One of the town’s greatest assets, the Recreation Ground, was to become a springboard for the annual show.
The 11-acre site had been given as a public memorial by the Goulder family on April 27, 1920 in the aftermath of the 1914-1918 Great War, where 3 sons had been killed. The Aylsham Recreation Ground was born and became the home to the Town football and cricket teams.
The first modern show, actually Aylsham Fete and Gymkhana was held on the “Rec” on June 10, 1946, under the leadership of Ray Bond (a fine solid silver Huntsman on Horseback Cup was donated in his memory and is now held by the Show Chairman – click here to see photo). 558 visitors, including 198 children, helped to raise £118 12s 3d towards play equipment that Whit Monday. Insurance for third party risks cost 15s or 75p! But funds were made for charity – and almost one million pounds has since been raised over the following decades.
It was a time of austerity. Fuel, food and clothing were in short supply – and that summer, bread was rationed for the first time from July 21. For an adult, it was set at about nine ounces (252g) per week – it was very unpopular and lasted for two years until July 22, 1948.
The Aylsham Agricultural Show Association was actually founded on December 13, 1951 at the town’s long-gone Dog Hotel. Although its roots can be traced back to 1858 when the North Walsham and Aylsham Agricultural Association was formed, it was a distant memory by the end of the second world war.
History kindly written by Michael Pollitt.
Show Association Formed at Aylsham in December 1951
Fostering Interest in Livestock
Aylsham Agricultural Show Association was formed at a well-attended meeting at the Dog Hotel. The main object of the association will be to encourage interest in the breeding and rearing of livestock in the district and to organise shows and other functions for Aylsham Recreation Ground and other causes.
The association will make itself responsible for organising the August Bank Holiday show and gymkhana at Aylsham, which has become one of the most important events of its kind in North Norfolk.
Membership will be open to all interested persons. The subscription has been fixed at one guinea (£1.05), which will entitle members to attend all the association’s shows free of charge.
The aims and objectives, which were based on those governing the Royal Norfolk Show, were stated: “to promote improvement in the breeding and rearing of livestock in agriculture and horticulture generally, and to raise money for the upkeep and maintenance of the Aylsham Recreation Ground by organising shows and other functions, and to donate to other charities as decided by the committee.”
It was agreed by 20 to 8 votes that in future the accounts of its August shows should be made available only at its annual meetings.
The following officers were elected: President, Mr Rex Carter; vice-president, Mr Matthew Mitchell, sen; hon secretary, Mr Ray J Bond; hon treasurer, Mr C J Capper; committee, Mr James Alston (Calthorpe), Mr Leonard F Papworth, Geoffrey Monk, William Warren, Mr Hubert W Sheringham; John F Hardesty, Raymond G Faircloth, and representing the Young Farmers’ Club, John H Alston, Gavin Paterson and Matthew Mitchell, jun.
1952 – The profit from the annual show, £464, had been paid to the Recreation Ground Committee. There were 167 members, paying an annual subscription of a guinea (£1.05) and the Association had a credit balance of £147 11s 6d, said the president, Mr Rex Carter.
The first classes for cattle attracted 90 entries, including heifers bred by AI (artificial insemination). Four Highland cows with calves at foot from Rob Alston’s fold at Witton were a spectacle as were the pigs.
1953 – A profit of £562 10d 4d was reported as some 8,000 visitors had attended the 1952 show and gymkhana. Membership had risen 27 to 194. There was a balance of £321 13s 5d. The honorarium for the secretary, Mr Raymond Bond, was increased from £10 to £50.
In 1953, a record 10,000 visitors – 2,000 more than last year – went through the turnstiles at the association’s second annual show and gymkhana at the Recreation Ground.
Another innovation, the tug-of-war, was won by Dereham Young Farmers’ Club. The prize was an 18-gallon cask of beer from Norwich brewers, Morgan’s. The champion hunter, Gale Warning, owned and ridden by Mr Hubert Sands, won the show committee’s cup.
When an opportunity to expand was offered by the National Trust, it was grabbed by organisers and the show moved to Blickling in 1955.
