In it’s history of over 130 years the Bedwellty Show has been staged every year, apart from occasional war years and years when foot and mouth epidemics have prevented it.
We know that an agricultural show was held in the Blackwood area prior to 1873 because there are reports of the shows in the old local paper, the Monmouthshire Merlin. In 1873 a committee meeting, aimed at formalising the organisation of the Bedwellty Show, was held in the Greyhound public house in Pontllanfraith – we still have the minutes of that meeting in our archives.
Deep coal mining in the Blackwood area was at that time in its infancy. Agriculture was still the major employer in the area. Farms and smallholdings abounded, most of them keeping cattle, sheep and pigs. Horticulture was still a major industry in the area with some farms growing cabbage, potatoes, barley etc. The car had not been invented.
Apart from steam engines, the horse was still the main source of power on the farms. Other than occassional steam trains, transport by horse was the only way of getting about.
The organisation of an agricultural show, where farming neighbours could show off their prize animals or compete in horticulture classes was therefore the most natural thing in the world. Thus it was that in 1876 local farmers and businessmen formed the Bedwellty Agricultural Society to present the show. The first show organised by the Society took place on the land adjoining and opposite the old Drill Hall, Blackwood (now mostly occupied by Asda and other businesses) on Thursday 18th October 1877. The Purpose of the Society was and remains to promote Agriculture within the County.
Over the next few years the Bedwellty Show became so popular that special trains ran from Newport to get people to the show.
In the early years (and until Lord Tredegar made provision for the Show to have a permanent site – the Showfield in Blackwood) the Bedwellty Show was held not only in Blackwood but also in Pontypool, Rhymney, Pontlottyn, Maesycwmmer, Nelson, Newbridge, Risca, Rogerstone, Tredegar, Ebbw Vale, Abertillery and even Newport..
Lord Tredegar and his family were great supporters of the Bedwellty Show. In 1906, he gave the land , the Blackwood Showfield, to the local council (then Bedwas and Machen Urban District Council) but he made it a condition of the gift that the Bedwellty Show could be held there every year.
The agricultural roots of the Bedwellty Show at his time can be seen in some of the competitions which, sadly, are never seen today. Classes such as:
“Best half hundredweight of cheese (Caerphilly) made on the exhibitor’s farm”,”Best six pounds of butter”,”Best Welsh Hay Rake”, “Cart made in the district best suited for agricultural purposes”, “Best pair of mares suitable for agricultural purposes” and “Model hayrick to be thatched with straw, 6ft by 3 ft to the eave”
Between 1873 and 1910 the employment situation in this area changed dramatically. As deep coal mining developed in the valley, agriculture and horticulture lost their position of importance. The result was that new competitions took place as the old competitions died away. 1876 saw the first classes for “Pitters” – miniature shire horses bred specifically for working underground in the pits. Newspaper reports at this time confirm that the Pitters were in tip-top condition for the Shows, with coats shining like glass. The popularity of the Pitters classes is why (so they say) the Bedwellty Show developed such a strong following in horse and pony classes, which continues today.
In its early years the Show was held in August or September (giving the farmers a chance to gather the hay crop). In time, the miners won a hard earned holiday on the first Monday in September, still called Mabon’s Monday after the local MP who fought for it. Mabon’s Monday eventually developed into “the miners’ fortnight” – the annual holiday when the pits were closed down. For many years Bedwellty Show was held on Mabon’s Monday. It was the highlight of the year for many in the area.
In 1911 the Western Mail reported that the Bedwellty Show was “the largest one day show in the kingdom.” In its hey-day the Show attracted more than 25,000 visitors and came to be regarded as the county show for Monmouthshire.
The Show still held popular agricultural and horticultural classes. But now, as well as the Pitters’ classes, unusual competitions were being held, not found at other agricultural shows. There were trophies for “pit prop races” where teams of miners from local collieries competed in laying yards of timber pit supports, cut from the raw material trees.
Competitions for “rope splicing” were hotly contested as a test of individual skills. Sadly these competitions are no longer part of the Show. There was even a very large silver shield for First Aid –which was competed for by the local collieries – a forerunner of the mines rescue teams .
This unusual mixture of agriculture with the mining industry is almost unique to the Bedwellty Show but only highlights the mining and farming heritage of the Valleys.
Show Jumping featured at the Bedwellty Show from its very first show and at times, the standard has been very high indeed. The jumping ring has been graced by international show jumping stars of yesteryear, including the great Colonel Harry Llewellyn and Foxhunter, Pat Smythe and Tosca, Alan Oliver and Red Knight and Wilf White on Nizefella. These names may not mean much to us now but they were superstars in their day. In more recent time the Welsh show-jumping legend David Broome and his sister Liz Edgar appeared regularly in our show-jumping competitions.
Agriculture and Mining may no longer be the principal employers in the area and but Nonetheless, Bedwellty Show continues to flourish.
There has in recent years been a resurgence in home grown produce as people become more aware of where their food comes from. The Show continues to showcase all that is good and grown in the County.
Our cattle and sheep classes are still well supported. We see fewer pigs these days but the Horse and pony classes continue to go from strength to strength.
Bedwellty Show is a very old institution in this area, with a unique history. Long may it continue to be what it has always been – a great day out for everyone.
In 2015 the Show moved to its current home Llancaiach Fawr in Nelson.