The 1987 show marks the one hundredth Agricultural Show at Lampeter. It follows in the tradition of the Cardiganshire Agricultural Society which was first established in 1784 to promote and improve farming methods, crops and livestock in West Wales.
Apparently, the first show under the sponsorship of the Lampeter Agricultural Society, was held in October 1877 and with the exception of the gaps caused by two world wars and adverse weather, it has continued in existence until the present day. There may have been an attempt to hold an earlier show, for the Aberystwyth Observer of October 13, 1877 refers to the Lampeter show as 'the first show after its resurrection'. It appears that early attempts at holding a show were thwarted by 'petty jealousies' and the writer expresses the hope that the new venture will have a more 'illustrious future open to it'. His confidence in its success was reinforced by the fact that so many of the local gentry supported the show: the president was William Jones, Glandenys, and the vice presidents were Captain Vaughan, Brynog and T. H. R. Hughes, Esq., Neuaddfawr.
This support was most certainly needed for the early shows had some difficulty in remaining financially viable. At the beginning they were fairly modest affairs; the second show managed to attract only 384 entries and the total prize money amounted to £65. Nevertheless, standards were extremely high, a factor which prompted one newspaper to quote 'The Lampeter show, although small has the seeds of future excellence.......Good things go in a very small compass'. The 1877 show had started with a balance of £33 but it failed to cover costs and the balance at the end of the year stood at £6. However, in the following show, despite the fact that the 'rain came down in torrents' they managed to break even.
From the outset, the organisers ensured that the small farmers had a place in the show and prizes were awarded in two distinct classes. Class A was open to all members, but Class B was restricted to owners or tenants whose rateable value was not above 6/- per acre and there were special prizes for those in receipt of incomes below £150 per annum. Furthermore, no animal was to take the 'same first premium in two consecutive years'.
The early shows were held in a small field to the rear of the Black Lion Hotel; access was not easy and there were pens for sheep and pigs and stalls for cattle and horses. The organisation of the show was under the auspices and control of the local gentry. Most farmers were tenant farmers and it was to the advantage of the landowners to improve agricultural techniques and to encourage innovation in order to maximise yields from the estates. By helping the farmers, they helped themselves. One of the most generous benefactors of the Lampeter show were the Harford family of Falcondale. In the 1887 show, the principle patron was Sir John Harford; to encourage farmers to attend he organised a special exhibition of fat stock and donated many cups and prizes including £3 for the best matched pair of agricultural horses. As a further attraction to attend the show the G.W.R. advertised cheap excursion tickets at a cost of 2/- from Carmarthen and Aberystwyth to Lampeter - and show jumping and riding competitions were included for the entertainment of the spectators.
The 1887 president was Dr. John Rowlands, The Garth; the vice presidents were Sir James Hills Johnes, Dolaucothi and Col. Lewes, Llanllyr. The programme advertised sections for cattle, horses, sheep and pigs: prizes were awarded for cheese and butter which was churned on the field - and there was a competition for the 'best green crop of not less than four acres'.
As so often happened, the weather was inclement; 'there were early showers and threatening clouds', but despite this hundreds of visitors converged on the town to enjoy the attractions of the 1887 show. It was the pride of the local farmers; according to one report - 'the black cattle made a magnificent sight straddling the field', and 'there were fine lines of horses which would have done credit to a much larger show'.
One judge was so impressed by the quality of the entries that he was moved to remark: 'They were the sort of animals that would enable farmers to meet their landlords with a smiling face on rent audit day'. It would seem that the investment of the gentry was paying dividends!
One of the highlights of the 1887 show was a display of horse jumping by Mrs. Anne Isobel Jones of Glandenys. She was the wife of the affluent William Jones of Banc yr Eidon Du. She was widely renowned for her skill in the saddle and she 'delighted the crowds who loudly cheered as she cleared the high gates and ten foot water jumps on her magnificent hunter'. This early tradition of jumping and riding was to grow with the years and become a most important feature of the Lampeter show.
Contemporary reports suggest that the 1887 show was a day of excitement and entertainment. An interesting list of prices show that eggs cost 1/- for 16; potatoes 1/- for 24lbs; chickens and geese 2/6 each; veal was 8d per lb; lamb 8d per lb; beef 8d per lb; pork 7d per lb. A bottle of Gin cost 2/3; Irish Whisky 3/6; Scotch Whisky 3/-; Brandy 4/- and Rum 2/9 per bottle. The admission fee to the show was 1/- before 1 o'clock; thereafter it was reduced to 6d. An amusing letter in the Welsh Gazelle a week after the show reinforces the reputation of the tight fisted Cardi:
I saw many well to do farmers leaning on the boundary rails waiting for the pocket saving 1 o'clock when they could get in cheaply! Tradition dies hard in this part of the world!
