Monday, 3 July 2017

116 The Gower Show

116 The Gower Show
Several readers attended the annual Gower Show in the grounds of Penrice Castle on 6th August, or have done so in previous years.  Although the centenary was celebrated in 2005, this year’s Gower Show was the actual 100th, since the Shows were suspended during both World Wars.
In the past, quarterly fairs and weekly markets were held on the green at Penrice, and an annual fair had been held on Reynoldston’s upper green.  In those pre-motorised days livestock would be driven along country lanes and drovers’ routes to fairs and markets, as happened when the first Gower Agricultural Show took place on Thursday 20th September 1906, in the Kittles behind Penrice Home Farm.  The Show offered “a grand exhibition of cattle, horses, sheep, pigs, jumping, trotting, corn and root crops” (mangolds, swedes and turnips - grown primarily for fodder).  It was claimed that there were upwards of 500 entries, with judging commencing at 11am.  Luncheon was at 1.30pm costing two shillings, provided by Swansea’s Grand Hotel, with general refreshments available at “popular prices”.  The permission was gratefully acknowledged of Miss Emily Talbot, whose grandfather Thomas Mansel Talbot had been a founder member of the Glamorgan Agricultural Society.  He had built Penrice Castle opposite the ruins of the Norman castle, a decade after the first known agricultural show - Salford Agricultural Society in Lancashire in 1768.
The South Wales Daily Post commented: “There is now an opportunity in this event for the people of Gower to have in time an important show, and it only remains for them to rally round the powers that be.”
The following year the Gower Show, including a class for horses suitable for underground colliery purposes, was held in the grounds of Kilvrough Manor, whose owner Admiral Lyons was the Gower Agricultural Society’s first president.  By the fifth show there were 746 entries, with a class for a mare or gelding suitable for yeomanry.  During the early years entries from the Talbot or Lyons families won many of the prizes and cups!  The show was suspended during the First World War, when horses were requisitioned for the war effort.  On resumption sheepdog trials were added in the 1920s. 
In 1924 the Gower Pageant, organised by Ernest Helme of Hillend, was re-enacted at the Gower Show on 4th September, since heavy rain had impeded the original performance at Penrice the previous month.
Following the sale of Kilvrough and the dispersal of the estate, from 1926 the Gower Show was held annually in the top park at Penrice.  When shows took place on Thursdays, school attendance was affected – the 1932 Llanmadoc School log noted “Attendance very low today, owing to the annual Agricultural Show taking place at Penrice”.  The following year they bowed to the inevitable with a half-day holiday on the day of the show.
Guests at the show on 31 August 1939, just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, were the Band and Drums of the 4th Battalion, Royal Welch Regiment.  Subsequently 30-year-old Pat Smythe, Britain’s leading female showjumper, competed in the 1958 show jumping event.  By contrast, one show in the seventies was enlivened by an unscheduled blonde streaker, who caused the beer tent to empty in record time!
By the 1980s the Gower Show had become what some considered over-commercialised, and it was held from 1987 to 2002 at Swansea airport - with no show in 2001 owing to the outbreak of foot and mouth disease.  Special guests at the 1990 show were Hungarian Csikos Riders (mounted horse-herdsmen).  Although the airport provided level ground with plenty of hard standing, Fairwood lacked rural character, and the return to Penrice in 2003 as once again principally an agricultural show was widely welcomed. 
Penrice has continued to be the venue to the present day, fulfilling a 1926 newspaper opinion that “the Show is to Gower what the National Eisteddfod is to the nation”.

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