80 glorious years
PUBLISHED: 15:52 11 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:06 20 February 2013
The Kent County Show celebrates its 80th anniversary this month with two very special Royal guests and a whole host of new attractions and displays
What The Kent County Show is the largest outdoor event in the county
When 17, 18 and 19 July, 8am to 6pm
Where Kent Showground, Detling ME14 3JF
Who Special guests on 17 July are Their Royal Highnesses the Earl and Countess of Wessex
How On the A249 at the top of Detling Hill between junction 7 of the M20 and junction 5 of the M2
Parking Ample (free) parking plus designated areas for the disabled and concrete roads to help wheelchairs. Note site is more than 200 acres
Rail/bus travel Nearest railway station is Maidstone East. A shuttle bus will run from the station to the showground via Somerfield in King Street, Maidstone at half-hourly intervals from 8.30am (last shuttle bus leaves the showground at 6pm). The 333 also runs at hourly intervals from the bus station in Maidstone past the showground
Cost Adult £15, child (five to 15) £5
Special offers Two children go free for every adult ticket purchased (only applies if booked in advance). Closing date for advance bookings: 10 July.
A potted history
• The first Kent County Show, organised by the Kent County Agricultural Society, was held in July 1923 at Wombwell Park, Gravesend under an already threatening economic cloud. Farming was feeling the start of a depression that was to dramatically change a way of life
• Gravesend, however, was delighted to have been chosen as the venue - it was, said the mayor, the biggest advertisement that the town had been privileged to enjoy and a souvenir programme listed details of band and smoking concerts, with a sports gala and carnival as the Saturday night grand finale. Unfortunately, it was not the financial success expected and Gravesend council was later obliged to raise a penny rate to cover its own losses.
• A bowler-hatted Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, became the first of many royal visitors when he attended the second show in 1924 held at Barrow Hill, Ashford
• A variety of different sites were used before 1939 - Margate in 1926, where an industrial dispute and an outbreak of foot and mouth resulted in many empty stalls, and Knole Park, Sevenoaks in 1927, where it was held jointly with the Surrey County Agricultural Society
• Other pre-war sites included Folkestone, which played host for three years - "donning its brightest and gayest garb", according to the town's local newspaper - and Canterbury and Maidstone, where Mote Park was used for the first time. In 1935, the show was back again at Ashford.
• The Second World War, when county shows were cancelled, made home-produced food in large quantities essential for the nation's survival. Changes in British farming were started which, nearly 70 years later, are still continuing today
• In 1946 the Kent County Show resumed again, to be held each year on 30 acres of Mote Park, Maidstone, with steadily increasing standing and reputation. An attendance of 56,000 in 1956 established a new record and numbers have continued to climb, affected only by the weather.
• In 1949, at the thoroughly wet 20th show, Winston Churchill, who owned several hundred acres and a herd of pedigree dairy cows in Westerham, gained a first in the 'cow in calf' class and put in a personal appearance to claim his prize.
• The need for a permanent showground became increasingly urgent in the late 1950s and a number of locations were considered before the Kent County Agricultural Society decided on 120 acres at Detling on the A249, alongside the site of a wartime RAF Battle of Britain grass airfield.
• Deemed "a bleak, naked site with only broken bottles to drive over and from which thousands of tons of stones had to be removed", Detling was used for the first time in 1964 and since then the ground's attractiveness has been progressively enhanced, with 7,000 trees planted to improve the landscaping.
Deputy Lieutenant and Chairman of the Kent County Agricultural Society
"The Kent Show showcases the the best of Kent, where if you produce fantastic animals or flowers or have a fantastic historic vehicle, this is where you can exhibit it. It's the only show that gives a complete day out, as it focuses on everything, from the little fudge maker who works from home to the great big motor companies and the agricultural machinery experts, who went away from the show but are coming back now. We introduced the Why Farming Matters stand in 2007 and it's bought Hadlow College, the CLA, NFU, AONB and the Women's Farming Project together and made it a really vibrant area. Machinery dealers see the show as bringing agriculture back to the forefront. Agriculture can really only expose itself in two areas, ploughing matches, and here. If you have an award-winning dairy cow, the county show is the only place where you can exhibit that animal in front of everyone."
"It's very difficult to explain to people that it's not just three days work a year - there is a committee for each section, who all have to report to the show committee. It's a bit like a giant jigsaw, for example, we have to coordinate 12,000 horses and 2,000 farm animals. Entries are all in by mid-May and it just builds and builds from there. We had wall-to-wall rain on the Wednesday last year, but by the Friday we only had three puddles. The show will go on whatever the weather."
Ten things to look out for this year
1 Countryside Area and woodland crafts, plus fly fishing, ferret racing, birds of prey, otters, hounds and other country pursuits such as working gun dogs
2 EcoVillage area dedicated to companies and organisations promoting green products, services and businesses, with educational and interactive displays on show
3 Agricultural Zone - Why Farming Matters focuses on the importance of farming in Kent, how food gets to the fork, cookery demonstrations using local produce
4 Livestock - even more entries than usual this year, featuring cattle, sheep, pigs, poultry, donkeys, rabbits and goats. The grand parade of livestock is a daily highlight and there will also be demonstrations of sheep shearing through the ages
5 Young Farmers - more than 400 youngsters from schools all over Kent will show cattle, sheep, pigs and small pets, the biggest gathering of its kind in Europe
6 Heritage stand - celebrating 80 years of the County Show, includes a daily 40-minute display in the Falmouth ring of moving machinery used in the farming industry from the 1920s onwards
7 Floristry tent the National Association of Flower Arrangers is celebrating its 50th anniversary and all 21 clubs in Kent have been invited to produce a display for a '50 glorious years' exhibition
8 Horse classes of all types, including showjumping and in hand, are ongoing on all three days
9 Shopping you can buy anything from a car to a tractor, conservatory or clothing and antiques here
10 Catering - lots of bars and food outlets, using local farm produce, supporting Kent's farmers
What to wear
The best advice is to check the weather forecast and be prepared for anything - from a heatwave to a monsoon. The country set will be out in force, so if you've ever been tempted to sport a Barbour jacket and flat cap, now's your chance - and do be sensible about footwear: it's a 200-acre site and you will be doing a lot of walking, so leave the stilettos at home and don't be one of the 80 per cent of people in the UK who apparently don't own a pair of wellies! If you're privileged enough to be invited to the President's Luncheon, where the Countess of Wessex will be in attendance, I suggest you turn immediately to page 96 for all the fashion advice you'll need - but don't forget, a hat is essential (and that includes a bowler for the gents if you've got one).