1954 – It was announced that about 30 acres of the park at Blickling would be available thanks to the tenant, Mr EF Harrold and the National Trust. At the show, a total of £324 16s 6d was all donated to the Recreation Ground.
There was a 50pc increase in cattle entries to 150. Organisers had the entire ground for the show which attracted more than 11,000 visitors. Mr John Holman, of The Belt, made his hayfield available for parking 1,000 cars.
There were 300 entries for a flower, fruit, vegetable and home produce show – many more than last’s year inaugural event. For the first time, the National Agricultural Advisory Service had a stand – showing how potato eelworm could be controlled.
1955 – For the first time, the show and gymkhana was held in Blickling Park, thanks to the National Trust and tenant farmer, Mr Ernest Harrold. Mr AL Alston, of Tuddenham paraded the champion heavy horse, a Percheron mare, with foal at foot. A profit of £105 5s was reported by retiring president, Mr Matthew Mitchell – later he was elected the first honorary vice-president.
1956 – This will be the ninth time that Aylsham Show has been held on a Bank Holiday Monday, August 6. In recent years there has been a marked rise in attendance proving that the seaside is not the only attraction that draws the crowds. Over 300 entries have been received for the 42 classes for horses and cattle.
Top item in the entertainment was the “Sensational Swaying Stars,” who claim the title of the highest swaying mast act in the world with breath-taking trapeze feats at 90 ft and a balancing display 155ft up.
Show president was Mr Norman Kittle and the secretary, Mr L E Stafford Eales, of Felmingham, who took over after the death of former show secretary Mr Ray Bond.
An estimated loss of £700 was reported as the show was held in almost continuous rain at Blickling Park. In fact, it was only £328 as many donations were received including £50 from the Eastern Daily Press publisher, the Norfolk News Company.
1957 – Attendance broke records at Blickling Park, held for the third time by permission of the National Trust. The attendance of 18,000 beat the previous best figure of the 1955 show. Receipts were £3,000 – £1,000 up on 1955. A new class for steers raised and shown by YFCs, was won by George Morton, of Aylsham YFC. Aylsham Flower Club’s second flower arrangement exhibition was a great success
The show made a profit of £1,029 13s, said retiring president Mr Norman Kittle, as gate money topped £2,000 against £534 in 1956. The entire proceeds were given to six good causes.
1958 – The show and gymkhana made a profit of £74 0s 4d, it was announced at the Dog Hotel, Aylsham. A total of £234 0s 4d was distributed.
1959 – Closure of the M & GN rail line and a national newspaper strike dented attendance and the show lost £102 9s 4d. However, a £150 donation from reserves was made to Aylsham Recreation Ground Committee, which had lost its pavilion in a fire.
1960 – Show director Rex Carter retired after serving since 1948. A new trophy for best non-agricultural stand was presented in memory of Clifford King.
1962 – Another innovation. Three Norfolk young farmers judged the inter-breed cattle championship. Elizabeth Knox, 22, of Dereham YFC, Paddy Peele, 23, of Wymondham YFC, and David Gaze, 25, of Diss YFC, picked Smallburgh Honey 16th from J A Paterson & Sons out of a record cattle entry.
In that year, the association formally rescinded the requirement to contribute 75pc of the surplus to Aylsham Rec to help other local groups and good causes.
1963 – At the annual meeting, Leonard Papworth was elected president for third time in four years. His sons followed in his shoes but the show’s logo and first distinctive tie were devised by him.
1964 – Aylsham Show would be held on the first Saturday of August 1965 – August 7, 1965 and August 6, 1966.
1965 – A late harvest and the rival attraction of the Norfolk showground’s Country Fair, Aylsham countered with tag wrestling! There was keen rivalry in the cattle championships but honours went to John (Iain) Paterson with the Ayrshire, Dilham Royal Lavender while his brother, Gavin, stood reserve with Lyngate Handsome 8th. Their father, James, of Smallburgh Farms, was reserve champion Friesian with Smallburgh Leonora 19th.
Veteran heavy horseman Jack Juby entered a cross-bred gelding, Morley Surprise, bought at Norwich’s Easter Tombland Fair. It took third prize for his daughter and rider, Alison, 13.
