by John Mackie
Great Ecclesto'n Agricultural Society, originally named the Rawcliffe Farmers Club, was founded in 1853 for "the improvement and advancement of agriculture". At the inaugural meeting held in the Cartford Hotel sixty-two farmers from Out Rawcliffe, St Michaels, Hambleton, and Great and Little Eccleston each paid five shillings (25p) to join - several days' wages in those days. The local squires, Thomas Robert Wilson-ffrance and the Rev. William Hornby, as Patrons, and Jocelin Westby as President, each paid £3. A local solicitor, John Addie, the agent for the Rawcliffe Hall estates, served as secretary. In addition to the subscription each member was expected to send at least one plough to the annual ploughing and ridging competition, and ploughmen were to be allowed to borrow ploughs and horses from members of the Society to compete in the event.
The first ploughing match was held two weeks later on March 1st at Crane Hall Farm, Out Rawcliffe, and the first cattle show was held at Cartford, Little Eccleston, on October 4th the same year. Admission cost sixpence (214 p) but stock handlers were admitted free. The pattern of combining serious purpose with enjoyable entertainment was established from the start. Dinner cost ten pence (4p) "wines and liquor not included" and the minutes record that after both events "... the judges and Members proceeded to the Cartford ... where the parties partook of a Substantial Dinner; after which, the cloth being drawn, the remainder of the evening was spent by giving appropriate Toasts and Songs."
In 1856 the Society also staged an Entire Horse Show. Although those stallion shows did not survive they led to the formation of the Great Eccleston Shire Horse Society which continues to thrive to this day. In keeping with the drive for a general improvement of livestock prize-winning stallions had to be available once a week for three months to serve local mares. Similar conditions were imposed on champion bulls and boars which were required to remain in the locality and available for service for several months.
True to its aim of "advancement" the Society arranged a steam ploughing demonstration in October 1857, drawing a crowd of nearly a thousand to Out Rawcliffe to see "the strange monster try her power". Although the steam traction engine didn't turn up until the following day and then broke down after a short demonstration, the members were reported to be "highly pleased and wonderfully surprised" by what they had seen. At the show that year it was recorded that "a few choice Agricultural implements bedecked the ground". Displays of "quite new and approved Implements" soon became a regular feature of the annual show.
For the first seventy years of the Society's existence the cattle kept by Fylde farmers were almost exclusively of the Shorthorn breed - an animal that provided both beef and milk. Formally registered pedigrees were uncommon and in the show catalogue they were simply "Horned Cattle, any breed or cross bred". By the 1920's a few higher yielding Friesian and Ayrshire cattle were making an appearance on local farms but it was not until 1933 that Pedigree British Friesian classes made an appearance. Pedigree Ayrshire classes were not introduced until 1949. In those early days many of the local farmers were breeding carthorses and there were usually many more horses than cattle entered. However, at the Jubilee Show in 1903 the work of dairy industry was evidenced by an entry of more than 90 cheeses "of the true Lancashire type" - making it at that time the biggest cheese show in the country.
In the nineteenth century all market towns in the Fylde staged annual agricultural shows. The Great Eccleston Show, then held in September at the end of the showing season, was dubbed 'The Show of Champions' where the prize-winners from the earlier shows were compared.
After the Second World War Great Eccleston Show, like many others, struggled to survive and in 1955, just two years after celebrating its centenary, the annual show was suspended. Fortunately the Society had purchased the freehold of the show fields between the wars, and after seventeen years the accumulated rent money provided essential funds when the Show was re-launched 1972. With the enthusiastic support of the Great Eccleston Shire Horse Society that opening show made its mark with one of the finest parades of heavy horses and turnouts ever seen outside Wembley.
It was after a succession of very wet shows in 1973 and 74 that it was decided to stage the even in July instead of September, and the change brought a change of fortune. Within a few years the pressure of entries was such that the Show had to become a two-day event to accommodate them.
Over the past 157 years the show has remained true to its agricultural roots, with the content and mix reflecting the evolution of local agriculture. The founding fathers would certainly appreciate the fine turnout of Shires and light horses, and the pigs and poultry, although they would not recognise many of today's cattle and sheep breeds. They would be astonished by the milk yield of the modern dairy cow and dazzled by range of tractors and agricultural appliances on display. They would be completely dumbfounded by the tractor-pulling competition.
Above left: some of the early founders of the Show. Right: A Shire horse
Fiona Drummond on 2012 Show
Over 30,000 people enjoyed the sunshine at Great Eccleston Show at the weekend. The general public were delighted to finally see the sun and get out into the countryside and they weren’t disappointed, with an excellent demonstration of all that is good in the heartland of the Fylde coast in Lancashire. Great Eccleston continues to provide something for everyone and certainly justifies the event’s reputation as the best two-day show in the North-West.
On the first day some of the finest dairy cattle could be seen on parade in the main ring and with the Holstein breed being the most prominent in the area, a deserved winner was a local family, D.J. & S Tomlinson from Bilsborrow with Bilsrow Shottle Lausine 2. Other fine examples of dairy cattle like Jersey’s and Ayrshires were also on display.
Well over 70 entries took part in a fiercely contested Shire Horse competition. With the winner of this competition going through to the Shire Horse of the Year contest, animals had come from all over the country with the eventual winner going to a family from Derbyshire, L. M. Fountain with Woodhouse Miss Dynamite.
There was a strong line up of various breeds of sheep on Saturday with Suffolks, Texels, Charollais and Swaledales to name just a few. A Texel owned by F.A. Nairey from Blackburn won Champion sheep. On Sunday a wonderful display of Primitive and Non-Primitive Rare Breed sheep delighted the visiting public.
The rest of the animals on show included a large selection of pigs, goats and rabbits.
Budgerigars and Hens also looked at their best and over 200 entries were on display. Budgerigar winner, Ray Hall from Newton with Scales won with a Spangled Grey Cock bird, proving that even beginner breeders can compete with the best.
On Sunday Beef cattle were on display these enormous animals bred for their fat and meat content weighed into the main ring with the outstanding winner, a British Blue, Popes Princess Cleo, owned by J.H. & V.G. Wood from Preston.
Some of the finest horses that the general public, potentially, had ever seen were present at the show with Ridden Hunters, Mountain & Moorland and In Hand Sports Horses making a stunning spectacle in the main ring. Junior and Senior Jumping classes took place giving the general public a reason to sit back and enjoy the sunshine.
The marquees around the show-field were packed with wonderful exhibits of art, cakes, floral art, vegetables and home-made wine and honey. One of the organisers said “it’s the people who take part that make this show one of the best”. Without any doubt that was seen more than ever in a packed Children’s section with Out Rawcliffe CE School taking home the cup!
The Food Hall was once again brimming with tasty treats from all over Lancashire. Locally smoked meats, home-made fudge and black puddings were just a few of the morsels that could be picked up whilst wandering round.
Other areas of the show included a thriving craft tent, wood cutting, weaving, vintage cars and tractors, fairground and a local history marquee, confirming the shows links with villages from all over the local area.
Tractor Pulling for the British Championship took place. The 1000’s of people that packed the banks of the track were greeted with a fantastic spectacle and as ever, a deafing noise from the aircraft engines that power the larger machines.
Other powerful machines, included the Young Farmers Club with a thrilling Tug of War competition which the crowds really got behind, shouting for their favourites and resulting in the strongest of them all Bilsborrow A Team who beat Longridge to the title!
All in all, Great Eccleston Show proved once again that they really know how to entertain the crowds and with the amazing weather and an army of willing helpers, we will be back next year to enjoy another fabulous weekend!