The beginnings of the Swallowfield Show are firmly rooted in the village’s rural Victorian history.
In the late 19th century, in spite of the growing impact of the industrial revolution, the agricultural sector was still a dominant employer; and wealthy landowners, such as Sir George Russell, proprietor of Swallowfield Park, was a major force and influence upon village life.
According to the Berkshire Chronicle of 18th September 1884, during a harvest home celebration attended by all labourers on the estate and their wives, Sir George announced the creation of a Swallowfield Cottagers’ Garden Show Society, with himself as president and Mr C W Allen, head gardener at Swallowfield Park, as secretary. Mr Pangbourne, steward of the Swallowfield Park Estate was also instrumental in the formation of the society.
The first Swallowfield Show was held in Swallowfield Park on the afternoon of Tuesday 4th August 1885. Demonstrating that British bank holiday weather ran true to form even in those days, the Reading Mercury describes the weather as ‘unfortunately unpropitious, rain descending heavily from the time of opening (two o’clock) until the evening’ but the visitors nevertheless attended ‘in good numbers’.
In addition to the exhibition of flowers and vegetables, visitors were entertained by the Reading Professional Town Band and a cricket match between Swallowfield West and Swallowfield East. Prizes were distributed by Lady Russell, with a special prize for the best kept garden being awarded to Mr J Marks. Location of these early shows alternated each year between Swallowfield Park, hosted by the Russell family, and Farley Place, hosted by Colonel Gray.
The Show went from strength to strength and, by the time of the 30th Show on the August bank holiday of 1914, the range of activities at the show had expanded to include equestrian and other activities, although some of the sports had to be halted due to two ‘torrential thunderstorms’ that occurred during the afternoon! There were ‘just upon a thousand’ entries in the horticultural division, including some fifty in the butter, poultry and eggs section. According to the Reading Mercury, ‘outstanding features were the six entries of table decorations, chief honours going to Mrs Bullock for very elegant arrangement of blush-tinted sweet peas set off with gypsophylia’.
In 1939, the event became the Swallowfield and Shinfield District Horticultural Show and was held at Highlands in Spencers Wood. The Reading Mercury noted that ‘the aim of the officials is to provide something of interest for everyone during the afternoon and the evening’ and the activities now included a funfair.
The 1958 show was held at Swallowfield Park, at the invitation of Sir Arthur Russell, but the Reading Mercury notes that the event is held in alternate years at Spencers Wood. Amongst the usual wide range of entertainment and attractions, the Mercury reports that ‘one must not forget the skiffle quartet who delighted the teenagers and bewildered the old’.
From its very early days, the Swallowfield Show was held on the August Bank Holiday which, by 1971 had moved from the first to the last Monday in August. To mark the 100th anniversary of the first show, in 1985 the show was opened for two days – the Sunday and Monday of the Bank Holiday weekend.
We hope that you have found our short history of our wonderful show interesting and you can see why, in spite of two world wars and two dreadful pandemics, we are inspired to keep the tradition alive and look forward to seeing you at this years Show.