Despite this, the show of one hundred years ago was an auspicious one and auguredwell for the community and agriculture. At the end of the day, the president Dr. John Rowland remarked:
"In spite of bad times, of Colorado Beetles and Hessian flies; in spite of increasing rates and rising taxes, the fanners of Mid-Cardiganshire have been able to hold an excellent show with a great future".
It did indeed go from strength to strength and was soon to become the Mecca for horse dealers. In 1888 William Cotterell, the architect of St. David's University commented that 'Good actioned cobs are the Lampeter Farmers' Glory'. In later years representatives were to come from the War Office to buy horses for the national cause. However, not all the animals drew plaudits and in 1888 the Cardiganshire pigs were described as being 'more fitting for producing bones, bristles and ears rather than good pork and bacon'.
It was tenacity and hard work on the part of the committee which ensured the burgeoning of the show's fortunes in the early years. Other shows, at the same time. including Aberystwyth, failed disastrously. From the start, the Lampeter show was a marriage between town and country: it was a dual effort which has lasted to the present day with mutual benefits. At the end of the last century Mr. J. Fowden of Maespwll paid tribute to both the townspeople and the farmers:
"While many other shows have collapsed, the pluck of Lampetarians has carried their show on to unique success.........by a supreme effort of town and country, landlords, tenant farmers and people have been brought together."
In the last century the show was called the Lampeter Cattle Show and was held on the third Friday in September, by which time, hopefully, all the farmers had gathered in their harvests. As to be expected in the lush Teifi Valley, one of the most popular classes was for the best milking cow. But there were stringent rules applied to this competition. Each one who entered was obliged to turn up at Falcondale on the evening before the show with his cow, milking stool and bucket. He would milk his cow at 5.00 p.m. and then remain overnight before taking his animal to the show the following day.
The early shows were events of considerable social significance in the locality and were followed by lavish dinners at the Black Lion Hotel. The guest list included Bishops, Judges, M.P.'s and many others who had social pretensions in both town and country. The show dinner was followed by long speeches on all manner of topics and even a longer list of toasts. At one such dinner fifteen toasts were offered which must have taxed the capacity of most to remain sober. They drank the health of Queen Victoria, The Prince and Princess of Wales, the Bishops, the Clergy, the President and Vice President, the Chairman, the Town and Trade of Lampeter, the Judges, the Prize Winners, the Unsuccessful Competitors, the Ladies, The Secretary and ended with the Treasurer. This, according to one newspaper report, 'brought the proceedings to an early termination. Diwedd y gan yw'r geiniog"!
Sir John Harford used to entertain guests to a sumptuous tea in the middle of the ring. It must have been a splendid sight with the Falcondale butler in charge and the maids in attendance all suitably attired. The show field was an opportunity for the ladies to parade in the latest fashions, each trying to outdo the other. They observed the show proceedings seated in a brake near the ring. Some took a more active role in affairs and Lady Hills Johnes of Dolaucothi and Lady Drummond of Edwinsford agreed to judge the oatcakes and wholemeal bread. However, not all the ladies on the showfield earned the admiration of the press! In 1877 the reporter from the Aberystwyth Observer was thoroughly disconcerted by the sight of a woman sporting a dagger in her belt on field. He wrote:
"Gentle reader, you may shudder at the thought - there was a young lady with one of those murderous looking knives stuck in her belt, a la Spanish brigand! It was revolting"!
By 1906 the show had grown too large for the small field behind the Black Lion and the new venue became Peterwell field. Already, its reputation was widespread and it was described as 'the best and most popular show in West Wales'. The economic advantages of the show to the town itself had long been recognised by the tradesmen: in 1911 Aid. Walter Davies, London House, a prominent businessman suggested that the appeal of the show should be further enhanced by providing entertainment in the form of side shows. A Hooplah Stall, Coconut Shies and Try your Strength.
Competitions were proposed. Already, the Lampeter Brass Band turned out annually at a hire charge of £3, but it was decided that there should be more festivity and razzamataz. Accordingly, in 1912, the whole town was in the grip of a noisy ceremony as fifteen of the Brass Band turned up outside the Walters Hotel and processed through the town to announce the opening of the show. The streets were thronged with bystanders who expressed their delight by clapping and cheering. The show had truly won its place in both the town and county calendar.
