HISTORY OF GOSFORTH AND DISTRICT AGRICULTURAL SOCIETY
In December 1875 a group of the principal farmers in the district met at the High , Gosforth to discuss the forming an Agricultural Society for the area. Mr John Tyson of Blennerhazel Farm, Gosforth who was elected the first Chairman of the Committee. He offered a field (now part of the Denton Park Housing Estate), in the centre of the village for use as a showfield and the show continued here until 1913 when it ceased for the duration of the first World War. Two further meetings followed when a committee was proposed and the boundary for the district was established. The Committee was made up of local farmers whose surnames include Tyson, Gunson, Benson, Grice, Mashiter, Braithwaite, Spedding, Wilson, Matterson, Cook, Parker, Plummer, Hartley, Mossop and Steele to name a few. Subscriptions were set at 10 shillings per member with free entry in all classes or 5 shillings per member with free entry to the ground and a charge of 1 shilling per head for each entry. A list was opened in the room and almost £40 subscribed. The second meeting, held on 20th January 1876 finalised the committee membership and announced the acceptance of the various offices: patron – Mr A B Steward of Newton Manor, president – Mr Stanley of Ponsonby Hall and vice president – Lord Muncaster MP of Muncaster Castle. The Chairman had received promises of nearly £80 in money as well as several special prizes.
THE FIRST GOSFORTH SHOW – FRIDAY 20TH SEPTEMBER 1876
The first exhibition of the Society was held on 20th September 1876. The weather, though uncertain in the morning cleared later in the day, did not deter the visitors who started arriving early in the morning from surrounding farms and villages as well as by train to nearby Seascale Station. Mr J Fearon’s handsome coach and team of four chestnuts brought many leading towns people from Whitehaven.
The show was held in two fields close to the Church, in the larger field the horse classes were housed and driving and leaping courses staked out. Spectators had a good view of events from the large grandstand which was erected half-way along the rails as well as the view afforded by natural high ground at one end of the field. This field also held the implement exhibits and the luncheon marquee. Round the walls of the second field were cattle, sheep and pig pens and in one corner the committee tent was erected.
The entries in all classes totalled 478 of which 128 were horses including agricultural, roadsters, hackneys and leapers. The remaining entries were for cattle, sheep and pigs. Long red Mangolds, Swede Turnips and Hybrids made up the root classes. A premium of 3 guineas was awarded to Messrs Head and Heron, Egremont for their display of implements. The only class where ladies dominated was for 3 pound of butter without print or mark and produced 15 entries from the area.
Two other competitions were judged prior to show day. “The Green Crop Competition” and “The Best Managed Farm”. The Right Hon. Lord Muncaster, MP, gave £5 for the best general green crop, not less than 3 acres to be shown and the Society gave £2 for second. The first prize went to William Sharpe, of Drigg Moorside and the 2nd to Mrs Gowan, of Byersteads. The Newton Manor Cup (value 10 guineas) was given by the patron of the Society A B Steward, Esq for the best managed farm in the parish of Gosforth, in the best general state of cultivation, neatest and most exact order as to fences, gates, drains, farmyards, cleanliness from weeds and in the most eligible succession of green and white crops. The winner was Mr William Benson of (Low) Boonwood.
The luncheon, held in a large marquee on the show ground and catering provided by Messrs Hincs and Taylor of Barrow in Furness, was well attended by most leading figures in the district. After many toast being proposed the assembled parties moved to the field to watch the driving and jumping contests and the conclusion.
The weather has always played a vital role in the success of the Show and many of the Show reports in the Whitehaven News refer to Gosforth Show being “favoured with faultless weather”. However, 1883 was an exception when gale force winds blew the Luncheon tent away on the eve of the Show. This did not deter the Committee and arrangements were made for the Luncheon to be held in the nearby school.
The Show has had few breaks during its 135 year history but the Show was not held for the duration of World War One and World War Two. The two fields adjacent to Gosforth Hall was the site of the show from 1876 until 1913 but on the revival of the show in 1919 a new showground was found at Harecroft Park on the opposite side of the road to Harecroft Hall. The final show on this field was a memorable one but not for the best of reasons being the day Germany invaded Poland - Friday 1st of September 1939. The Whitehaven News reported
“Spectators at Gosforth Show on Friday were calm but anxious. Few took any interest in the judging the majority standing in groups discussing the war news. Every new arrival was besieged with questions about the latest information about the outbreak of hostilities.
The gloom of the proceedings in the early part of the day was heightened by a steady dismal drizzle which persisted until after lunch. Brilliant weather in the afternoon did little to enliven the proceedings, and the number of arrivals diminished instead of increasing. Curtailed bus services, combined with the gravity of the situation resulted in an attendance much below the average and one that was less than 50 per cent of last years.”
A visitor to that show remembers “At 3 pm that afternoon Tommy Bragg, Livestock Remover from Egremont and two more lorry drivers were summoned over the loud speaker system, to set off at once, off the field for London, to collect supplies to bring back up North, as war was about to be declared on Sunday September 3rd.”
Another visitor remembered leaving the show with other girl guides to go to the railway station at Seascale to meet the evacuees who were billeted in the area.
This was to be the last show for the duration of the war. The Victory Show was held on Friday September 7th 1945 in Petton Farm Field (now used as a car park on show day) where it remained until removal to the current site.
The Show has been continually evolving; the Root Section which started as a few classes aimed at the local farming community featured Mangold Wortzel, Swede, Cabbages, Potatoes and Carrots displayed on the ground went on to be displayed within a large horticultural marquee and to this day attracts all types fruit, vegetables, plants and flowers.
Within a few years of the founding of local women’s institutes in the early 1920s an additional section of classes were added for WI members these included fine embroidery, canvas work, wool rugs, leatherwork and of course produce such as Cakes and preserves. The farmer’s wives, sisters and daughters still continued to exhibit their butter, bread and dressed poultry and in the early years of the show and during the first quarter of the 20th Century the prizes were substantial. In 1897 the Whitehaven News gave a Lady’s Silver Watch value £2 10s as a prize for the best three pounds of fresh butter. For a dozen Fresh Brown Eggs Mr Hinde, Jeweller of Whitehaven gave and Electro Plated Hot Water Jug value 15s for first prize and for second prize a Jam Stand value 7s 6d. In 1904 The Whitehaven News had upped its prize to a ladies gold keyless watch valued at £3 3s.
A Fur and Feather Tent was introduced in 1953 and is still a colourful and interesting feature. The History Tent first made its appearance in 2000 and has been popular ever since.
Foot and Mouth disease affected the Show in both 1951 and again twenty years later in 2001. In 1951 the cancellation of the show meant a loss of £500 to the Society and was a threat to its future. However, the majority of subscribers told the Committee to keep the subscriptions. Matt Singleton raised his to 10 guineas and gave a pig to raffle which brought in another £75. The Secretary Matt Mossop organised a dance which raised over £30. The result was that no loss was felt by the Society.
There have been some exciting attractions at Gosforth Show including amazing Kossack Horse Riders and more recently The Dancing Diggers. This year there will be an extra special attractions “Big Pete and the Grim Reaper”.