It's showtime in Alton
From birds of prey and beagles to crafts and cattle, The Alton Show is a must do event every July. This year's show promises to be better than ever as Claire Pitcher found out when she spoke to two of the hardworking organisers
On Sunday, July 3, thousands of visitors will flock to Froyle Park near Alton to experience the annual countryside show. At 171 years old, the show is one of the oldest traditional country shows in the UK and it is as popular today as it was back in 1840. Simon Fraser, development manager for the show, explains why, “We may be one of the oldest shows, but we’re not as large as others, like the Hampshire and New Forest County Show. We’re very much an agricultural show and we have changed very little over the years and that’s what people love so much. There are lots of hands-on interactive things to do for children, and the rest of the family too.”
Put on by the North East Hampshire Agricultural Association, all of the members including landowners, farmers and Alton residents, support the show and there are around 90 who volunteer in the organisation of the day.
Show secretary Jan Butler has been involved for the last 10 years and says that now the show is more important to the town than ever, “Alton is an ancient Hampshire market town and is the focus for the surrounding area as a place to come and shop for locally produced goods as well as from high street shops. There is no longer a livestock market and the great breweries which used to spread a wonderful malting smell across the town have gone. Many people, however, commute to other towns and to London for work and the focus on agriculture appears to have been lost, apart from the Farmers’ Markets.”A way of life
The Alton Show keeps local agriculture and the rural way of life alive in the area by holding exhibitions and demonstrations of farming stock, agricultural practice and rural activities. “Some criticise the show as being the same each year, but we are about traditions and these remain the same through time,” explains Jan.
From cattle judging to terrier racing, July 3 is going to be a family fun-packed day, whatever the weather, but what events are Jan and Simon most looking forward too? “My favourite part of the show is actually at the end when all the champion animals receive their rosettes or trophies. And it’s not just lovely too see the animals, it’s great to meet the owners too. There’s a feeling of immense pride – it’s a wonderful sight to see,” reveals Simon. “For me, it’s the animals too,” admits Jan. “I love the smell of the animals and the straw and hay. I particularly like Highland Cattle with their large horns. The owners stay with their stock and it’s a great atmosphere. Then there’s The Sheep Lines and the display boards the cattle and sheep owners put together with information on their stock, I find that fascinating.”
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Visit the Countryside Area to watch demonstrations of all kinds of rural crafts including sheep shearing, hedge laying, hurdle making, a forge demonstrating iron work and lots more. In the arena the programme includes The Quack Pack, Birds of Prey, Homested Dog Agility, a ferret show, terrier racing, Reedlands Retrievers and Canine Partners.
If you’re looking for something a little bit different then visit the Craft Marquee and Gift Marquee where you will find a great variety of crafts made solely by the stall holders and jewellery, pottery and a range of interesting gifts.
Tastier treats can be found in the Food and Farming Marquee where you can buy Hampshire beer and cider (including local cider from Mr Angus Whitehead, made at Hartley Park Farm in Selborne), Mediterranean olives, garlic, local farmhouse ice cream, local organic products and fudge.
In the main arena there will be performances from Adam’s Axemen and a Zaporozhian Cossack Horseman. Music is provided by the Harbour Pipes and Drums plus, watch a parade of the Hampshire Hunt and the Clinkard and the Meon Valley Beagles.
It’s the celebration of 80 years of tractors in the Tractor Display with vintage and modern tractors to show each decade concluding with the largest combine in Europe.
A potted history
The show was founded on February 25, 1840 by local farmers and landowners. Mr Edward Knight of Chawton House (nephew of Jane Austen) was in the chair, a position he held for 39 years. In 1906 the Summer Show was moved to Mr Complin’s field, Anstey in Alton (this venue later became Anstey Park). There was no show in 1915. Losses were made throughout the Great Depression, until 1923 when the show was abandoned, however it was resumed in 1944.
In 1986 the Summer Show was moved to Froyle Park to be held on the third Saturday in July and renamed the ‘Alton Agricultural Show’. A dog show was introduced as well as a free bus service to the new venue. The Horse Show became a separate event at the show in 1991. The Alton Herald took over part of the Showground to organise a Motor Show, providing static and mobile displays of modern and vintage motor vehicles. In 1992 the show date moved to the third Sunday in July (now the second Sunday in July and in 2001 the show had to be cancelled due to Foot and Mouth.
In 2008 the heavens opened on show day until 2pm but the Grand Parade was soon bathed in sunshine and the animals looked great. This year was a celebration of The Year of Food and Farming, as well as an enlarged horse show with show jumping and showing.
How much is it to go?
Tickets cost �10, �6 senior and �4 children if bought in advance. On the door: �12, �8 and �6.
Purchase from: Alton Herald Office, Market Square
Brock’s Farm Shop, Normandy Street
Farnham Herald Office
Petersfield Tourist Information - Library
Country Market, Kingsley
Buy tickets online at www.altonshow.co.uk
Don't forget to upload your photographs from this year's show!