The times were gradually changing; although horses still predominated, the motor car was beginning to come into its own. The gentry retained their fine hunters but also acquired the new fangled vehicles. One Lampeterian can clearly recall the sight of Mr. & Mrs. Inglis Jones, Derry Ormond, arriving at the show in their chauffeur driven car with gleaming brass headlamps. Already, horse flesh was too slow to meet the schedule of the Green Crops Judge who had to rush from one farm to another to examine the yield. Accordingly, in 1912, tenders were invited for driving the Judge around the county.
The committee decided to grant the contract to Thomas Thomas, Esq., Neuadd, who agreed at a charge of 14/9 for the whole day.
In Lampeter and its environs the affairs of the show reflected peace and growing prosperity. But in Europe war clouds were ominously gathering.
In 1914 the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo sent its shock waves as far as Lampeter and on 15 August Captain Delme Davies Evans, Lord Lieutenant of the county, proposed to the committee that in view of the international crisis the show be cancelled. It was a glorious summer, ideal weather for the show – but already the Breton onion man, 'Shoni Winwns', had been summoned home because France was under threat. Within a short space of time, many of those who had previously attended the shows were in uniform themselves. The Cardiganshire Squadron of the Pembrokeshire Imperial Yeomanry were mobilised at the new Drill Hall and mustered early one morning in High Street ready to leave the town. One contemporary states that 'the horses, fresh from farm fields harness and ploughs were very restive and refused to fall into line'. Had they known what was ahead of them, no doubt they would have charged back into the hills! Along with the men clinging to them!
But at that point in time patriotism flowed strong and the members of the Lampeter Agricultural Society rallied to support the war. Alderman Walter Davies proposed that an appeal be made to all the usual show subscribers to transfer their funds to the coffers of the War Office. 'Lampeter provided a remarkable heap of silver bullets contributed to the National Exchequer'. For the next four years the show field was to stand silent as all activities were suspended.
At the end of it all, however, there was a bitter price to pay. The show committee recorded that 'a very sympathetic note of condolence be sent to Major J. C. Harford on the death of his son Lieut. John Henry Harford, S.W.B. killed in France aged 20'. Another prominent committee member also received a similar letter. 'A message of sympathy be sent to Alderman Walter Davies whose only son, Lieut. Charles Edmunds Davies, R.W.F. was mortally wounded at Vimy Ridge'. There were over forty other families who did not receive the show's condolences but whose loss was no less grievous. Many of them came from surrounding farms. When it was decided to build a war memorial, the local farmers as a mark of respect, conveyed free of charge stones from Rhydderchlwyd quarry for the building of the cenotaph designed by Sir William Goscombe John. The carnage also brought about a severe depletion in the number of horses in the land. In 1918 the committee decided to hold 'an entire horse show' to 'improve the breeding of horses and to enable farmers to compare the merits of different stallions'.
Wars cause the wheels of history to accelerate more quickly, and in 1919 a new scenario appeared on the show field in the form of an exhibition of the latest 'farm machinery in motion'. It was organised by J. W. Davies, Esq., Glasgow House. More trophies and prizes were added to the catalogue and the Earl of Lisburne, Trawsgoed, presented a grand silver challenge cup which become known as The Lisburne Cup. Improvements were made on the show field in the form of special sheds built by Eben Davies, Esq., at a cost of £110. These contained special drainage for butter making. Also in 1919 the committee invited the presence of two strange bedfellows: the South Wales Women's Temperance Association provided light refreshments in the society's tent: while the licensee holders Messrs. Morgan of Fountain Inn and J. Davies, Railway Inn, provided intoxicants in another tent. Clearly the show committee were anxious to cater for all tastes!
Each successive year saw additions such as sheepdog trials, trotting competitions and others to the list of competitions. In 1921 J. W. Davies, Esq., suggested the desirability of adding a handicraft section. 'It will', he claimed, 'provide useful employment for young men in their spare time'. Prizes of 5/- and 2/6 were offered for the best baskets, ladles, spoons, plough lines, halters and ties. A military note was struck in 1926 when the sum of £10 was offered to the Territorial Army for providing a display on the show ground.
