History of Bury Show.

And in the beginning……

The eighteenth century brought great changes in the traditional methods of agriculture, thanks to the work of people like Jethro Tull, Viscount Charles Townshend, Robert Bakewell and Thomas Coke. 

Jethro Tull was a lawyer but his main interest was farming his land.  He invented several pieces of equipment, the most important being his horse-drawn Seed Drill which planted seed at regular intervals and covered it with earth.  This was followed by a horse-drawn Hoe which prevented the weeds crowding out the crop plants, so that every seed was given a better chance of survival.

Viscount Charles Townshend had been ambassador to the Netherlands where he had picked up valuable ideas which he put into practice on his own estates at Raynham at Norfolk, where he introduced the Four Field System of rotating crops using Barley, Wheat, Turnips and Clover.  Turnips were the new member of this group, giving him the name “Turnip Townshend”.

Robert Bakewell of Leicestershire was a pioneer in stockbreeding and vastly improved the quality of English stock by selective breeding.  His “New Leicester” sheep and “Leicester Longhorn” cattle were to become world famous.  It was said that Tull had already provided the bread and now Bakewell added the meat to feed the growing population.

Thomas Coke of Holkham Hall in Norfolk was a neighbour of Townshend and was quick to adopt any ideas that would improve the quality of his land, and the trend continues today.  In recent years Holkham has adopted a six year rotation of crops.  The improved pasture, Coke claimed, allowed him to keep 2,400 sheep where once there were only 700.  He was a promoter of the English Leicester breed, noted for maturing rapidly when fed on turnips.  He was eager to share the results of his experiments, becoming famous for his sheep shearings and meetings for farmers and landowners where the ideas were discussed.

Local Precursors 1760s – 1920s

In 1767 Manchester Agricultural Society was founded, its first show being held in St. Anne’s Square in 1768.  In 1830 it amalgamated with Liverpool Agricultural Society to become the Manchester and Liverpool Agricultural Society.  However, another change of name was in store, for in 1874 it became the Royal Manchester, Liverpool and North Lancashire Society.  In 1893 it was reconstituted and received royal patronage from Queen Victoria, and adopted the name by which it is known today, The Royal Lancashire Agricultural Society, the oldest in the country.

The landowners wanted to benefit from the new methods of production, and were often instrumental in the setting up of the agricultural societies, where by talks and demonstrations their tenants would learn the new practices.

On Friday 4th October 1850, with the Earl of Derby as its Patron and Lord Stanley as its President, the newly formed Bury Agricultural Society held its first show on land in the town centre, where the bus station stands today.

On Friday 3rd October 1851, Bury Agricultural Society held its second show on the same ground as the first show.   The Bury Society then joined forces with the Radcliffe Agricultural Society, becoming the Bury and Radcliffe Agricultural Society.  The 1852 show was held on Wednesday 1st September on land near to Radcliffe railway station.  Future shows were held alternately in Bury and Radcliffe.  The last note that we have is a report of a ploughing match and dinner that was held near to the Wellington Hotel, Bolton Road, in February 1856.

A newly formed Bury Agricultural Society had  its show at Fishpool, Bury on 31st August 1871, which attracted 22,000 visitors.  Sadly, by 1878 fortune had turned against it, with the attendance down to 15,000 and a debt of £350, about £17,000 at today’s values.

1898 saw the founding of the Ramsbottom and District Agricultural Society, which eleven years later, with the support of several gentlemen of Bury, it became The Bury, Ramsbottom and District Society.  The first show was at Fernhill, Bury on Saturday 13th June 1909.  The shows were then held in Bury and Ramsbottom in alternate years.  Wet weather and debt brought an end to this society in 1928.

Bury and District Agricultural Society 1943 to the present

‘Holidays at Home’ was a Government initiative begun in 1941, with the aim of discouraging people from travelling to the seaside during the war, with a view to reducing the strain on public transport.  Local committees were formed to provide a wide variety of entertainment in the towns for the holiday week.

In Bury, in 1943, the most ambitious part of the plans was to hold the Bury and District War-Time Agricultural Show in aid of The Red Cross Fund, for which about £700 was raised.  It was held on Redvales Field, Radcliffe Road, on Saturday 14th August, with 8,000 people attending.

The Bury Times reported, “The possibility of a similar event becoming an annual affair is already being canvassed, and we see no reason why it should not be tried.”

It was repeated the following year and has been every year since then, except for 2001 when a Foot and Mouth outbreak prevented the show from being held.

The Red Cross remained the chosen charity until 1945 when the fund closed.  Agricultural societies throughout the country raised a total of £8,000,000, about £2,500 of it from the Bury society.  We continue to support local charities, and hope to continue doing so for many years to come.

Alan Seymour
April 2017