Do you have links with the Devon County Show’s 19th-century origins?

PUBLISHED: 07:00 22 February 2020

Men demonstrating their skills with the axe at the Devon County Show, thought to be in the 1950s. Picture:  Devon County Show archive.

Men demonstrating their skills with the axe at the Devon County Show, thought to be in the 1950s. Picture: Devon County Show archive.

Devon County Show archive.

The Devon County Show will take place for the 125th time this May, and as part of the celebrations, the organisers are looking back at the event’s history.

A prize Hereford bull at the show, with the daughter of its owner. Picture: Devon County Show archive.A prize Hereford bull at the show, with the daughter of its owner. Picture: Devon County Show archive.

The first show was held at Victoria Park, Exeter, in 1872, and, like many of the more recent events, it was hit by terrible weather. There was a torrential downpour which almost washed the Devon County Agricultural Association president's lunch guests out of his marquee. Yet the show was a success, with more than 25,000 people attending to see 500 livestock exhibits and 800 agricultural tools and pieces of machinery. There were also entertained by military bands.

For decades the show did not have a fixed home, and was held in different locations all over the county, although it returned regularly to Exeter. The Devon County Show ground in Whipton, Exeter, was established in the 1950s, and the show took place there until 1990 when it moved to the much bigger present site at Westpoint.

The reason that the 125th show is this year, rather than back in 1997, is that there were some years when the Devon County Show did not take place. On 11 occasions between 1890 and 1958 it was held in conjunction with the Bath and West Show or the Royal Show when these came to Devon. The county show was also suspended during and after the war years, from 1915 to 1920 again between 1940 and 1947.

Over the years, the show has grown and evolved, becoming much more than a livestock exhibition. But it remains very much a celebration of Devon's agriculture and farming community; the people and the produce of the land.

Devon County Show - 1981. Picture: Exmouth Journal archivesDevon County Show - 1981. Picture: Exmouth Journal archives

To mark the milestone of the 125th show, the organisers are looking for 125 people whose ancestors attended another of the earliest shows, in 1873, as an exhibitor, judge, steward or official. The stock catalogue of the 1873 show, listing all these names, has been uploaded to the Devon County Show website. Anyone who thinks they are related to someone listed in the catalogue should email press@dcshow.org; the first 125 people successfully identified will receive free tickets to this year's show, take part in a special commemorative photo-shoot, and be invited to a champagne reception on day one of the 2020 show, Thursday, May 21.


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