A Brief History of the Society
The Newark Agricultural Society was formed in 1799 and was replaced 69 years later, in 1868, by the Newark & District Show Society. It was a thriving Society with well attended and successful shows. It is also one of the oldest in the country, preceded only by Manchester Show in 1796, and the Liverpool Show in 1797. Agricultural societies were being formed throughout the country on the recommendation of the then Board of Agriculture, a forerunner of what is known today at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
The first show to be staged at Newark grew out of the centuries old Newark May Fair and, among the older generations, it is still referred to as such. It was originally organised by local people with an interest in agriculture and for the first two years it was a one day affair. In comparison to the large number of trophies that are now awarded, there were just two in those early days - both presented by local traders and both of them for sheep.
The Nottinghamshire Society was established in 1878 and being of County status its show originally moved around the County, coming to Newark only once, in 1887. However, in 1937 it settled in Wollaton Park where it stayed until the eventual amalgamation of the two societies. The shows staged by the Newark & District Agricultural Society, with its entrepreneurial spirit flourished but a decline of interest in the county event was to result in the failure of the Nottinghamshire Society. In the face of an inevitable closure, it was amalgamated, although some may arguably say, rescued, in 1958 by Newark & District which took over the county responsibilities and adopted the town and county title by which it is know today. Mixed reactions greeted the 1989 decision to drop the word Newark from the Show title to become the Nottinghamshire County Show, although Newark remained part of the Society's name.
First Major Show
That the Show has always been held in early May, making it the first major agricultural Show of the season in England, is an acknowledgement to the original May Fair. 'Newark Show' has enjoyed several venues; Sconce Hills from 1877 until 1939; Winthorpe Park, the old Winthorpe Airfield and, in earlier times, Cross Keys Paddock on Balderton (now London) Road. In 1870, two years after the first show, it became a two day event. The Annual report for 1952 - 1953 records the purchase of the 160 acres Balderfield Farm, which was conveniently adjacent to the A1, South of Newark.
The purchase was never developed, however, and the land subsequently sold. In 1964, the Society bought some 200 acres of what was formerly Winthorpe Airfield for £20,000. With the philanthropic generosity for which he was noted, Sheffield Steel magnate, Sir Stuart Goodwin, a very good friend to the Society, declined to make any contribution towards the purchase price but promised that when the Society had raised the funds he would give a similar sum for the development of the site, which he did in 1966. The first Show was held on the site in 1982.
No Shows were held during the two World Wars and several years were also missed due to animal diseases. The Show was also impacted by the coal strike in 1921and the General Strike in 1926. Seventy six of those shows were promoted by the Newark Society and the remainder under the amalgamated title.
Presidents of the Society have reflected the industry of the area. Names like Branston, Gilstrap, Cherry-Downes reflected brewing and notable names from farming in the county included Platt, Dennison, Sheldon, Forman-Hardy, Hollingworth, Hallam, Fillingham and Pentecost to list but a few. Industry and commerce representatives have also been well to the fore. Nor has the Newark based Show been without its titled patronage. Earl Manvers, The Marquis of Titchfield, Lord Barnby and Lady Anne Bentinck all held office as President.
Fire Destroys Buildings
It was a fateful morning in April 1993 when fire engulfed the membersí pavilion and much of the Society's office accommodation. In less than an hour the single storey cedar wood structure was burnt to the ground - only a month prior to the Show. Hard work by staff and volunteers cleared the site and a marquee, in hastily landscaped surroundings, gave visitors little idea of the catastrophe which, without such hard work and dedication, could have been a much more serious setback The Newark & Nottinghamshire was one of the last major show societies to purchase its own Showground but its development is probably faster than many others.
Sir Stuart Goodwin and Cedric Ford Pavilion
The 1993 fire was a setback, but not one from which the Society shrank. Only a year later a new brick built membersí pavilion replaced the cedar wood structure. In 1994, work started on The Cedric Ford Pavilion, named after the President of that year, to acknowledge his outstanding work on behalf of the Society. This new pavilion, together with the newly rebuilt Sir Stuart Goodwin Pavilion, makes the Showground one of the best corporate entertaining and function facilities in the County, capable of accommodating up to 500 guests at exhibitions, conferences banquets and receptions, etc. as well as providing the catering hub for the Annual Show.
Secretaries & CEO
During its long history, the Society has had few secretaries. Between 1926 and 1996 only two families held the post. In 1926, farmer and schoolmaster James Crocker was secretary, followed by his son H J "Jack" Crocker from 1951 to 1969 when Neville Armitage and his wife Ann were uniquely appointed joint secretaries. They retired in 1996, after 27 years service.
Ex-army officer Adrian Johnston was then appointed in the new post of Chief Executive with the task of bringing the Society up to date and producing a business plan to take it to the next millennium and beyond.
The Society is set to take its place as a major contributor to the district's economy. Among its activities is a commitment to education in agriculture, which is exemplified by the involvement it has with our local schools, particularly at the County Show. What started all those years ago, in 1868, as a good idea between friends, with just a few sheep and cattle has now developed into a big business and a major venue for events and other activities within the region.