Why is the Royal Bath and West Show so successful?

Cattle at Bath and West Show,  May 2013 Cattle are in the judged in the ring at the Royal Bath and West Show on opening day
Chickens competition, Bath and West Show, May 2013 The show is the only four-day event of its kind - chickens are entered for competitions
Royal Bath and West Show, Michael Eavis show in main showground, May 2013 Joe Rush drove the Minotaur smashing through hay bales for the Michael Eavis Montage at the show
Sheep at Royal Bath and West Show, May 2013 There have been nearly 1,320 sheep entered for competition - more than at the Devon County Show
Huge Victoria sponge cut by the Bishop of Bath and Wells, the Right Reverend Peter Price, Royal Bath and West Show May 2013 A Minehead baker's huge Victoria sponge was cut by the Bishop for Bath and Wells, the Right Reverend Peter Price

The Royal Bath and West Show is celebrating its 150th year - but what has made it so successful while others have either been shelved or scaled down?

In 1777, a group of gentleman met in Bath and formed a society for the encouragement of Agriculture, Arts, Manufactures and Commerce.

This was the start of the Royal Bath and West Society, which produced pamphlets on pest control and encouraged research into modern farming techniques.

Changing industry

Show organiser, Alan Lyons, said: "Basically (the society) would have been academics - it was at the time of history when the population was growing, therefore the country had to provide more food to feed a growing population as the cities expanded.

"Improving your livestock husbandry or your crop production that was the way of upping all this but at the time there was no platform to exchange all that knowledge."

Start Quote

You can have all the social media in the world but you can't beat meeting someone face to face”

End Quote Alan Lyons Show organiser

It is this ethos that has grown - since the first show in 1852 - to embrace new farming techniques and reflect the changing nature of the farming industry.

"I think it is the fact that we move with the times - and Somerset and West Country businesses can come here and reach 150,000 people," said Mr Lyons.

"I know you can have all the social media in the world but you can't beat meeting someone face to face and hearing about their product or their service."

There are year-round benefits to the local economy too.

Rupert Cox, from the Somerset Chamber of Commerce, said: "The direct effect that the show itself has is the trade around the show.

"The indirect [effect on the] economy is those supporting and supplying the showground with accommodation, transport and supplies - virtually all this comes from the local community.

"Certainly those within the rural environment and the equine communities rely on the income that's created and the profile that's raised at the show to help them trade throughout the rest of the year."

But in past years, the show has been criticised for the wide variety of products and services on offer - which are not all directly related to farming.

Royal Bath and West Show

  • The Countess of Wessex has been the vice-patron since 2011 - she also held the post of president for nearly two years
  • The first ever show in 1852 was held in Taunton and then toured around Somerset and the neighbouring counties
  • The show didn't go ahead during World War I, World War II or during the Foot and Mouth outbreak in 2001
  • In 1965 the event moved to its current home - the Bath and West showground near Shepton Mallet

In 2011, Bridgwater MP, Conservative Ian Liddell-Grainger said he thought the show did not focus on farming enough and accused it of not being a proper agricultural show.

Similar concerns have been seen in other parts of the country, and blamed for the loss of the East of England Show in Cambridgeshire.

Organisers, the East of England Agricultural Society, said it had become "disconnected from its agricultural roots". It had been running for 200 years.

In 2009, the four-day long Royal Agricultural Show in Warwickshire was cancelled - due to a combination of a lack of interest, animal diseases and poor weather.

'Balance' of traders

As with previous years, 2013's show includes dozens of commercial stalls selling everything from skincare products to toys and clothing.

Organisers have admitted it is a "fine balance" to achieve against the expectations of an agricultural show.

"I don't think having rows and rows of shiny tractors makes it any more of an agricultural show," said Mr Lyons.

"I think it is the business behind the scenes that makes the huge difference - if you walk down the cattle lines, nobody can say the show isn't agricultural."

This year, show organisers have said livestock entries are at "record levels" with more than 420 beef cattle, 1,320 sheep and nearly 350 pigs competing in the livestock classes.

As a result there will be more cattle than in the Royal Cornwall Show and more sheep compared to the Devon County Show, organisers have said.

Confidence remains high for future shows.

"We are always thinking about the show and where we are going in the future and how you keep the thing fresh," said Mr Lyons.

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