It appears that the fortunes of the show began to dip somewhat towards the end of the decade. Despite large attendances, deficits appeared in the finances. There were problems in controlling the entry of visitors and in 1929 the committee resolved to apply for the services of five police constables. Despite such vigilance the deficits continued. The show also seems to have become a little lack lustre. A newspaper report described it as being 'woeful and lacking in enthusiasm........the programme was tame and uninteresting and not worthy of the occasion.........the entries were below average........and there is a need to brighten up the proceedings and popularise the event'. In their attempt to remedy the situation the committee hired a radio band and introduced a dog fancier class and a local poultry class. But it was not enough. The show still lost money. Help came in the form of big business and sponsorships. In 1935 the Dried Milk Products of Carmarthen and other similar companies began to sponsor various sections. In the same year an ambulance competition was held for the first time on the field. Yet, much of the old order still prevailed, for the committee introduced a competition for harnessing and unharnessing a horse in shafts in 1935.
By the end of the decade events on the world stage were once again to have their impact on Lampeter show. At a committee meeting held in the town hall - 'after lengthy discussion, it was decided that owing to the war to postpone the show till after the war would be over. It was also decided to call in all cups belonging to the show to be put in the custody of Lloyds Bank, Lampeter'.
Once again the show field fell silent until 21 July, 1944 when a special show was held in Aid of the Red Cross Fund. The cessation of hostilities in 1945 saw many more names added to the list on the cenotaph.
The 1946 post war show was memorable for the wrong reason. A heavy gale swept over the country playing havoc with the field. Torrential rain fell throughout the night and a high wind blew down the luncheon marquee - and most of the structures were demolished'. It was a disaster. So bad was the flooding at Pontfaen bridge that Mr. John Jones, Werndriw, remembers seeing Mr. Wil Williams, (Wil Dole) crossing the water on a huge shire horse up to its haunches in water. The show sustained a serious financial loss and a total of 1,125 entries had to be scrapped and the show cancelled at a late hour. On 27 September a special show meeting was called at the Town Hall and Sir Arthur Harford decided to launch an appeal. He claimed - 'Since the society is of value to Lampeter, we can fairly go out and ask for help. We have never done so before. The show brings people here and has given the town a wonderful reputation'.
The response was excellent - and once again the show was set on a firm financial footing.
The post war years brought dramatic changes. Mechanisation had truly arrived; hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of farming machinery soon dominated display stands.
Agriculture was moving apace. The adjoining college field had to be hired to accommodate all the gleaming new hardware which facilitated the lot of the farmer. Spanking new tractors, milking machines and grassland machines became the focus of attraction. The old pony and trap now became an obsolete curiosity as cars and lorries poured into new parking areas and special transport and car stewards were appointed to control the traffic. The 1947 Agricultural Act brought stability and a new flow of cash to the farmer. There was increased production and better breeding.
The Shorthorn Cow gave way to the British Friesan; Black and White Cows appeared instead of the Red and Roan Cows.
In 1947 the show finances were described as 'healthy' and in 1948 the first show dance was held at the Victoria Hall which brought in a profit of £70.
In 1951 Sir Arthur Harford resigned after sixteen years of service to be succeeded by Mr. W. G. Hughes, Nanthenfoel. The gentry had disappeared and local farmers were running the show with competence. Record entries poured in from all over the United Kingdom. Well known names such as Sir Harry Llewelyn, and his famous Foxhunter appeared at the Lampeter Show. In 1965 Mr. D. L. Price, Auctioneer, proudly proclaimed -' Lampeter show exhibits animals equal to those at any show in the whole world'. Although Lampeter show acquired national importance, it never lost its unique local appeal. Many people will remember the local jumping competitions when the spectators thronged the ring five or six deep to witness the equestrian skills of the late Mr. Watcyn Davies, (Wat Dyffryn) and the late Mr. David Green, (Dai Alltgoch) - when the whole show field echoed with laughter at their antics.
The profits for 1952 were £302-10-8 and Mr. D. L. Jones, Home Farm, stated "For the first time there was a bar on the field and there have been no complaints". During the St. David's College Appeal in 1955 the show committee decided to donate £50 as a mark of its appreciation for granting the use of the college field and in recognition of the close co-operation between the show and the college over the years. Although all seemed well, the Chairman, W.G. Hughes, Esq., Gilfachnwen, urged the people not to be complacent.
"We must not be too confident as to the future of agricultural shows which does not appear to be very bright. See that the Lampeter show remains one of the most important functions in Wales for a long time to come. This is a problem that the younger members will have to face."
In 1958 hundreds of old railway sleepers were purchased and laid on the field to combat adverse weather conditions. However, they were to no avail for the show had to be cancelled. One paper reported 'No show could have been held under the conditions prevailing on that day'.
Over the past century only wars and the weather have succeeded in preventing the staging of the Lampeter show. It stands as a credit to the community spirit of the farmers and townspeople of the area and the enthusiasm of the present committee serves as a firm foundation for the future success of the show.