Kent Show – Goes On!

Image of a man and a woman stood together in front of the Maidstone Tyre company Ltd stand at the Kent Agricultural Show, 1951  The colour image shows two farmers each holding a calf on a bridal rein, during a judging session at the Kent agricultural show, 1951. The two farmers are in white coats as spectators watch from outside the ring.

Devotees of the Kent County Agricultural Society’s annual show, cancelled this year due to Covid-19, will delight in our latest production celebrating the county’s agricultural extravaganza, which began in 1923. Through an archive package of films, photos, posters and pamphlets recently unearthed by both ourselves and our partner, the Kent Archives & Local History Service, we’ve created an entertaining look back at an event that has always showcased the very best of what the Garden of England has to offer.

Our journey explores Kent Shows of the past, through amateur colour films, posters and pamphlets, printed ephemera and photographs, dating from the pre-war 1930s, the post-war 1950s and from the decade that style forgot, the 1970s. In the films you’ll see exhibits and stands showcasing what was then the very latest in tractors and combines, threshing machines and plough shares as well as glimpses of more ancient rural crafts and trades. You’ll see Kent’s champion woman sheep shearer giving a demonstration of her skills, several blacksmiths hammering away at the forge, a wool spinner working at her wheel and potters creating earthenware vases. At the National Institute for the Blind’s stand you’ll see an array of locally woven traditional baskets and there’s even a cattle round-up, Wild West style, complete with cowpokes in leather chaps and Stetsons.

You’ll thrill at numerous beauty pageants – for cattle! And you’ll also see pigs, sheep, a thirsty St. Bernard, pheasants, goats and even parrots. Riders of all ages will demonstrate their skills in the show-jumping arena while the ‘Toy-soldiers’ go on parade with marching bands. Naval cadets will haul gun-carriages around the showground and a team of parachutists will descend out of a clear blue Kentish sky. There’ll be miniature steam trains, vintage cars and royal limousines, traction engines and hot-air balloons and if you’re really quick you’ll see seventies celebrity Susan Stranks, host of the children’s tea-time TV favourite, Magpie.

We’re also graced by even bigger celebrities in several films. You’ll see Prince George, the Duke of Kent, on a whirlwind visit to the 1937 show where he lunches with the great and the good of the county before making his way to the exhibition ring. This is where you’ll see, across each and every decade, hundreds of horses, horses, horses! Pampered, primped and bedecked in all the finest equine fashions, we see mares and stallions earn their winning rosettes, whether they’re hauling stage-coaches or brewer’s drays, clearing fences in the show-jumping ring or hunting with beagles and riders dressed in pink and top-hats. You’ll also see Princess Alexandra, arriving by helicopter and limo, at the 1958 show where atomic power puts in an appearance amid all the tractors, harvesters and seed drills.

And of course, as with all County Shows, there is produce to be seen everywhere. Here you’ll see the very best of Kent’s flowers, fruits and vegetables displayed in all their sumptuous glory. And don’t forget to look at all the brand names on the stands – many of the companies featured, including some that have been in business for almost ninety years, are still trading today.

The Kent Show, like all county shows, has always served as a dynamic annual focal point for the county and its rural culture. It’s no wonder then that it has also attracted numerous film-makers whose films have managed to capture not only fascinating facets of rural life, work and play, but also the changes brought about by new technologies in agriculture and the effects those developments have had on all those who make their living on the land – from farm labourers to landowners.

We’re sure you’ll enjoy watching all six of these fascinating and nostalgic films as much as the visitors, exhibitors and competitors, who were at the actual events, whether in blizzards of tweed, Alma Cogan skirts and flying-saucer hats or tee-shirts and flares, all those years ago.

Kent Show 1936

Kent Show 1937

Kent Show 1951

Kent Show 1952

Kent Show 1958

Kent Show 1974


Do you have any films of the Kent Show?

As a film archive, we’re always on the look-out for undiscovered film collections which might be lurking in cupboards, attics or even car-boot sales across the region. We therefore invite potential donors and depositors to get in touch with us to discuss their films and the ways in which these treasures of the moving image can be preserved for future generations to enjoy.

Our partner, Kent Archives, has provided an interesting selection of photographs and documents relating to the Kent Show across the years as well as many other aspects of the agricultural and commercial life of the county for you to discover and enjoy. To unearth these fascinating treasures click HERE

The Kent Archive Service curates, preserves and promotes the local history and archive collections of Kent, making as many of the collections in their care widely accessible to both current and future generations; in the public search room of the Kent History & Library Centre, in the county’s larger libraries as well as online. In doing so, the Kent Archive Service aims to foster a sense of place, belonging and local identity among all of Kent’s communities – promoting wellbeing through the doing and the enjoyment of history, facilitating new paths of research into Kent’s history, for pleasure, inspiration and publication throughout Kent and the wider world.

A colour image of an indoor vegetable exhibit, showing carrots, potatoes and broad beans during the Kent Agricultural Show, 1951. A colour image of the wrought iron Kent Council of Social Services Rural Industries sign, at the Kent Agricultural Show stand, 1951