the Agricultural Society with the Garstang Dog and Poultry Association at a meeting at the Royal Oak in July 1885 did the Society become recognisable as it exists today. Representatives were allocated from the surrounding villages within a ten mile radius, and Mr Fitzherbert-Brockholes was asked to be President, Lord Winmarleigh, formerly John Wilson Patten MP, also took an interest, and those two families have provided a succession of Presidents down the years.
The ensuing show was reported as the first show of the Garstang and District Agricultural Society, and was considered a great success, though horses were the outstanding exhibits. The show continued to prosper over the next few years, each year adding entries and prize money.
Reports of the show in the newspapers catalogue the region’s growth. A creamery was built in 1897; show attendances were swelled by holiday makers travelling from Fleetwood on the Garstang – Knott End railway; and the Great War ultimately led to the breaking up of the major estates in the area. Garstang Manor Keppel estate was sold by auction in 1919, and although most of it was property in the town, some smallholders were able to buy their properties. In 1922 the Wyresdale Park estate was broken up and sold by auction, and then the Nateby estate, with lands in Bonds, Winmarleigh and Nateby was sold and most tenants took the opportunity to buy their farms. The structure of farming was changing rapidly, but the Show remained a constant, and constantly adapted.
A horticultural section was added in 1903, goats were introduced in 1920, encouraged by Mrs Clement Pickard of Quernmore, who was a member of the British Goat Society and allocated to Garstang two of the Society’s ten yearly challenge certificates. In 1921 Ford Automobiles and Fordson Tractors were exhibited for the first time.
From 1922 two new officials took the Society forward for almost twenty years. Thomas Stuart of New Hall became Chairman, and James Henry Ward of Eastleigh, Garstang, Secretary. Wider interests were catered for and classes through the twenties came to include cattle, pigs, heavy and light horses, goats, sheep, poultry, pigeons, rabbits, cavies, horticulture, cheese, butter, eggs, honey and farm produce; and traders began to realise the value of having stands to advertise and sell their products, so the area of the show expanded to incorporate these trade stands.
By the nineteen thirties the original field at the Royal Oak was becoming over-run and a new site was established in 1938 at the Jubilee or Cricket field, which had room for exhibits and car parking. For the first time at a local show there was overnight cover for the animals, and a rare extra attraction was a women’s football international between England and Scotland: May Helme of Garstang was England’s goalkeeper and captain.
1957 saw the inaugural Country Princess competition. Heats were held in local village dance halls such as St Michaels, Cockerham and Winmarleigh, and the final took place at the Showground in August. The first Country Princess was Christine Lang from Cleveleys.
The years since the formation of the Garstang and District Agricultural Society have seen a lot to celebrate. By your visit to the show and your support you are making your own contribution to the continued good health of this venerable institution, and of our area’s agriculture.
Thanks to John Grimbaldeston for providing the account of the show’s history.