Rupert Cox: This is my month
PUBLISHED: 13:02 13 June 2016 | UPDATED: 13:02 13 June 2016
Rupert Cox makes no apologies for exploring the history and purpose of agricultural societies in the month of May, because it is ‘his’ month
What do I mean by ‘my’ month? Well, it is the month that I was born at the dawn of the 1960s and the month when the Royal Bath & West Show occurs, being the week of the Whitsun Bank Holiday.
This year May is even more special for me as it is the month my first grandchild is expected. Excitement is brewing, but it better not be late and disturb the successful running of the 154th show!
So why do agricultural shows matter? They matter because for more than 150 years they have promoted and encouraged all that is good about farming, rural activities and a strong focus on quality local food.
Our society has been in operation since 1777 – 11 years before the formation of Australia and 28 years before Tolstoy’s War & Peace was set. According to our first minute book dated 7 September, 1777 (and stored carefully in the vaults of the Bath Guildhall), it was formed for the purpose of encouraging agriculture, manufacture, commerce and fine arts.
Two and half centuries have past and the purpose has altered little with our charitable objectives now being the ‘encouragement of agriculture, manufacture, commerce and rural crafts’.
For the first hundred or so years, the work of agricultural societies was as academic advocates – taking the knowledge gleaned from early research from such luminaries as Jethro Tull and his British Agricultural Revolution, and transferring that knowledge into mainstream farming of the day.
The societies were predominantly led by the landed gentry who were keen for their tenant farmers to become more efficient so that they could be financially more viable and therefore pay more rent. The modern parlance, or management speak, for such activity is knowledge transfer – something that societies still do today.
The shows appeared for two reasons. Firstly, by collecting up all the new whizzy gizmos and gadgets in one place, all the farmers could gather and see the latest technology of the day actually working . The second reason is a little more competitive as the landlords pitched their farmers against one another to show off the best stock in the area – and probably exchanged a wager or two along the way.
Roll the clocks forward 150 years and the Royal Bath & West Show has been hosted on our showground at Shepton Mallet for a mere 50 years after 100 years travelling around the south of England from Truro, to Taunton, to Tewksbury and over to Twickenham.
In that time this event has not only become the pinnacle of the farming calendar, but a ‘must attend’ event for anyone with an interest in farming and country living – and we still have that competitive streak.
The creative thread of the society is still very much intact with more than 100 pieces of local art being exhibited; floral art displays; honey classes and it even gets competitive between the plethora of trade-stands that adorn the avenues as they compete for biggest and best. The significant change for the 2016 show is close to many Somerset Life readers’ hearts – food and drink! After 35 years in the same shed, we are exploding the world of food and drink and bringing more than 120 amazing foodies outside and under canopies, with live music every day giving the whole area a street food festival feel.
Agricultural shows provide a fantastic celebration of great British farming, food and rural entertainment by bringing together, under a big 200 acre umbrella, farmers, producers and consumers to share the experiences of rural life; to witness the very best of British agriculture, to learn where our food comes from and the hard work endured to bring the food to our tables. Just as importantly, it allows us to have fun with people of a like mind – we all love living in the countryside!
I would love you to come and visit the Royal Bath & West Show at Shepton Mallet from the 1-4 June, but if you can’t make our show please visit at least one agricultural show this summer and experience a very special day out.