Why we’d be so sad to see the town show go

THE Northampton Town Show is almost as old as former councillor Fred Evans. At 76 years old, Mr Evans is just one year older than the event which he first helped to organise in the late 1980s.

As a member of Northampton Borough Council’s leisure and recreation committee he worked for months each year ensuring everything went smoothly and believes the loss of the event will be a big blow for the town.

“I am absolutely disgusted by the plans,” he said.

“People really looked forward to the show and everyone behind the scenes worked so hard throughout the year to stage the event.

“I think the problem with merging the town show is that, whatever you call it, people will still think of it as the balloon festival.”

During Mr Evans’s involvement, the show featured numerous displays and exhibitors, but he believes it has gradually been run down during recent years.

“Once upon a time there was so much for people to see,” he said. “There were army displays, marching bands, horse shows and one of the real crowd pullers was John Blythe from television’s Antiques Roadshow.

“It was a real family event. I was born and bred in Northampton and I remember going to the show as a young child.

“Even before I was directly involved with the show I always looked forward to it and I think many other people feel the same.

“However, a few years ago they got rid of the farm animals, because they didn’t agree with it, which personally I think was a pity.

“It was a real occasion for Northampton and this merger will mean exhibitors will find other events to go to and it will be very difficult to revive the show in later years.

“This is 75 years of the town’s history which they are getting rid of and the council should be ashamed of themselves.”

The Festival – Northampton 2002 hopes to attract traders from all over the country along with the usual gathering of hot air balloons, which were grounded last year because of the foot and mouth disease crisis.

But, despite assurances, some people are not convinced that the plans are anything but a cost-cutting exercise which will save the borough council 30,000.

“I would be sad to see it go,” Wally Balshaw, who was head of the parks department at the borough council from 1974 to 1993.

“There were so many happy memories and so many highlights of the event. It was the biggest example of public participation the town has seen, it was quite something.

“People used to come from far and wide. I remember one ex-Northamptonian, who had moved to Truro, used to come every year to enter the vegetable class in the horticultural show.”

Mr Balshaw admits that not everything went as planned but, despite the occasional downpours, the emphasis was always on making sure everyone had a good time.

He said: “There was one particular show when the then curator of the Central Museum and Art Gallery, Bill Terry, decided he would test just how good antiques expert John Blythe was.

“He borrowed some exhibits from the museum, put on some shabby clothes and waited in the queue alongside other members of the public.

“John Blythe did identify all the objects – he was too good to be outwitted – but he took it all in good spirits.”

Before coming to Northampton, Mr Balshaw was responsible for the Leicester Show, another event which has now bitten the dust.

“Getting rid of these kinds of events seems to be something of a trend,” he said. “Once there was not only the town show, but Timken had their own festival and there was also the county show.

“The town show was the last one to survive, but now it seems it is going to go the way of all the others.”

Show Time

IN 1909 the seeds of the Northampton Town Show were sown when the Municipal Horticultural Society decided to organise a flower show.

The event was a great success, but the next year the British climate intervened and wintry winds and rain on both days forced many potential visitors to stay indoors.

After a number of years, the event was officially launched as the Northampton town show and was to become one of the town’s biggest annual attractions.

During the First World War the event was suspended, but in 1919 it was back on the calendar as a three-day summer show and peace demonstration, which ran every year until the outbreak of war in 1939.

The main attraction at the show has always been horticulture, but in 1949 a horse show and a gymkhana were included for the first time.

Caged birds were put on display in 1958, rabbits appeared in 1959, a dog show was organised in 1960 and since then it has got bigger and bigger.

However, not everything has run smoothly.

In 1974 there was chaos and confusion when a comedy clown car backfired next to the arena where dog obedience tests were taking place.

After several loud bangs, six dogs fled in fright and a black collie went missing for hours.

And in 1988 there was unintentional hilarity when a typist mistook bowels for bowls and produced a notice which read “An arrangement of fuchsia flowers in a 10 inch bowel. Bowels may be withdrawn from the exhibition if considered necessary after the first day.”

The notice was removed after an eagle-eyed Chronicle & Echo reporter spotted the mistake.