The show staged a clay pigeon shooting competition – again a popular feature – or visitors could bowl for a “live” pig. Entrance cost 4s (20p), children 1s, car parking 5s.
1966 – The first late August Bank Holiday show attracted a record 94 British Friesians – the biggest breed entry for a one-day show. Henry Martineau’s breed champion was beaten for supreme honours by Rob Alston, of Old Hall, Witton. His grading up heifer, Clan Maz, of the 75-strong Crostwight herd, calved the day before the show. The inter-breed was picked by the three dairy judges.
1968 – Happy Harry was champion donkey. The seven-year-old gelding, bought for a song, sang duets with owner Stan Russell, of Outwell, who is a member of Wisbech Amateur Operatic and Dramatic Society. A first dog and pet section attracted 223 entries. There were no cattle forward because of the brucellosis eradication scheme.
The association made a loss of £8 but it had reserves of £2,000, said treasurer John Gardner. Major Anthony Gurney was elected president.
1969 – A total of 125 cattle competed for honours. New horse classes for Arabs were popular and Major Derek Allhusen, winner of Olympic Gold in Mexico, rode his mount, Lochinvar. Another Norfolk star, Wing Comdr Ken Wallis, flew “Little Nellie” used in the Bond film, “You Only Live Twice.” Another blooming success were the 350 dahlias, entered in the first classes in the flower tent.
It was reported that the annual show will be held at Blickling Park for the last time in 1970. A surplus of £344 was made, down slightly on last year’s £490.
1970 – Lord and Lady Walpole have offered Wolterton Park as a showground, it was revealed during the last show to be staged at Blickling Park. The Mitchell family had kindly provided the site with the support of their landlord, the National Trust, for the past 10 years. Norman Kittle, stood down after 23 years as honorary show director.
A veteran of the Royal Dairy Show, Lyngate Trixie 7th, from Gavin Paterson’s Worstead Farms, took the supreme inter-breed dairy championship.
1971, August 31 – A record crowd of more than 14,000 visited the show’s new 35-acre home at Wolterton Park. Such was the influx of visitors that treasurer John Gardner had to provide three extra entrance pay desks. The president, Stafford Eales, was delighted. The country’s top cow at the 1970 Royal International Dairy Show, Lyngate Car Link 2nd, also a former Aylsham Show champion, led the grand ring parade ahead of Henry Martineau’s inter-breed champion.
1972 – Lord Walpole was the association’s president. Show entrance – Adults 25p, children 10p. Cars 25p.
1973 – Another show innovation – free entrance, but it was not repeated. Parking will cost £1 for cars, 50p motorcycles and £3 for coaches. The show made a profit of £1,054. In the past seven years, the show made a surplus of £3,000 and assets and reserves increased from £2,000 to £5,000.
Retiring treasurer John Gardner noted that expenditure between 1962 and 1970 ranged between £2,300 and £2,500 but in 1971 was £3,150 and then £3,600 in 1972.
1974 – Continuous rain turned Wolterton Park into a field of mud – the first wet year for the show in four years on the same site. In the dairy championship, two members of a prominent Norfolk farming family battled for supreme honours. Iain Paterson’s Ayrshire Dilham Manor Quaker Miranda stood ahead of Gavin Paterson’s Friesian Lyngate Belle Link. The best heifer was shown by Rob Alston, of Witton, with Clan Joan.
1974 – Gavin Paterson, of Worstead Farms, was elected president when the show returns to Blickling Park after four years at Wolterton. Rain on show day had resulted in a net loss of £561.
1975 – Another innovation for the return to Blickling – the first Petty Coat Lane, supported by 20 traders. Norfolk WI had its own tent. Miss United Kingdom, Vicki Harris, was invited to share the platform with show president, Gavin Paterson. He was the only Aylsham YFC member ever to be chairman of Norfolk Young Farmers.
1975 – Jim Papworth was elected president. A total of £1,055 was distributed to good causes.
