Newbury Show to return to Showground after three-year break
The Royal County of Berkshire Show — more fondly, and now officially, known as the Newbury Show — is returning this September following a three-year break.
The show started as a humble agricultural meet up at Enborne Gate Farm on September 28, 1909.
Now thousands flock through the gates at Newbury Showground every year to sample a taste of country life, in what has grown to become one of the biggest dates in the county’s social calendar.
For just two days, this 150-acre patch, ideally placed on the M4/A34 interchange, is brimming with activity including fair rides, trade stands and livestock shows. The show attracted almost 55,000 visitors at its last installment in 2019.
The show has taken place each year without fail, absent only between 1928 and 1935 due to the Great Depression, the World Wars and the Covid-19 pandemic.
But what is it behind the show’s enduring ability to draw town and country folk alike?
“If farming is still the backbone of the country, then the agricultural shows are the multi-coloured cloak worn proudly over the broad shoulders of the farming community when, once a year, they take the country to the town,” reads Bert Houghton’s, Just More of the Berkshire Farmer (1991).
Nothing could be truer. It has almost become a rite of passage for any Berkshire resident to visit the show at least once.
I can conjure a vague memory when I was a little Berk visiting the popular annual event. I entered a military tank on display and in my excited curiosity, unintentionally lowered the turret, nearly dispensing with a signpost outside. I swiftly exited after that.
But someone with memories of the show long before my time is 80-year-old Michael Winterbourne, from Boxford.
Mr Winterbourne had been involved with the show since the 1960s, when he and his two brothers ran their own landscaping firm.
The show has always been more than just a social occasion; it is where anyone worth their salt in the local agricultural world comes together to parade their best wares before their associates and judges, who can make or break reputations, as Mr Winterbourne explains.
“If you’ve been brought up in it, it’s always within you,” he said. “It always did a lot for us.
“The whole reason why the Newbury Show started was to thank the farmers for the harvest that they pulled in.
“I always looked forward to it because it was friendly. You met a lot of people.
“Most of the people in Newbury and all the ones that used to run Newbury Show, we worked with them all.”
Mr Winterbourne can remember the smallest details from the smell of bacon and eggs in the early morning once traders had set up their stands, to sneaking in to enjoy his first glass of beer as a lad — attesting to the deep impression the show has made on Berkshire’s social fabric.
Newbury Show has seen multiple name changes and incarnations over its lifespan.
Starting at Elcot Park, the show moved on to other venues including Henwick at Thatcham and Shaw (where Vodafone is today) — which Mr Winterbourne recalls was prone to flooding — before the Newbury and District Agricultural Society, which has run the show since day one, eventually purchased the present site at Newbury Showground in Chieveley in 1984.
Chair of the charity’s education committee, Steven Ackrill, also shared his recollections of the show’s evolution.
He said: “The education tent used to be called the schools' tent. It was competitive for many years, then in the 1970s, when competition was frowned upon in schools, it became a showcase for schoolwork.
“Displays were put up on rolls of corrugated card with dressmaking pins and fell down with amazing regularity.
“One year, the weather was so bad that members on the gates just gave up and allowed us to bring our cars onto the showground.
“They had races for dogs chasing an artificial hare along a track and over jumps. My dachshund ran under the jumps, through the bales of straw and caught the hare.
“It was all very local and comparatively low key.”
And discussing what he thinks have been of the show’s key moments, Newbury historian, David Peacock, added: “The overall importance of the show must be in the way it has reflected local agriculture over the decades: the changing livestock and crops and the equipment used.”
He also noted the “re-making of the Newbury Coat at the 1991 Newbury Show”.
The show is returning on September 16 and 17, promising ring displays, craft marquees, hands-on activities, vintage displays and the traditional grand livestock parade, with Ramsbury Brewing & Distilling Co as the headline sponsor.