1976 – February: Norman Neave, a Norfolk farmer’s son, was appointed secretary in succession to Mrs Deborah Cronne, who held the post for 18 years. Heavy rain at the annual show resulted in a loss of £1,726 – compared with a profit of £1,721 in 1975.
Mrs Deborah Cronne will be the AASA’s first woman president in 1977 – having been associated since 1947 when the show was held on the town’s Recreation Ground.
1977 – It was back to Blickling again. A certain Chris Self, made MBE in the 2022 New Year’s Honours, took over as secretary . . . . who was to make his mark over the following five decades.
1979 – Open competitions to find Norfolk’s top farms – the first for many years – are to be held. Mr Foster Harrison, the association’s president, said that 16 entries had been received by mid-May for the two classes – under 300 acres and over 300 acres. Entrants must be members, cost £2. Some years earlier, farm competitions had been run by the RNAA.
1979 – Former show president Tony Duffield handed the keys to a £6,000 minibus to Mrs Frances Roualle, for Aylsham’s youth and community centre. A £2,000 donation was the largest ever made by the association, said show secretary Christopher Self.
1981 – The first of many visits by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight helped to bring 19,000 visitors. And organisers were willing to try something different – “Roman Chariots” at Blickling.
1982 – The first sheep classes were held with 40 entries – today, there are more than 300.
1985 and onwards – The cattle section evolved – and it was one of the first to introduce the highly-popular young handlers’ classes. These have become a regular fixture in both beef, dairy, later sheep and more recently the goat classes. Many of the country’s top handlers took their first steps with a halter in the grassy rings at Blickling Park.
1986 – David Hitcham (made BEM in the 2019 Queen’s Birthday Honours) was president. Entry was pegged to £2.50 for adults and £1 for children and £4,850 was raised for charity.
1987 – Tony and Phillida Hurn, later show president, won the supreme beef championship.
The Aylsham Agricultural Show Association Limited was incorporated on 5th March 1987 – a company limited by guarantee.
1988 – A record surplus of £11,000 – the first time that the five-figure barrier was broken – was presented to 35 local good causes and charities. An estimated 17,000 had attended the 43rd show. Around 300 members (and husbands) of the Norfolk WI filled the grand ring for a pageant under Pat Bond’s direction.
1989 – A total of £10,000 was given to 36 groups and organisations including £1,250 to Aylsham Recreation Ground committee for the children’s play area. Amanda Postle, who stood down after 12 years as assistant secretary, was thanked by Dick Williams. Michael Rogers was elected chairman of council.
1990 – A new name was etched on the inter-breed dairy trophy when Charles Carey retained the trophy during the presidency of Michael Rogers. Sheep entries reached 200.
1991 – North Norfolk farmer Francis Key won a new sheep trophy – the Liz Adler Memorial. In the next ring, Henry Harvey made it three in a row for his Ayrshire dairy herd by winning the supreme inter-breed. In the horse ring, Ann Holman won her third supreme title with her bay gelding in-hand hunter.
1992 – The Harvey family, who had been showing since the 1950s, won the dairy, young handler and beef titles. Quite an achievement for Henry, his wife Ruth and their son Ben.
1993 – Sponsorship, always vital, had more than doubled to £7,500 in five years – thanks to the efforts of Sir John White’s committee.
1994 – The sheep section, and indeed the goats, attracted more entries. Jane Lewis won the inter-breed sheep title with a Rouge de l’ouest.
1995 – Always innovative, plans were announced for the Norfolk Food and Drink Festival by David Manning. This became a great success, running for several years, eventually leading to the Aylsham Show Food and Drink Hero Awards.
1996 – “This is the 50th show. We hope it is going to be the best,” said show secretary Chris Self and it was also the 42nd anniversary of the Aylsham Flower Club.
2001 Foot and mouth disease forced cancellation.
2006 – For the first time in the show’s history, joint presidents were elected, Chris and Ann Self, in the 60th anniversary year. It was fitting too that a long-standing favourite, the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight returned and even former world snooker champion Steve Davis was in action.
And the proof of the pudding is that almost £1million pounds has been raised for charity since 1946. Again, thanks to the huge public support.